YarnWire Band photogrpahed at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, New York

Yarn/Wire Deftly Navigates Two Sets of Experimental Music at FRANKIE in LA

I’ve never found myself at a concert wondering where the other patrons were coming from or what they were doing before we all sat down together – that is, until the second half of Yarn/Wire’s two-part program on Dec. 9 at FRANKIE, an event space in Downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District. “MOLTEN TREES” consisted of two sets by the piano/percussion quartet: the first at 4:00 pm featuring works by Tyondai Braxton, Sarah Davachi, and Andrew McIntosh, and the second at 8:00 pm for the West Coast premiere of works by Klaus Lang and Sarah Hennies.

So what exactly does one do during a two and a half hour intermission? For me, it was spent in a moderately well-lit McDonald’s parking lot — a welcome (if somewhat unimaginative) alternative to the alley just outside the venue’s entrance. As a woman attending the show alone, finding a nearby place that felt both safe after dark and enjoyable proved a bit difficult. But luckily, this was the only blemish on an otherwise pleasant evening.

The performances, including the time in between, were all inextricably linked to the idea of environment: how we connect to the space around us, and the ways it affects our listening experience. Andrew McIntosh’s Little Jimmy filled the venue just as the sun was setting. Written for Yarn/Wire last year, the work features field recordings from a camp of the same name in the Angeles National Forest, captured just months before it was burned in the 2020 Bobcat Fire. The sounds of faint winds, branches swaying, and birdsong are peppered throughout an eerie sonic backdrop of cymbal swipes and threads pulled between the inner strings of the piano. In a space surrounded by windows, the dwindling sunlight became part of the work, underscoring its ephemeral nature.

Yarn/Wire presents MOLTEN TREES at FRANKIE in Los Angeles -- Photo by Jonathan Hepfer

Yarn/Wire presents MOLTEN TREES at FRANKIE in Los Angeles — Photo by Jonathan Hepfer

Resonance was also a throughline of the program, amplified in part by the room’s acoustics, but especially in Sarah Davachi’s meditative Feedback Studies for Percussion. The overtones of gongs and tubular bells transformed into their own improvisatory instrument — echoing, blaring, and repelling each other before dissipating.

According to the composer’s program note, the piece requires the performers to respond to and control the sonic environment in real-time. The subtle dynamics and concentration on the lower register of the piano amplified the sounds of the room; the layout of the chairs (in a circle surrounding the ensemble) made anyone’s slightest movement audible. Oddly enough, any unexpected sounds like programs shuffling or the AC clicking on anchored you in the room, making you hyper aware of the environment until each noise was gradually engulfed by a thick wall of sound.

In stark contrast, Tyondai Braxton’s pithy Music for Ensemble and Pitch Shifter/Delay was a celebration of the quartet’s upper register. The piece is a timbral grab bag consisting of everything from flighty piano runs to electronic organ sounds, energetic video-gamified melodies, and moody undertones.

Yarn/Wire -- Photo by Mark Sommerfield

Yarn/Wire — Photo by Mark Sommerfield

Comprised of pianists Laura Barger and Julia Den Boer and percussionists Sae Hashimoto and Russell Greenberg, Yarn/Wire has been collaborating for 18 years, and this long history shone through in their synergy, even during the most intricate moments of the performance. Klaus Lang’s molten trees showcased the group’s ability to execute minutiae precisely. Throughout the 30-minute work, long bouts of repetitive pulsating chords begin in unison before being untethered and sliding into separate, slightly offset individual parts. A delicate piano ostinato lends an almost aquatic nature to the piece, complemented by the airy veil of bowed vibraphone.

Sarah HenniesPrimers jolted us out of this ethereal soundscape and back into something more sobering. The work’s weighty piano rhythms are interrupted by the vibraphone being pushed to the absolute limit of intensity with a ferocious tremolo. The ear-splitting dissonances — the kind that make your bones rattle and leave you wondering just how tightly bound the acoustic waves would have to be to make that sound — push you outside of one sensation and into another, then another.

Yarn/Wire flashed their effortless versatility as performers in this program of lively and alluring works, and their collaborative prowess held up expertly against the challenging repertoire. The ensemble has also positioned themselves as leading proponents for underrepresented composers, consistently commissioning and performing compelling works that enrich the contemporary repertoire. MOLTEN TREES was a prime example of skill, artistry, and advocacy working in tandem.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, and is made possible thanks to generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF.

You can support the work of ICIYL with a tax-deductible gift to ACF. For more on ACF, visit the “At ACF” section or composersforum.org.