Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Wizardry of LEMUR

LEMUR (League of Electronic Urban Musical Robots) brought the full resources of its technological wizardry to bear on a concert which emerges as a milestone event for that organization and for new music. Performed May 31-June 2 in the transformed space of 3LD (Three Legged Dog), the concert was curated by Eric Singer, the guiding guru of LEMUR, bringing together distinguished composers and performers from the full spectrum of contemporary music practice.

The spectacle of technology as intelligent machines fashioned out of materials which might have otherwise been sentenced to the junkyard or may have been spawned from the debris of the trash heap, provided an array of "robots" poised for action. These robots are functional contraptions focused on their capacity to deliver sounds with precision and energy beyond the reach of their human counterparts. Guitarbot was a tunable string robot that shook passionately as it meted out its sound with almost raucous joy.

Some thirty robots were mixed with humans in this extravagant display of mechanical alacrity. They clung to the ceiling and floor with fierce determination, jiggling, swaying, and dancing to the tunes of a million different drummers. Robots were at their best when they were banging themselves in a clutter of notes cascading throughout the space, shaping the moment with different densities and textures where energy was palpable as explosive resonance reverberating in perpetual bliss.

The evening was saturated with outstanding talent and musicianship. They Might Be Giants wowed their fans with songs With the Dark, Vestibule, and Our Cannibal Friends. The Lemur robots churned along with them, but their efforts seemed more or less peripheral. The songs were just too good and didn't really need that support.

George Lewis, a trombonist, composer, and improviser, provided a stunning performance, his instrument resonant and strong, adding to the texture of the Bots with exciting timbres and musical riffs.

JG Thirwell's Prosopagnosis pitted a string quartet on collision course with the Robots in a tour de force that rocked 3LD and the surrounding area of Greenwich street. The Modbots were equally matched by processed string sounds, and the result was an exciting deluge of sound shifts, tears, eruptions, and tumbling, collapsing sound debris, volcanic and magma-like. Prosopagnosis is a condition where you cannot remember faces likely because that area of the brain is damaged. The notion of motivic structures collapsing on themselves seemed to match the imagery of the concept.

Clearly, the most musical event of the evening was Morton Subotnik's extraordinary With a Little Help From which explored the timbres of the Bots in a slowly emerging improvisation, gradually picking up speed and density, with overlapping textures, percussive and lyrical. Ably assisted by percussionist Tom Beyer, the piece gathers momentum until Beyer begins to move his feet, almost dancing. Eventually the listener realizes his "dance" is transforming the texture of the music, and finally Subotnik joins Beyer in something of a foot duel that leads to a rousing climax of the work.

Such events as this concert as a large scale celebration of new music mixed with mechanical wizardry are all too few. Thanks to the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots. Thanks to the vision and determination of Eric Singer. They are in a league that is a special world of contemporary musicing to be applauded and appreciated as the new musical prophets and wizards.

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