Contemporary Arts Forum and Iridian Arts brought the New York-based Common Sense Collective to town for two nights of new music last weekend.
Paul Wellman

At one slightly startling point after his Robin Cox Ensemble premiered composer Carolyn Yarnell’s brand new work, event producer and composer Robin Cox casually asked, “Did we do okay?” It was a telling moment, and not awkward in the slightest. Here, after all, was a rare occasion, where an entire program of world premieres by mostly N.Y.C.-based composers was unfolding, in the invitingly intimate space of Contemporary Arts Forum. This was phase one in a promising new series of live events and happenings at CAF, aptly named the Strike Series for their post-strike timing, between exhibitions in the gallery.

Cox’s venturesome Iridian Arts-presenting organization has kicked up another series of concerts, of which the Common Sense confab was a hardy beginning. The program was framed by the opening salvo of Belinda Reynolds’s “PATH,” with its tonal and minimalist syntax coming in and out of focus, and closed with her husband Dan Becker’s bustling minimalist number “Clockwork.” Becker’s is a steelier variation on minimalist thinking, closely resembling the tough-guy Minimalist approach of one of his teachers, the great Dutch composer Louis Andriessen.

Becker, in fact, was the de facto spokesperson in the house, although a few other composers were also present to talk about their works. Common Sense is one of several enterprising, do-it-yourself efforts by young independent composers seeking airtime for their creativity. From the evidence here, the composers involved deserve the attention.

As for the piece in question, Huntington Beach-based Yarnell’s work, “Catalina/iMagic,” imparts a loose sense of rhythmic interplay with a tape element, and wears its vague, vaporous neo-impressionism nicely (assuming the Cox Ensemble did okay). Ed Harsh’s beguilingly understated “Three Times” states its melodic case thrice, gaining in momentum and density. Mark Mellits’s oddly-named “Shredded Paranoid Cheese” is, despite the glibly Zappa-esque title, a lovely mood piece, with thrumming low mallet percussion beneath a sweet, reverb-slathered violin part. Melissa Hui’s “Swing,” like Reynolds’s “PATH,” reworks the idea of dancing around and under a recurring theme, this one being darkly lilting and hypnotic.

A global social conscience snuck in the side door on a couple of pieces. John Halle’s “Homage” includes a recitation of names of those killed in the Iraq war, to chilling effect. A more peaceful gambit is at work in Randall Woolf’s “Holding Fast,” for solo violin and tape (ambient sounds and chants), with video footage of Tibetan refugees in Darjeeling.


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