Tuesday, January 27, 2015

An Antenna Repairmen Performance

Composer Arthur Jarvinen was born on January 27, 1956. Today would have been his 59th birthday. Each year I try to remember Art on his birthday with a Mixed Meters post.

This year I'd like to highlight a concert by The Antenna Repairmen, a percussion trio.  The members, Robert Fernandez, M.B. Gordy and Art, started playing together in 1978.  Yes, they were all CalArts students back then.

This particular concert was given at Roski School of Fine Arts at USC on November 5, 2009.  It was organized by Karen Koblitz an artist and professor there.

There is a fine video of the concert available online, in two parts.  It is well worth watching if you're interested in Art's music.

More importantly for those of us who knew the man, Art talks to the audience after the first set of pieces.  (You must listen carefully however because he isn't miked well.)  He describes the music, reveals the origins of the instruments and gives some insight into the ideas behind the compositions.  At one point he says:
Much of what we're playing is inspired by world music.  But it is all original music of our own, sort of filtered through the sensibilities of other world cultures that we politely borrow from.
Here is Part One of the video:

It begins with an introduction by Karen Koblitz.  At about 6 minutes the Repairmen make an processional entrance playing simantrons and chanting a Zen Buddhist proverbNichi nichi kore k┼Źnichi.  It means "Every day is a good day."  Art adds "Some days are better than others."  At the end of his life Art was studying to be a Zen Buddhist.

Simantron?  That's an Eastern European instrument, little more than a shaped board hit with a hammer.  Art was fascinated by it.  He wrote In Search of the Simantron at the New Music Box website.  I guarantee, there is more information about simantrons than you are expecting.  Art ends his article with this:
Bells can be solemn; I can play a bell with solemnity. But I have yet to learn how to play the simantron solemnly or in sadness.  Maybe it’s only because I’m a percussionist, but damn do I love to play the simantron!  I compose for it, I improvise on it for fun, and I beat it on July 4th to announce that the roast pig is ready. And whenever I play it, people seem to lighten up and enjoy it.

This is followed at about 10 minutes by a performance on a "big fake rock" The California Gaval Dashy created by Karen Koblitz.  It is initially wrapped in paper but the Repairmen remove that with scissors.  Rock?  Paper?  Scissors?  (Yes, that's the reference.)  They also play the rock with sticks and stones.  Then Bob clips Art's hair while M.B. waits his turn.  (The remaining pictures are captures from the video.)

The third piece on Part One (at about 15 minutes) is called Bong's Garbo, for three gongs.

After a spoken introduction by Art, Part Two of the video consists of a performance of the major sections of Ghatam, composed jointly by Fernandez, Gordy & Jarvinen.  It is a most satisfying and successful piece.  (That's my opinion of it.)

Here are some excerpts from the liner notes of Ghatam:
Ghatam is a collaborative work by percussion group The Antenna Repairmen and sculptor Stephan Freedman.  It is a sculptural/musical performance piece ... played entirely on ceramic instruments designed and built especially for this situation by Freedman.  Some of these are unique, while others are variants on instruments found in non-western cultures.
Ghatam is an interaction between sculpture, music and theatre.  Besides standing on its own merits as a purely musical work, it is meant to be beautiful to watch.

Ghatam is a remarkably well paced work. It bubbles with rhythmic vitality and musical sophistication. There are some surprising performance techniques - watch for flip flops and ping pong paddles. The theatricality and ritualistic sensibility is essential to the piece.

There is a wonderful commercial recording of Ghatam.

Here's an interview with Art on the Composer's Voice series. (Real Audio)

This link will reveal all Mixed Meters' posts about Arthur Jarvinen.  (There are a lot.)

The Invisible Guy (Art's surf music movie sound track presented with commentary and images)

Another performance video of M.B. Gordy and Bob Fernandez on the Gaval Dashy is here.

1 comment :

Victoria Looseleaf said...

The Antenna Repairmen performed in Heidi Duckler's original "Parts & Labor" in 1992. Duckler revisited the work last week and MB Gordy and Bob Fernandez performed in "Parts & Labor: Redux." Here's my KCET Artbound article on that performance: