Vocalist-composer Holland Andrews and violinist-composer Darian Donovan Thomas teamed up with Portland-based rhythmic duo Methods Body for an evening of shapeshifting music on March 31. It was part of the Ecstatic Music series at Kaufman Music Center’s Merkin Hall, and a fitting choice for the festival, which is currently in its twelfth year and highlights artists blazing their own trail in contemporary music.
The concert opened with Methods Body, the duo of John Niekrasz and Luke Wyland, followed by a performance of a new work by Andrews, Thomas, and Methods Body titled Blue Alchemy. The pairing proved eclectic: Methods Body’s music centers the intricacy of rhythm, while Andrews and Thomas often favor spaced out, reverberant sound. Together, the artists showed how transforming, layering, and playing with texture can create evolving shapes.
Methods Body began the evening with a two part set. The first section featured material from their debut self-titled album, which came out in spring 2020, while the second presented new works. Their music, broadly speaking, explores rhythmic interplay between percussion and synthesizer, layering detailed rhythms and melodies that snap together like a jigsaw puzzle. In the first half of their performance, there was a clear pattern to the music—drone, to frenetic pulse, and back—which started to feel monotonous despite the players’ clear skill and passion. The second half of their performance, on the other hand, did away with this clear patterning in favor of more twists and turns. At the music’s height, synthesizer and percussion perfectly melded together, moving from gentle consonance to dissonance as the pace sped up to a dramatic finale.
Blue Alchemy then began after a short intermission. Inspired by the many tones of the color blue, Blue Alchemy was a fluid, spontaneous collaboration that passed virtuosic solos to and from each artist, all on top of a lush, pulsating backdrop. Andrews’ flexible voice bended from bird call-like coos to operatic bellows to guttural screams, all on the turn of a dime, and when not singing, they brought out a clarinet that was soaked in reverb. Thomas’s violin playing was similarly flexible, moving from frenetic rolled chords to shrieking glissandi. Electronics captured and spit back phrases of music with frenzied energy, creating spirals of sound. The only weak moments in the performance came in the times of transition, where the music hung still and there was a sense of uncertainty about where it’d go next. Overall, though, the constant motion of the piece was captivating.
What was also enjoyable about this event was each artist’s clear love of playing music. Methods Body brought to the stage lightness and sense of humor alongside their groove, and the quartet was passionately entrenched in their own solos and group dynamics. It made the textural music feel all the more alive, bringing the audience into each artist’s journey through different instrumentations, sounds, and styles. A sense of togetherness extended from the start of the evening to the standing ovation that completed it.