Mobtown Modern salutes avant-garde composer/vocalist Ken Ueno
From the sublime to the -- what's a trendy, early 21st century word for funky? Anyway, after Monday night's exquisite experience with David Lang's "Little Match Girl Passion," presented by the Evolution Contemporary Music Series at An die Musik, Tuesday night's encounter with composer/vocalist Ken Ueno, presented by Mobtown Modern at Metro Gallery, proved ever so slightly different.
Winner of the Rome Prize and Berlin Prize, Ueno is an intriguing talent, capable of humor as well as depth. And Mobtown Modern's program, a salute to Ueno in his 40th year, provided an illuminating sample of his work.
There was the composer's cheeky side -- "Yellow 632," a piece from 1998 for three humans and six mechanical toys. In this case, the sound of Big Bird exclaiming "This is funny" and doing some weird electronic laugh became the basis of a bit of theater, with the "voices" overlapping in increasingly off-kilter ways and the performers ultimately "liberating" the internal mechanisms from the toy bodies. The presentation was assured, the end result mildly interesting.
Ueno's solo vocalizing -- he commands an almost frightening arsenal of unusual and difficult techniques -- left me cold. "Watt," which suggests a jazz improv on severe steroids, gave sax man Brian Sacawa and percussionist Doug Perkins a taut, often explosive workout.
Ueno's "Sabinium," with video animation by Harvey Goldman, turns soap bubbles into massive, threatening creatures and extracts from their movements a strange sonic symphony.
The finale showed the composer at his most
persuasive. "Talus" was written for violist Wendy Richman, who broke her ankle in a fall in 2006 -- during a rehearsal for a David Lang opera. Ueno essentially dramatizes that accident -- the piece starts with a scream from the soloist -- but he avoids gimmicky. It's quite a deep and involving work of exceptional lyrical power with long-sustained notes and the spaces in between. Richman was the impressive player. She had the tense harmonic language communicating vividly.
For those of you who missed the concert, here's a taste of Ueno's music, an a cappella work titled Shiroi Ishi: