Live reviews

GO: Organic Chamber Ensemble at Roulette in Brooklyn

 GO: Organic Chamber Ensemble presents Mu Wi

(Roulette, Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn. 8 March 2020. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

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Mu Wi (natural action) brought Noh theatre and Gagaku court music together at its World Premiere at the ever-adventurous Roulette Intermedium – combining traditional Japanese sounds with the non-linear compositional style of Adam Rudolph to very much demonstrate what natural action looks like with his GO: Organic Chamber Ensemble.

GO: Organic Orchestra. Publicity photo,

Rudolph has long been associated with ‘World Music’, whether his African/American works in the 70s, or his most recent oeuvre Ragmala, a jazz-infused Indian Classical music double disc and show (REVIEWED HERE). Mu Wi is a different world again, bringing musical sounds and dances from Japan and South Korea to Brooklyn.

Mu Wi came in two parts. The first, a spacious, undulating set brought in with a shrill shriek of a noh kan (Japanese flute). It set a rich reedy ground swell of various exciting woodwinds and strings against the sharp focal point of Samie Kaneko, plucking a shamisen (japanese lute) and singing an intense, jumping line. Rudolph picks out pairs of instruments to bring forward – Sara Shoenbeck and Ivan Barenboim on bassoon and a delightfully convoluted pretzel of contra-alto clarinet, Ned Rothenberg and Gamin on bass clarinet and piri (Korean oboe) – and does so using his unique conducting style, somewhere between a descriptive nuanced sign language and an understated dance.

There are hints of the inner workings of the composition process available on glimpses of music sheets; each musician has regular manuscript paper as well as three sets of spiral noted flow diagrams, and what looks like a database reference diagram. While very much a chamber ensemble effort, much of the atmosphere of the set was pinned on Gamin and her lamenting reeds and Saenghwang (Korean free reed mouth organ) and the anxious vocal stylings of Kaneko, but with constant underlying punctuation from Kaoru Watanabe, presiding over a foreboding selection of percussion and a clear-cutting set of flutes.

The programme notes were robust, and the neatly explained concept of Jo Ha Kyu shone through in the second set of the evening. There was a muttered on-stage ensemble pep talk, where Rudolph gave final instructions to the team and delegates responsibility to Michel Gentile (sitting in the ‘first instrument’ chair armed with eight different flutes laid out in a quiver) before retreating to his hand drums. The piece opens on Jo, Rudolph warming up his drums before settling into a driving groove, hands fast and loose as Gentile leads sweeps of wind from the ensemble. An introduction.

Through Ha, Chieko Kojima arrives as a dancer through the crowd, and is ensconced behind the band. Rudolph returns to the centre stage and here it does not become clear who is leading who: Kojima dances – sometimes formal, sometimes free – and Rudolph, facing towards her while the ensemble look away, seems to re-interpret her movements for the ensemble. The music follows her dance and percussive movements (the beat of a flapping fan, the swat of a tasseled stick), but Kaneko’s work on the koto – wrestling, pushing and plucking the zither’s strings – also steals the limelight.

And then we conclude with Kyu, an urgent finish which sees Rudolph return to his percussion, Watanabe beat a booming march on taiko, and our Kojima on her own. And here Mu Wi concludes with most woodwind and strings exchanged for cowbells and cymbals, leading to a crashing climax. At the finish Rudolph hailed the ‘amazing chemical combustion’ of the group. And while he certainly provides the fuel and the spark, a GO: Organic set does seem to reciprocate by itself, feeding off its own energy and re-compressing to push into the next musical phase. Who knows what they have planned next.

Categories: Live reviews

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