“Playfully Serious” Music: The Furies and ~Nois Take Scholes Street Studio

On Thursday, January 16, 2020, The Furies and ~Nois warmed Scholes Street Studio with a double-billed evening of playful and serious music, providing a meaningful antidote to a cold, windy, mid-January New York night. The Furies is an LA-based firecracker of a violin duo made up of Kate Outterbridge and Maiani da Silva, joined and propelled by a desire for gender equity in programming. Their all-female composer program at Scholes transcended any notion of re-balancing the scales: a daring, cutting, and vulnerable performance probed deep questions about human nature, both directly and abstractly.

The Furies opened with Jennifer Walshe’s Dirty White Fields, mvt 3. Almost impromptu, Outterbridge stumbled on from behind the audience, erratically gasping and lashing at her clothes-pinned strings. Then, the two dug into Olga Neuwirth’s …ad auras…, an angular work with ad lib conga performed by Jess Tsang. De-tuned violins crunched and clashed, creating unusual resonances with long and scratchy tones until a hocketed single-note crescendi brought us to the end.

Incidental Music No. 1 by Thundercunt, Outterbridge’s solo project, was the heart of the program. A collage of interviews with friends and family about their relationship to the word “hysteria” ran like an old film scored with lyrical violin atmospheres. “Hysteria for me feels like kind of having to doubt whether my feelings in social spaces are valid …the way that all people are taught to destroy the feminine parts of themselves…” These ruminations morphed into curt declarations from young female leaders, creating a sense of presence and urgency: “How dare you” (Greta Thunberg), “We call BS” (Emma Gonzalez). Then, like a plane lifting off, laughter started to permeate the tape. The last voice was Dr. Blasey Ford’s from the Kavanaugh trial: “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter.” The work had its light moments, too. “Cut one dick off and the whole country stops!” left the room in cackles.

The Furies--Photo by Maria Kanevskaya

The Furies–Photo by Maria Kanevskaya

Elizabeth A. Baker’s A Cure for Hysteria saw this voice re-embodied as Outterbridge and da Silva whispered into their violins: “Victorian era women saw a rise in hysteria… hysterical women are an inconvenience to their husbands and are wholly unhelpful around the house… something must be done!” The split-screen staging–the two of them going through similar motions at different rates–communicated an odd sense of disconnect and isolation. Complete with vibrators-on-violins, punk-style open-string strumming, orgasm sounds, and plangent, echoing Lydian lines layered on top of each other, A Cure for Hysteria is a jarring world unto itself. Its theatricality felt essential, exploiting the classical concert space to include a subversive female voice.

Thundercunt’s Incidental Music No. 2 felt like a b-side to No. 1, taking a wide-angle view on the topic of healing. A self-help TV segment, “10 Ways to Improve Your Mood,” comprised the bulk of the tape, but by pitting these tips against dissonant violin drones and vocals, the piece felt more like a satire of oversimplified promises of smarter living; more a celebration of normalcy than anything else. Then, given its place at the end of their program, Eve Beglarian’s Well Spent felt like a wheel cleaning itself of toxic debris. Violins arpeggiated around a Terry Riley-esque organ program. It was an unexpected, quasi-psychedelic palette cleanser.

After a break, Chicago-based saxophone quartet ~Nois, who recently premiered a suite of works by composer collective Kinds of Kings, burned through a program of music written almost entirely for them. Some reappearances from their Roulette debut–Emma O’Halloran’s Night Music and Gemma Peacocke’s Dwalm–felt even more relaxed this time around.

~Nois--Photo by Nick Zoulek

~Nois–Photo by Nick Zoulek

Introducing the philosophy behind her piece Gossamer, composer Cassie Wieland noted that strength and delicacy, often seen as two opposite ends of a spectrum, actually have to coexist. A saxophonist herself, she gravitated towards the instrument’s timbre, both raw and pure, to explore this idea. Gossamer features long, mourning tones over dark, cascading arpeggios building to a giant, unison distorted chord, followed by a series of hushed, pastoral harmonies.

Viet Cuong’s Prized Possessions begins much like Gossamer, but develops with more chorale writing, menacing glissandi, and a hint of Barber’s Adagio before warping into a high-octane banger. The acoustic of Scholes didn’t necessarily help to round out the bright and occasionally brash saxophone quartet sound, but at certain moments in this piece (and Peacocke’s Dwalm), János Csontos’ baritone “drops” were extremely satisfying.

As a closer, the two groups banded together to perform Andy Akiho’s lush and bubbling Karakurenai, a playfully serious work that is light and immense in equal parts. Soprano saxophonist Brandon Quarles moved over to the piano, and the other three melded with the Furies, circling–and circular breathing–around a downbeat until the very end. Note to self: finales are for friendship.