Chance & Circumstance Festival: Absurdist Theater + Experimental Noise

The Chance & Circumstance Festival finished its three-night run on Saturday, September 21st with performers Bromp Treb, h0t club, and Ensemble Pamplemousse. The evening, which doubled as a record release party for Pamplemousse’s new album Lost At Sea, was a light-hearted celebration of absurdist theater and an exploration of predominantly non-harmonic expressive sound. Due to construction at the JACK performing arts space in Brooklyn, this year’s festival was held on the upper floor of The Chocolate Factory Theater located in Long Island City, Queens. The space itself is an unadorned, raw concrete chamber featuring treacherous DIY stadium seating, an open shaftway, and an impressive bramble of dusty wires leading to multiple sticker-laden laptops. There were many fun strategies for climbing up the precipitous seating between the groups, but regardless of demographics, everyone in the small, attentive crowd could agree that it was very hot. 

Bromp Treb opened the evening with great elan, beginning his solo set with a flourish of agonized facial expressions while stuttering patterns of bit-crushed, high-frequency laden bedlam panned rapidly in the stereo image. The “noise-ician” created a wash of detailed, complex sounds, occasionally mixing digitally effected samples with vocal improvisations and breath. The wonderful comedic timing of his performance with his anxious, feral body movements and purposefully embarrassing expressions occasionally resulted in eruptions of laughter from the audience. True to his character, he extended the set with an impromptu Q&A, where the only question he answered seriously was about the sweat wicking capability of his shirt.

Ensemble Pamplemousse's Chance & Circumstance Festival 2019--Photo by Natacha Diels

Ensemble Pamplemousse’s Chance & Circumstance Festival 2019–Photo by Natacha Diels

The art-house vibe continued with the duo h0t club, who performed in front of a screen with memes and gifs cued up by a computer keyboard hanging from the frontman’s neck. Their songs were like a playful type of beatnik poetry, where the words were slowly revealed one at a time, resulting in little stories and phrases with a surprise at the end. A computerized voice performed the poetry, which was cued by the bopping, keyboard wielding frontman, and accompanied by an electronic drum pad that cycled through various patches and sampled kits. The computerized voice was purposefully stilted and slow, which made the complexity and imagination of the grooves seem all the more vibrant. With songs like “Google Me” accompanied by memes of sloths and expertly improvised jazz drumming technique, the wry sense of humor of the two was one of the highlights of the night. 

Ensemble Pamplemousse, an avant garde composer collective, took up the lion’s share of the performance time to feature new work from their album Lost At Sea. A kinetic group for a composer’s collective, much of their work is based on choreography interacting with musical or otherwise sonic improvisation. Because very little of the performance was locked into a tempo, it was the timing of different things that brought the most delight, often resulting in awkward pauses and complicated embellishments when simultaneous performances timed up. Physical interaction with their instruments or voices delved into the mechanical, with many pieces featuring home-made noisemaking machines or convoluted patching systems supplementing the sounds coming from their instruments with often unforeseeable responses. 

Ensemble Pamplemousse--Photo courtesy Borealis Festival

Ensemble Pamplemousse–Photo courtesy Borealis Festival

A vocal FX piece by David Broome entitled Trolls had two female voices telling a short story overtop of each other, which were then effected and slowed down underneath. Turning occasionally to a modern pop aesthetic, 80s sounding synthesizer patches with simplistic, childlike scales sounded overtop of each other with sampler interactions. Another storytelling piece, The God Fearing Woodsman by Natacha Diels, was a story about a man searching for a sapphire told by a performer wearing a stunning green-sequined shirt that sparkled underneath a video of flying through the clouds. Weston Olencki‘s Chime Array had the performers hooking a projector up to multiple sets of wind chimes, which reacted to their touch by displaying colorful video interference on screen and distorted, glitchy sound. As may seem natural for an evening like this, there was also ballroom dancing.

Improvisatory theater pieces were balanced with occasional harmonic pieces. In Andrew Greenwald‘s Hymn on a Bruce Hornsby Theme, a trio of three detuned keyboards played some of the only tonal chords of the evening, lightening the load on the audience with music more familiar, but still interestingly presented, as cacophony of the three out-of-tune pianos resembled distant church bells clanging different tunes.

The entire evening–which was three hours long and had five set changes–was a lot to digest, though the humor kept it lively. It was nice to feel encouraged both by the work and the performers to smile and chuckle. Ensemble Pamplemousse ended the 2019 Chance & Circumstance Festival with all five in a straight line facing the audience performing a piece of rhythmic funny faces and choreography, snapping their fingers and clucking their tongues. It was the only time of the evening that the performers were locked in tempo, in concert with each other. The show ended with a flourish, all five blowing a kiss to the audience and inviting everyone to a birthday party.