yMusic, Richard Reed Parry and Son Lux at Merkin Hall

For a vegetarian, going to a vegetarian restaurant (or an allergen free restaurant for someone suffering from food allergies, etc.) brings a relief that is rarely experienced by omnivores: it feels safe. Everything on the menu is OK, whatever the name of the entree is, how obscure the list of ingredients looks, or exotic the dressings sounds. On February 8th, I was surprised to experience the same relief sitting in Merkin Hall, waiting for the concert to start. I knew who I was coming to hear, but I had voluntarily limited my research to enjoy the fuzzy knowledge of what was going to happen. Why? Because it felt safe. The chances of coming across a pretentious, untalented act were close to zero. The night would be full of collaborations, and unique.

yMusic, Richard Reed Parry, and the Dessner twins - Photograph by David Andrako

Indeed, on that night Richard Reed Parry (from Arcade Fire) and Son Lux were collaborating with one of the hottest new music ensembles around: yMusic. The show was broadcast live on Q2 and WNYC’s John Schaefer was hosting the evening as part of their New Sounds program. It was so nice to have a friendly voice welcome the artists on stage and ask about the music that was being performed. Richard Reed Parry was the first to talk and introduced the concept behind his cycle of compositions for heart and breath. In a nutshell: ten years ago Parry started reflecting upon the idea of inner/outer tempo and how we impose so much on our bodies when we perform music: why not see it the other way and let our bodies dictate the tempi? As a result, he started writing music based on the performers heartbeat or breath. To synch one’s part with one’s breath sounds relatively simple (although it’s probably not), but listening to one’s heartbeat while playing requires a stethoscope, and the performers were wearing them around their necks at all times (Parry apparently purchases them in bulk on eBay…) Parry presented 5 pieces based on the same idea, introduced in order of increasing forces: quartet, quintet, sextet, nonet, … Although different in character and affect the pieces all shared a gentle pusle, pandiatonic harmonies, and an organic randomness. Not all pieces were lead the same way and the interplay between breath and heartbeat made for a nice variety. On many instances, the musical exchange between groups seemed to turn the ensemble into a living organism: the “breath” group bringing necessary musical material (oxygen) to a pulsating “heart” group hooked on their stetoscopes, sending back musical enriched material (blood) to the former. The idea never got gimmicky, each piece following another with a renewed sense of poetry and spontaneity…

Richard Reed Parry - Photograph by David Andrako

There is already a sonic evidence of the collaboration between yMusic and Son Lux, namely the first—and eponymous—track of yMusic’s album Beautiful Mechanical. Written by Son Lux (nom de plume of Ryan Lott) this pulsating monster of a piece actually opened the concert with its running lines in the cello and the clarinet balanced by energizing skips in the trumpet. Beautiful Mechanical is a perfect piece to showcase yMusic’s tight, exciting and refreshing sound. Son Lux captures here the full potential of such an unusual geometry (flute, clarinet, trumpet, viola, violin and cello).  Later, Lott delivered two songs (Flowers, Leave the Riches available here) at the piano, accompanied by yMusic. The contrast between his “wonky voice”(his own words) and his young appearance was a bit surprising but brought lots of character to his songs.

Son Lux - Photograph by David Andrako

 Still Points, a pieced by Son Lux based on Parry’s music (featured on this CD I believe) brought the entire lineup together. Son Lux had sampled some orchestral bits from Parry’s piece and was playing them on an old-school looking keyboard (please forgive my ignorance), while Parry had left the double bass to play piano. Still Points was, in a way, the epitome of the idea behind Ecstatic Music Festival: three musical personalities (or entities) were introduced and they were now using each other’s material to create something really unique. This appropriation of Parry’s material lead to a colorful, free-flowing piece, rich in imitation. The evening closed with Presto, a fast and playful piece with lydian accents by Son Lux, whose angular melodic lines revealed yet another aspect of Lott’s music.

Great lineup, fruitful collaborations, great radio host, all here thanks to Q2: http://www.wqxr.org/#/articles/q2-music/2012/feb/06/richard-reed-parry-son-lux-and-ymusic-live-merkin-concert-hall/

Thomas Deneuville, the founder and editor of I care if you listen, is a French-born composer living in NY. Find him on Twitter: @tonalfreak