November 11th, 2016 | Live reviews

photography by david cotner

Musica Elettronica Viva {MEV} – November 9, 2016 – REDCAT

The three great ancients of the avant-garde known as Musica Elettronica Viva (Alvin Curran, Frederic Rzewski and Richard Teitelbaum) don’t produce music like it’s one great river of unending champagne. Instead, the sounds that create that music are more like individual spirits which exist in their own time and space—not a moment too soon, not a step too far. Founded in 1966 in Rome and devoted to the pursuit of sonic freedom and openness, they’re just coming off a U.S. tour in which they blow a whole new generation of minds that might not otherwise be aware of the potential of life conceived of as one very long concert.

Teitelbaum’s Yamaha synth gently belches forth sounds of an indeterminate nature—choosing their own adventure—and the fluttering, shuttering sonic floodgates burst open, emptying themselves all over the angelic guts of this moment laid bare across the breadth of Rzewski’s grand piano. Dancer Simone Forti—appearing with MEV for the first time in 50 years—makes her way throughout the stage achingly and artfully, gesturing silently so that the sound she makes comes mostly from the audience’s imagination. Playing his piano softly as Satie, Rzewski operates in graceful counterpoint to the weird welter of sound to which Teitelbaum gives birth while playing his assortment of instruments.

MEV makes music that requires—nay, abducts—your attention as it unfurls from their minds to your ears, but as quickly as you think you’ve figured out the sound, it mutates and apparates into some other level as you flounder in its wake. “This is our old friend Simone Forti, who is joining us,” Rzewski says with a laugh, introducing their dancer. Together, the four of them make music like waves move—occasionally intersecting while pursuing their own paths, yet always and essentially part of the same ocean. Even Teitelbaum’s reflection inside the glossy lid of Rzewski’s grand piano seems to possess a voice of its own. At one point, Rzewski’s beating of the wires on his sound board catch his piano unprepared, and Curran introduces a Beavis & Butthead loop (“Heh heh…dumbass…”) that intersects with a pan-flute and it’s anyone’s guess where they go from there.

“What is there to say? What can you say? So why say it?” asks Rzewski. “I ain’t sayin’ nothin’,” Teitelbaum replies. Forti does a little soft-shoe, Curran summons up some Dixieland jazz and Teitelbaum plays the slide whistle. Notes fall from the piano—Rzewski doesn’t play it so much as enter into a dialogue with it—dropping to the floor like final words in a lover’s quarrel. There is a buzzing sound and the plucking of strings. Teitelbaum marvels, “I can’t believe I’m in Los Angeles. This is a crazy town. It really is.” Commenting on the recent election of Donald Trump as President, Rzewski softly advises, “Don’t mourn. Organize. Don’t mourn. Organize. That’s what we can do.” Sounds of the city mix with Forti’s plaintive wail and the shofar that Curran plays, can’t help sounding mournful and knowing as it vanishes up into the rafters after an hour or so to dwell in some scarce Heaven.

—David Cotner