ICE, ICE, Baby

international contemporary ensemble, “roots and return” @ museum of contemporary art, 9/11/2010.

The startling glissandos in Dai Fujikura’s new composition “ice,” written with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) specifically in mind, stretched and pulled the audience as if we were silly puddy. Suddenly, out of the meditative tinkling of percussion, the string players would slide up the necks of their instruments with a hair-raising swoop, or the woodwinds would drop down, as if we had all suddenly hit an air pocket of turbulence.

It was a shocking compositional move that threatened to become a gimmick, but did not, I think, because it had a kind of intellectual quality. This was all in the set up, in the partial movement of instruments this way or that, up and down, quiet or suddenly fervent.

Fujikura’s compositions—ICE also performed his short solo piano piece, “returning”—were full of this kind of composing. They had plasticity but were not plastic; they spoke in the disconcerting language of contemporary music, but with a haiku-like simplicity. It was the sound of salt and silicon, flower petals and computer chips, granite and milk, water drops and blackberries.

What was particularly noticeable was how Fujikura’s compositions were in the tradition of the other composers in the night’s program, Schoenberg and John Adams and Fujikura’s mentor, Pierre Boulez, but they sounded so much newer. Schoenberg’s 1906 “Chamber Symphony No. 1” still had a kind of mahogany-wood-desk heaviness to it despite its revelations of stripped-down modernism; even John Adams’s 2007 “Son of Chamber Symphony” had a kind of predictable wine-cooler-and-pesto 1980s sound to it, with its light-but-steady propulsive rhythm and keyboard-clatter harmonies.

By contrast, something had gone wireless in Fujikura’s music, had left the study and the cubicle behind for the network, could navigate the contemporary apparatus of flexible power and place with a virtuosic mobility. His compositions offered hints, clues, notes on how to slide up or drop down among the invisible frequencies and wavelengths shaping today’s world, letting them wash over you without ever seeping utterly into you or completely bowling you over.

One final note on the curation and presentation of the event: it is fascinating to experience how the MCA and ICE strive to make their concerts more hip and less stuffy. A mid-concert interview between ICE founding director and flutist Claire Chase and composer Fujikura; a cash bar in the lobby after the show with the performers; a blog about the event, complete with mobile ringtones from the program—it’s all wonderful.

But how funny to see the line get crossed between more casual performance settings and total chaos and sloppiness: the ticket line at the start of the performance was a disorganized mess and after the performance of Fujikura’s second composition, the composer kept rising to go on stage, then sat down again after he was not called up. One person behind me on the ticket line was horrified at the inefficiencies and informalities, but I found these gaffes and imperfections endearing. Sometimes art can be good when it smuggles beauty through the back door of messy conviviality. And this was the case with MCA and ICE on this particular night.


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