Bent Frequency Duo is a musical group composed of percussionist Stuart Gerber and saxophonist Jan Berry Baker. Last Friday night the duo performed a set at Mack and Mack clothing, which featured a number of unique pieces from composers like Mark Engebretson and Dorothy Hindman.
Gerber and Baker, who are also both music professors at Georgia State University, are also part of a larger Atlanta-based ensemble known as Bent Frequency. Their Bent Frequency Duo Project is a subgroup of that ensemble. As a duo, the two have toured different parts of the United States and Europe. Some of the pieces that they have performed include works by American composers like Christopher Burns, Devin Maxwell and Jeff Herriott, and European composers like Vivienne Olive (Germany) and Stefano Pierini (Italy).
Bent Frequency’s style of music is very fluid in nature, as the group aims to “redefine the traditional music experience – ushering it from the strict formality of the concert hall to into the fresh air of contemporary artistic expression and experimentation.”
The first piece they played at last Friday night’s set was a composition called “From the Air” (1982), which is the opening track from American musician Laurie Anderson’s 1982 debut album, “Big Science.” This song featured a hard, grimy drum rhythm and an eerie saxophone melody. Together they formed an aesthetic that was drenched in darkness and mystery. Throughout the piece, Gerber spoke through a loud megaphone from the perspective of a general or commander of a spaceship, giving out orders to the audience. All of these unique elements combined to create an experience that was both futuristic and cinematic for the opening song.
The second piece was titled “Child’s Play” (2015), and was written specifically for the Bent Frequency Duo by American composer Amy Williams. In her own words, “Inspiration sometimes comes from the farthest reaches and sometimes from very close to home. In this case, I chose very small objects from my children’s toy boxes – those that I found to have a sufficient range of sonic possibilities.”
This piece began with an abstract saxophone and recorder duo. Together two instruments created an intentionally ring-y aesthetic to create an atmosphere of stillness, resembling an audio form of Purgatory. Throughout the song, Berry performed quick mini-runs on her saxophone, making the piece more vibrant and colorful in nature. After a short rest, the second phase of the song began. This section of music featured a staccato saxophone melody layered over a punchy, ethnic percussion rhythm, which made for a new, more dynamic area of music that quickly transitioned into a highly energetic percussion solo. The final phase of “Child’s Play” ended with a brassy percussion aesthetic and a saxophone phrase that came together to evoke emotions of loneliness and sadness.
“Seven Hills, OH,” the third song performed by the duo, was written by American composer Devin Maxwell. He wrote, “’Seven Hills, OH’ is a musical memoir that reflects on my time working on music in Cincinnati, OH. It’s not a narrative depiction… think more like flashes of memories: people, food, music, ideas. The musical concepts explored in the piece are ones that I discovered or worked to understand while working in Cincinnati.”
This piece began with a bouncy duet between the saxophone and the percussion, featuring hard kick drums and a glassy snare. As the song went on it began to paint a darker image for a few brief moments, but soon after the original phase resumed. After a short rest, a slow tempo duet was played between the sax and the bells, and as the instruments crescendo the tempo became faster and faster until the song ended on a note of high energy.
The fourth song that the Bent Frequency Duo performed was titled “Oceans of Brightly Colored Broken Glass (Glittering like Diamonds in the Tropical Sun).” It was commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University for Bent Frequency, and was composed by Mark Engebretson. Unlike the pieces played before, this song began with a soft aesthetic between the sax, percussion and a digital element that they incorporated. As the musicians played, members of the audience connected their cell phones to a web page that would play another part of the song through their phone speakers. The song was sad, yet hopeful, and all of the sounds came together to paint the image of a summertime beach. But there was also a tinge of pain within the sounds. As the music continued it gradually transitioned into a second phase that featured a faster tempo and drums that seemed to be influenced by hip-hop and traditional African music. This song ended with a vocal harmony (which played through the cell phones) that seemed to last for an eternity.
The next to final song performed by the duo was titled “You Don’t Need Eyes to See,” and was written by Amelia Kaplan. She wrote, “The title ‘You Don’t Need Eyes To See’ comes from an NPR story about blind people who can learn to echolocate. With training, they can learn to distinguish different environments to the level of recognizing the edges of sidewalks and where cars are (parked or moving), playgrounds, natural environments including hiking trails, etc.”
Beginning with aggressive, punchy drum rolls and sax squeaks, the piece moved and became more playful as the saxophonist began to play low and high runs, as the percussionist engaged in a series of powerful crescendos. Most of the piece continued in this same fashion with symbol crashes played occasionally throughout, until it finally ended with a brief percussion solo.
Although the majority of the music played at the Friday night show was experimental and abstract, The Bent Frequency Duo made it a point to use their final piece to make a political statement. The last song, “RIPT,” addressed the epidemic of gun violence and murder of young black men, as poignantly captured in the new tradition of creating memorial T-shirts with the pictures of the murdered men’s faces. The music draws its source material from “Beef” by Lil Reese, Lil Durk and Fredo Santana. “Beef” was the song playing when David Dunn murdered Jordan Russell Davis in an altercation that began because Dunn felt the music was playing too loudly in the SUV Davis was riding in. Sonically, “Beef” was similar to many of the songs that were played previously, featuring saxophone melodies, bells, kicks and other forms of percussion. But unlike much of the other music this piece actually had lyrics, as both Baker and Stuart rapped the lyrics from “Beef.”
Introspective, reflective and conscious, “RIPT” was an appropriate closing piece to a Friday night set by the Bent Frequency Duo.
Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Reviews, Visual & Performance
Leave a Reply