This year's visit to the annual Garden of Memory walk-through concert at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland was not as entirely satisfactory as it usually is. Start with the fact that everyone was late, including me. I went immediately to the Morgan Chapel where Amy X. Neuburg and Paul Dresher hang out in alternating sets, only to discover they weren't even scheduled to start until 6, an hour into the four-hour event. The main chapel was too crowded to get into, so I took my walk through the maze of tiny rooms, niches, corridors, uneven surfaces, and stairs - lots of tiny staircases - in the rest of the labyrinthine building where the ambient musicians hang out, hobbled somewhat by my determination that, after an unfortunate previous experience, I'm not going through there without my cane again; and hobbled also by the fact that I didn't hear much, as many of them weren't set up yet.
Back to the Morgan chapel at 6 to find that sound-checks were still going on into the indefinite future, setup having been delayed by a late-afternoon funeral (well, yes, those will occur here). So, back to the main chapel to hear a percussion ensemble called Falkortet that wasn't even on the performer roster, not a patch on William Winant (to whom they dedicated one of their pieces) but pretty good, to be followed by the Del Sol String Quartet except they weren't there, having been delayed in traffic.
When I finally caught Del Sol for their scheduled second set, they performed three pieces before hitting on a minimalist composition not so rigid that they could do justice to it - I didn't catch the composer's name but they say it'll be on an upcoming CD - and it was righteous. So was the Cornelius Cardew Choir, in one of the upper niches, performing Oliveros' Heart Chant with audience participation again, this time sounding more like Ligeti than Todd Barton. The retro-big band Orchestra Nostalgico, outside on the upper landing on a cold and blustery day, as if this were Seattle, seemed a little underpowered this year, and Amy X., when I finally heard her, was having more trouble than ever with her looping machine, requiring three tries to get through her most standard number, "Life Stepped In." But the Paul Dresher/Joel Davel semi-improv was particularly good this year.
Best of all was the last set before closing in the main chapel, by the 8-woman choir Kitka, performing folk songs from Georgia* and Bulgaria. Nasal, lots of stark open intervals, even sounds of goose honking that came out beautiful, a mesmerizing and enriching final experience.
Seen among the niches and conversed with: the Tall Black Woman and the Tall White Woman.
*Which Georgia did you think I meant, before you saw what followed it?