Formed in 1996, contemporary classical ensemble Eighth Blackbird “combines the finesse of a string quartet, the energy of a rock band and the audacity of a storefront theater company.” Their latest album, Hand Eye, is comprised of six instrumental pieces written by members of a composers’ collective called Sleeping Giant and influenced by pieces of contemporary visual art. Inspired by the artwork of Astrid Bowlby and Edward Gorey, Timo Andres’ “Checkered Shade” starts off with a simple piano-led orchestral riff with lots of minimal pinging and moods alternating between light and heavy. Sections of low rumbles and sparse strings lead into a mellower mass, which gets cut by an unexpected acoustic explosion, finally ending on a super mellow note.
Inspired by rAndom International’s installation piece, “Audience,” in which small, mirrored machines rotate to follow the movement of any viewer who steps into their midst, Andrew Norman’s cleverly titled “Mine, Mime, Meme” proffers an instrumental ensemble who mimic the playing of a cellist. This piece starts out sparse yet difficult, gradually becoming more chaotic. Inspired by an interactive sculpture by digital artists Zigelbaum and Coelho, Robert Honstein’s three-part “Conduit” begins with “Touch,” which features a staggered riff that sounds like it was based on a truncated version of the theme song from the Dennis the Menace TV show. During the second section, “Pulse,” minimal held tones are blended with quiet pulsations, while the third and final section, “Send,” boasts some sprightly bird-like melodic lines punctuated by acoustic hits that ascend to a super crazy, intense climax.
Inspired by “Swarm,” an interactive sound / light sculpture by rAndom International, as well as the experience of an East Coaster used to grey days transplanted into Southern California’s “unfailingly bright” sunlight, Christopher Cerrone’s “South Catalina” contains a field of spare, held “grey” tones interrupted by spry “sunny” outbursts. Inspired by a painting of Tyrone Robinson (who murdered a member of the Black Panther Party) by Robert Arneson, Ted Hearne’s “By-By Huey” is dominated by a gnarly, low-pitched, rumbling piano riff that gets smacked with instrumental punches straight out of an episode of the original Batman TV show. POW! The crossfade between this track and the next starts out with a low-pitched BOOM! followed by a battle of the pterodactyls in a giant canyon, ending with a gradual fade to silence.
Inspired by Leonardo Drew’s sentimental casts of dolls, trinkets and kitchenware, Jacob Cooper’s “Cast” is appropriately based on a gentle vibraphone melody accompanied by soft instrumental flourishes and occasional quirky outbursts, which brings an end to the whole program. Now, it’s your turn. All it takes is a little hand / eye coordination to insert Hand Eye into your CD player, then you’re ready to dive headfirst into 72 minutes’ worth of fine yet challenging, soothing yet jarring contemporary chamber music.
Text ©2016 Arcane Candy