Check it out
Who: Paul Dresher and friends
When: 8 p.m. April 6 and 2 p.m. April 7; a post-performance Q&A with the musicians will follow both performances
Where: Vanderhoef Studio Theatre, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at UC Davis
Tickets: $38 general, $19 students; www.mondaviarts.org, 530-754-2787
Composer/performer Paul Dresher — known for building new and unusual instruments that he uses in the music he writes — will visit the Mondavi Center’s Vanderhoef Studio Theatre on Saturday, April 6, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 7, at 2 p.m. with a program titled “Double Duo.”
Among the uncommon instruments to be heard will be the quadrachord, a horizontal instrument that is about 15 feet long, and has a total string length of 160 inches, with four strings of differing gauges but of equal length, and an electric bass pick-up next to each of the two bridges.
The instrument can be plucked like a guitar, bowed like cello, played like a slide guitar, prepared like a piano and drummed on like a percussion instrument. Because of the extremely long string length (relative to conventional bowed and plucked instruments), and very low open string/fundamental pitches, the instrument is a remarkable tool for exploring alternative tuning systems based on the harmonic series.
Also featured will be an instrument called the marimba lumina, designed by synthesizer pioneer Don Buchla. The marimba lumina’s playing surface includes a traditionally arrayed set of electronic bars. Each bar is made up of two overlapping antennae that receive proximity information from each of the four mallets. This allows the marimba lumina to respond to new performance variables such as position along the length of each bars. In addition, each mallet is tuned to a unique frequency, which allows one to program different instrumental responses for each mallet.
The performers will be Paul Dresher (quadrachord and electric guitar), Joel Davel (marimba lumina and quadrachord), Karen Bentley Pollick (violin) and Lisa Moore (piano, electronic keyboard). Performing in various combinations of solo, duo, trio and quartet, the “Double Duo” repertory moves from entirely acoustic works such as John Adams’ “Road Movies” or Martin Bresnick’s “Bird As Prophet,” through hybrid electro-acoustic works like Dresher’s “Chorale Times Two” to the invented instrument duo “Glimpsed From Afar,” which will feature both the quadrachord and the marimba lumina.
“Because the quadrachord is so big, and Joel and I both play the instrument at the same time, ‘Glimpsed from Afar’ has a very important choreographic element” — basically, Dresher and Davel need to move back and forth, playing their respective parts, without tripping each other up.
“I’ve always been reluctant to release the piece as an audio-only recording, because it really should be seen, rather than simply heard,” Dresher told The Enterprise. He added that “there is a nine-minute video excerpt on YouTube (also found on the Mondavi Center website) that is really good,” which can give the curious an idea of what to expect when the piece is done in concert.
Bresnick’s “Bird as Prophet” is a duo for violin and piano. “The ‘bird’ is Charlie Parker,” Dresher explained. “Bresnick’s music doesn’t sound like bebop, but in the melodic material you can hear that kind of fluid line.
“Another piece of Bresnick’s, ‘Willie’s Way,’ is a piece that Martin wrote based on a theme by Willie Dixon, which (the ’60s rock group) Cream recorded, creating their own version. (What we do) is our version that should be called ‘Fantasia on a Theme’ by Willie Dixon, and it is almost Brahms meets Willie Dixon meets Cream, which at one time I would not have imagined possible.”
Elsewhere on the program will be a movement from Dresher’s “Double Ikat,” a piece written in 1988-90 that now ranks as a contemporary classic.
Mondavi Center audiences may recall the percussion-driven theater piece “Schick Machine,” which featured Dresher’s music (as well as some Rube Goldberg-like gadgetry), which was performed at the Mondavi Center in November 2009 over several days.
“Those were the first performances of what became the finished version of the piece,” Dresher said.
“Schick Machine” was launched at a time when many presenting organizations like Mondavi were suffering from recessionary budget cutbacks, but in the last year, “Schick Machine” has been touring widely and drawing enthusiastic audiences.
“We just did it in Urbana, Illinois, and then we took it to Hong Kong — it was great to do it for an international audience,” Dresher said. “We’ll be taking it to UCLA and UC San Diego soon. The piece continues to have a good life.”
Tickets are $38 general, $19 for students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787. A post-concert Q&A session with the performers will follow both performances.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at email@example.com or 530-747-8055.