Concert Review: [Switch~ Ensemble] at The Invisible Dog Art Center

[Switch~ Ensemble] and commissioned composers at The invisible Dog Art Center (photo by Erik Bardin)

[Switch~ Ensemble] sat at the front of the Brooklyn factory space, The Invisible Dog Art Center, with a slew of unusual instruments poised: Each ensemble member sat with a found object, like a paintbrush and a metal bowl or a piece of fishing line. The lights flickered off as the ensemble started playing these objects, which were magnified by electronics, creating electric fuzz and metallic buzzes that reverberated across the room.

That piece—Kelley Sheehan’s the bends—epitomized the mood of the evening. [Switch~ Ensemble], which was founded in 2012 and is currently based in New York, is known for their work in bringing together acoustics and electronics, often blurring the line between the two. At The Invisible Dog on March 25, that was the central idea. The group presented five recently commissioned works: Sheehan’s the bends, Leilehua Lanzilotti’s hānau ka ua, Santiago Diez-Fischer’s perpetual green switch, Anna-Louise Walton’s Crossing, and Forbes Graham’s Inflection: Beacon Hill/Roxbury. The most compelling works on the program leaned into the idea of bridging acoustics and electronics, transforming conventional sounds into something unexpected.

[Switch~ Ensemble] in performance (photo by Erik Bardin)

Each of the pieces presented a different way of approaching instrumentation. The opener dealt with tactile sound made from everyday objects, while Diez-Fischer’s perpetual green switch featured soft, airy instrumentals matched with electric squeals, balancing moments of jarring energy with those of quietude. Both pieces centered percussive objects, but one created a constant, full-bodied environment while the other sputtered and burst in a variety of different directions. Walton’s Crossing similarly mixed texture by blending rhythmic key tapping with pitches eventually entering above.

The evening’s standout pieces, though, were Lanzilotti’s hānau ka ua (born is the rain) and Graham’s Inflection: Beacon Hill/Roxbury. Lanzilotti’s work explored the hundreds of words for rain in Native Hawaiian culture in a soft drone hanging above a field recording of rain. The field recording shifted from light rains to thunderstorms, while the ensemble morphed quiet, resonant drones into gentle taps and gossamer harmonics, filling the room with acoustic sound that matched the natural motion of the field recording. As the music played, the audience meditated on what rain means to them, writing out colorful postcards and returning them at the end of the concert; the music became a conversation, not just a performance.

[Switch~ Ensemble] in performance (photo by Erik Bardin)

Graham’s work felt like the sonic opposite of Lanzilotti’s, blooming from chaotic, interwoven melodies. In this piece, Graham sought to sonify the displacement of Black families in Boston from their once-epicenter in Beacon Hill to Roxbury. The composed and improvised music felt like organized chaos, spurting in bursts of energy that was born from the ensemble’s deep understanding of and communication with each other. They moved from inquisitive, eerie moments of stasis into intricate, fast-paced melodies with ease. By the end, a distant static consumed the sound of the instruments, overtaking the room. But again, it was a conversation, not just a performance: The musician’s worked together to form these melodies and rhythms and brought the audience in, too.

At its core, the evening’s best moments provided a moment of textural exploration that extended across the boundary of artist and audience. In the moments of musical change, we were on the ride with the ensemble, together in the room, jumping into each unexpected sound together.