Sunday, October 27, 2013

out standing in their field

Leaving aside how I finally got there, I did attend the first performance of Lisa Bielawa's Crissy Broadcast open-air musical event in San Francisco's Presidio on Saturday morning. It was an interesting experience, but not a very musical one.

The venue was a large grassy field on the bay shore, dotted with giant metal sculptures made of bits of building girders, that looked like they'd fallen off a skyscraper. In the background, the looming presence of the Golden Gate Bridge slowly emerged from foggy invisibility over the course of the morning.

As the starting time approached, groups of musicians, mostly teenagers, were standing around together in distinct but adjacent clots in the middle of the field - the San Francisco Girls' Chorus over here, the Lowell High School string orchestra over there, at least half a dozen others whose identities I didn't know. Many of them had musical parts taped to their backs so their fellows could read them; only a marching band was really prepared for the circumstances.

A much smaller number of audience members stood loosely around their perimeter. From the conversations I had with my fellows as we waited for the show, I may have been the only non-performer there who wasn't the parent of a performer. But then, it was 10 AM on a cold, foggy Saturday morning. Who comes out then except parents and truly insane music-lovers? A small cheer went up when someone announced the synchronized time as five minutes out.

The most interesting-looking instruments on the field were two of those enormous, eight-foot-long alpine horns (actually Tibetan, or so I understand) whose far ends rest on the ground. They were wielded by a middle-aged man and a younger woman. I happened to be standing nearby, admiring the horns, when another woman, possibly the composer, walked up to the players and said, "6, 5, 4, OK, you can start now."

The hornists started playing long, low notes. At a pause, first individuals, then whole groups, of the other musicians surrounding them began playing repeated motifs, passing them around. So far, it was not totally uninteresting.

After about ten minutes, the groups began to separate. In clumps, they'd pick up their instruments and tromp maybe a dozen yards away and stop. A few minutes later, they'd tromp further away again. Within another ten minutes, they were all so far apart that any you didn't happen to be standing near were less audible than the foghorn coming from the Bay, until that too ceased with the rising visibility.

Any groups you could hear would spend most of their time standing in silence. Then, reading from a time cue, their individual conductor would direct them in a few tweets or blats, and then they'd fall silent again. Eventually they'd repeat the same tweet or blat.

This quickly became non-productive. I tromped back to near the starting point and sat down on a girder to read for a while, hoping that the heat-death of the universe would reverse itself and they'd all come back together. But they never did. I was slowly working my way outward in the direction I was intending to leave by, and happened to be near a clot wielding Chinese instruments, when its director said, "OK, that's it," and they started to disperse, so I knew the hour-long event was over. Scattered applause drifted through the air.

It was a long trudge down the road to the Marina District, where I was hoping to have lunch (which I did eventually find), and most of the musicians passed me on the way. The notes that some were noodling on their instruments as they walked were at least as interesting as anything I heard during the concert.

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