Aaron Schaffer, Photo Editor

On Tuesday, Oct. 1, the librarians of Rush Rhees Library emptied the circulation area and welcomed a barrage of musicians. This guest group, which temporarily turned Friedlander Lobby into a concert venue, was Sound ExChange, an avant-garde orchestra composed of students from the Eastman School of Music. Performing a set that ran just under an hour, Sound ExChange successfully drew the hardworking River Campus students away from their books, at least for a little while.

According to the ensemble’s mission statement, Sound ExChange is devoted to creating exciting music that blurs genre divisions, incorporating audiences into its performances, and playing in unique locations. In other words, Sound ExChange is a postmodern orchestra, relying on allusion, playfulness, and the mashing-up of various styles into something new. Watching Sound ExChange was a rousing experience, precisely because the orchestra did not fit neatly into any one musical box.

The show opened with an extended percussion solo by graduate student Colin McCall, whose mastery of polyrhythms and varying time signatures bordered on the truly virtuosic. Next, the ensemble performed an instrumental piece that used phase piano techniques, reminiscent of the solo piano works by composer John Adams. Sound ExChange then shifted into blues, with Worden providing the occasional rhythmic imbalance on a drum kit and vocalist/co-artistic director and senior Matthew Cox showing his impressive vocal range on the soulful “Game for Fools.” The central theme in these performances was the juxtaposition of unconventional musical styles and formats — Latin polyrhythms with American blues, classical music with a rock band setup, etc.

Continuing the evening’s focus on world music, Cox led the ensemble in a rendition of Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy.” Here, the theatrical ballad was combined with orchestrations that blended jazzy, classical, and even Indian influences. A second solo by McCall came next, followed by a stripped-down cover by Cox of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” another instrumental piece, and finally the lengthy, emotionally devastating “Wasp.”

Without question, “Wasp” was the highlight of the concert. With Cox donning butterfly wings in a bit of performance art, the entire orchestra pitched in to craft an impressionistic story of love gone wrong. It featured vibrant percussion, perfectly in tune support by the group’s four string players, a touch of phase piano again, Cox’s best vocal performance of the evening, and an explosion of free jazz atonality. In the song’s final moments, these factors all cohesively formed a singularly fine performance.

There were a few drawbacks to the show. McCall’s second solo was a bit long, and Cox’s use of falsetto was not always effective. It was also regretful that the string, woodwind, and brass players were a bit underused during this performance.

But overall, Sound ExChange gave a very fine and moving show. These student musicians proved not only that they can create an environment for sharing musical ideas, but also that they can produce great music from the many theoretical changes and clashing styles of the postmodern age.

Gorman is a member of the class of 2014.



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