Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Forests and ICE

ICE, photo taken from the group's website

The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) performs “How Forests Think,” 7:30 p.m. Monday, August 14 at Merkin Concert Hall, Lincoln Center

The program – part of Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart summer festival – takes it’s name from a work for 10 musicians by composer Liza Lim. (Perhaps coincidentally, this is also the title of an interesting book about interconnected rhythms of life experienced by Amazon forest natives.) In addition to Lim’s music, the program includes Pauline Oliveros’s “Earth Ears,” and Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s “Aequilibria.” The ensemble will be conducted by Baldur Brönnimann and musician Wu Wei will perform on the sheng, a Chinese mouth-blown reed organ.

The thread of the program, obviously, is the connection between music and nature, something that is very much on my mind as I prepare for the course, Music and the Natural World, that I teach each Fall for freshman at The College of New Jersey. The topic runs deep and crosses all lines of human investigation, including biological and physical sciences, philosophy, religion, politics, the visual arts, dance, psychology and sociology. 

The reason for this blurring of lines is the root of music is deep in prehistory – it prefigures and shapes many aspects of human activity that reason would typically try to parse into separate channels for analysis. Music doesn't parse. Any part of it interconnects to any other part. (Try defining harmony, for instance, without talking about pitch, time and esthetic impressions.) Music organizes  people like . On the one hand it lifts individuality and makes us conscious of time; on the other, it submerges our individual identities into the pool of the communal response, which holds all of the past, present and future in one bowl.

Those realizations are apparent with very little investigation – just an open set of ears and a heart tuned to an old song. Lim's composition uses for its model the life of the forest itself, the activity, growth and structures that define it. We hear forest sounds as music – is that because an ancestral association of good emotions with the sound of the forest? Or are we anthropomorphizing those sounds, turning them into human-style communication, reflecting our humanness back onto the non-human forest? Or is it because our understanding of music emanates from there, so we are ourselves manifestations of the forest? (Answer: yes. Mark this spot on the map in your brain: this is the approximate place where words stop, while the landscape of music keeps right on going.)

ICE is one of the best new music groups around, so you’re pretty much guaranteed a memorable and probably definitive performance. You can read and watch clips from my 2013 interview with founder and former artistic director Claire Chase on TheStreet’s website [The video link in the article isn't working. Use this one to watch the video.] Tickets to "How Forests Think" are $30 and are available through the Mostly Mozart website (www.lincolncenter.org/mostlymozart) or by calling CenterCharge at 212-721-6500.

August 8, 2017

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