Listening to new music is, to a large extent, a process of redefinition. The
composer presents you with an array of unfamiliar sounds, and asks you to
expand your personal musical vocabulary to embrace his innovative idwas. It
sometimes works.
LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions), a lively downtown art gallery that
also includes a large performance space, is presenting three concerts on
successive Saturday nights in its “Sonic Series,” devoted to exploring new
musical sounds. Last Saturday’s opening concert, in a real sense, got off with
a bang, in a program by the percussionist Ron George and the sarod player Linda
George, as his many previous concerts have demonstrated, is not just any
percussion player. He builds his own instruments and he composes his own music.
For the first piece on Saturday’s program he sat in, you might say, the
driver’s seat of the “Bell Tree,” a fantastic composite one-man instrument of
his own design.
From a scaffolding of pipes and clamps, there were suspended 15 metal pieces
of various shapes: old drumheads, pot covers, Chinese gongs. Below these were a
further collection of metallic pieces: bowls, goblets, hanging cymbals and a
steel anvil. On both sides were several large gongs and a tam-tam, activated by
pedals. Down amidst all the paraphernalia, a paper scroll containing the music
unrolled at the touch of another pedal.
None of this would be more than clever hardware, of course, except that the 20-
minute piece he played on his instrument, “Variations on a Butterfly” turned
out to be music of considerable beauty, remarkable for its variety of sound and
Later George and several collaborators showed off yet another instrument of his
fashioning, an “American Gamelan” which did, indeed, produce sounds
reminiscent of its Indonesian counterpart. Instead of the various exotic drums,
however, George’s ensemble consists of clusters of various-sized tubes, metal
and bamboo, plus several more large gongs. His piece for the ensemble, called
“The Floating Bubble,” came off as 15 minutes of gorgeous, complex clatter,
considerably denser than the typical Indonesian repertory, bursting with
Linda Moskow’s sarod — a handsome, traditional 25-string instrument both
stroked and plucked, smaller than the familiar sitar but clearly related —
also made some marvelous sounds. Her part of the program included both
traditional Indian classical works and, just a shade less successfully, some of
her own songs that created a somewhat uneasy mix of east and west. The twain
don’t always meet, you know.