Thursday, March 13, 2008

Chiu-d Out

Disappointing show last night at the Stone by violinist Tom Chiu of the excellent FLUX Quartet. Admittedly, vibes were off before the music even started: we were made to wait in the cold until five minutes to show-time (with no apology or explanation from the guy at the door), the performance was about 20 minutes late to start, and there were several ear-splitting mistakes during the mic check. The no-frills feel of the Stone is cool - no reservations, no drinks, reasonable ticket prices (with half the proceeds going to the players) - but this was just unprofessional.

Things improved when Chiu finally got started, generating delicate Aphex-y blips from a laptop and processor. He twiddled knobs for a few minutes, making surprisingly little impact on the sound (I'm often confused by causal relationships in laptop performances), then picked up a piece of paper and intoned from what sounded like a disclaimer on a financial report. I gather the idea was to poke fun at those market-minded stiffs who don't dig things like improv at the Stone, but the words never gelled with the music and the end result seemed pretentious and smug.

The next piece was a duet with another laptop artist, Michael Schumacher. We were told Chiu caught Schumacher's set at 8 and was so impressed he asked him to stick around and jam. (This was apparently the first time they'd met.) The results, as one might expect, were confused and uninspired: Chiu dutifully working his way through an arsenal of extended violin techniques (harmonics, microtones, detuning, using the bow percussively, etc.), while Schumacher's laptop emitted bland crackling sounds which I think even Chiu may have mistaken momentarily for speaker malfunction.

From there, things got better (Chiu joined by
fellow Fluxers Conrad Harris (violin) and Max Mandel (viola) for some more structured improvisation on a Chiu composition) and much worse (Chiu accompanying an enthusiastic actress from the audience who wanted to recite a monologue from Henry the VI). By the last number, Chiu advised his assorted crew, which by then had grown to include Schumacher, Mandel, the composer Matthew Welch, and a poet desultorily introduced as "Crazy Mike," that they ought to keep it short. I got the sense no one in the audience objected.

As my friend commented on our walk home, Chiu is obviously well-trained and well-intentioned, but knows little about improv and seems to view it as something of a facile trick. I'm all for musicians taking risks, but if the idea is just to entertain oneself and a few sympathetic friends and colleagues, don't put an ad in the paper and don't charge.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Chiu, shame on you!

Nice review. Sorry it was less than stellar. Keep up the reviews, Jake!