Review: MEV at Cafe Oto

MEV at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved


MEV at Cafe Oto
(13 December 2013; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)


MEV - Musica Elettronica Viva, emerged in Rome in 1966, from the prevailing collective ethos and confrontational politics of the moment. They eschewed traditional compositional modes and dedicated themselves to improvisation and experimentation, taking cues from Cage and Tudor, and public disorder was sparked by their radical approach at the time. Personnel have changed over the years, and more recently they have crossed paths with AMM with whom they share common points of reference.

This concert at Cafe Oto by three founding members of MEV, Alvin Curran, Frederick Rzewski and Richard Teitelbaum, each highly respected American composers and performers, hovered enticingly on the edges of unpredictability, characterised by the trio's acute sensitivity to the flux of the sonic events they generated as the single work evolved organically over a sixty minute span.

Curran has described the original contract between the performers: "... the fragile bond of human trust that linked us all in every moment remained unbroken. the music could go anywhere ... in the general euphoria of the times, MEV thought it had re-invented music; in any case it had certainly rediscovered it." They proved that they have lost none of that inquiring spirit or intellectual dexterity, and their combined experience yielded an impressively challenging and finely nuanced proposition.

There was no respect for consistency, or the borders of specific genres. They utilised all means available to achieve their end - what seemed like appropriation was more a collagist's approach where transformation through recontextualisation is the key to the process. The acoustic piano was centre stage - initially played by Curran for a short spell, then taken over by Rzewski. To its left, keyboard/electronics, behind which Curran settled, and to its right, electronics equipment and Mac laptop, presided over by Teitelbaum.

A dry humour surfaced in the form of verbal interjections by Rzewski, who started with a passage about the Mississippi, referred with a twist of nostalgia to "Brother Teitelbaum" and later declared, "If you think we don't know what we're doing, you're right!"

The key to the event was the creation of space by using the space of the room. Sampled yodels and crowd voices were poised alongside Curran's jazzy piano episode, snatches of blues and Bach. The piano wires were lent an off-key, displaced sound by shoes that Curran and Rzewski 'discovered' in its body.

Hand held toys - moo and baa boxes - were utilised for the banal sounds they offered, beats were pulled in and drawn out of the mix. Rzewski's increasingly intense piano explorations merged with the industrial electronic backwash with its sub-station humming, tremors and rumblings. A flock of geese passed through in milliseconds.

Their shared sensibility was the focus around which they gathered all the strands. It was subtle master class in improvisation, micro-adjusted at every point, that made its impact with low-volume tensions packed with bright detail, and brief bouts of power volume that, in juxtaposition, could not fail to delight and surprise.

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