When: Wednesday April 5, 2017 at 8pm
The name of New York composer Phil Kline is synonymous with the global cult Unsilent Night – the annual one night in December public artwork, which invites members of the public to collaborate in a street performance combining boomboxes and shared soundtracks.
The sum of the parts of Kline is one part rock musician, (having co-founded the band Del-Byzanteens with filmmaker and composer/musician Jim Jarmusch), one part performance artist, and one part classical music composer. Kline is an artist who crosses multiple boundaries bringing his diverse immersions in literature, theater, and the visual arts to progress meanings and sound worlds of what we call avant-garde music. At a concert at Brooklyn’s regarded venue Roulette showcasing Kline’s concert and multi-media works (2005–2017), the Meredith Monk curated evening brought two sets of Kline’s signature streams of creativity. The first set detailed text-inspired vocal music and piano music and the second delivered a filmic soundscape.
Kline’s program notes informed the audience of the decisions behind the dense poetic and prosaic text choices inspiring his vocal set. The excerpts included pieces from his opera in progress on Nikola Tesla, to film scripts featuring Joan Crawford. Kline’s vocal writing hovers on the precipice of recitative and cabaret song. The vocal lines hinge on sparse chord-based accompaniments with limited harmonic journeys. The accompaniments principally piano based, also offered augmentation opportunities from the viola and marimba for three songs.
The transparent quality of the writing places more pressure on the vocalist to deliver the text and the dramatic arc. Mezzo–soprano Jacqueline Horner – Kwiatek was not ideally cast. Horner-Kwiatek’s light voice, while bell-like in tone, shies from vibrato, especially in her higher tessitura. Kline’s compositional approach, the grimy intentionality of his chosen texts combined with the requisite characterization of the imposing Joan Crawford, would, perhaps, be better served by a cabaret singer, rock singer or a singing actress. Think Ute Lemper, meets Regina Spektor, meets Bjork.
After the text based focus of the first half, Kline’s signature boom boxes pinned the base of a soundscape + silent film montage in an improvisational and industrial musical setting focusing on Kline and Jim Jarmsuch on guitars, with David Cossin on drum-kit. Each artist contributed to a carpet of distortions, playbacks, effects, avant-garde techniques and cross feeds inspired by and in collaboration with an edited, black and white edited footage of Thomas Edison’s shots of New York. This was a threshold experience that demonstrated through the application of music articulated how the color gray can be experienced and felt.