Wet Ink Ensemble defies expectations

Students gathered in Harper Hall on Friday Jan. 27 to hear Wet Ink, a New-York based experimental music ensemble. Many of those in attendance whom I talked to were unsure what to expect. Personally, I did not expect what I received.

Wet Ink utilizes instruments: flute, violin, piano, saxophone and voice, namely, to their full potential. They began the night with a piece for piano and voice, “Only The Words Themselves Mean What They Say,” in which the two performers, Assistant Professor of Music and Teacher of Flute Erin Lesser and vocalist Kate Soper blended the sounds of their respective instruments so that at times they almost became indistinguishable from one another. The piece, whose lyrics explore the interconnection between word and sound plays off of the same theme, using innovative and unorthodox flute techniques to accentuate and experiment with the vocals. Elements of humor were interspersed through the generally serious and avant-garde tone as the performers themselves struggled to suppress their smiles during particularly energetic passages.

The next piece began with an energy that was drastically different, starting with a continuous, scratchy drone from the violin played by Josh Modney.  To me, it sounded reminiscent of an old modem. Although its slow start put me in an uncertain mindset, what followed was more than enough to reassure me of the music’s appeal. Modney and pianist Eric Wubbels spent the next 25 minutes lacing repetitive, rhythmic sections reminiscent of Reich with sections that explored manual manipulation of piano strings, Tartini tones, interference beats and string noise.

After the intermission was the premiere of Lawrence senior Dominic Ellis’s “Leviathan,” a short piece with a chaotic tone to match its lyrics—an excerpt from the works of Herman Melville. The words were supplemented by rich full chords supplied by the entire Wet Ink ensemble and the use of subtle electronics, which stood in stark contrast to the not-so-subtle electronics of composer Sam Pluta’s “Hydra”, the penultimate work of the night. If the other pieces were pushing the instruments to their full potential, then “Hydra” showed how to push them past their limits. Pluta’s live electronics could turn Modney’s violin into a theremin and Wubbels’s piano into distorted audio feedback.

Wet Ink’s final piece of the night, Alex Mincek’s “Harmonielehre,” began again with a continuous scratchy drone from the violin sans electronic modification. It was split into movements ranging from the first, a drone accompanied by a series of steady, ominous chords fading in and out like a far-off train whistle, to the fifth and final, in which the entire ensemble performed soft, seemingly disconnected riffs that were eventually discontinued by the same violin drone. Although the ending felt rather lackluster compared to the night’s other pieces, it tied the various musical themes together into a satisfying bow.

Wet Ink was brought to Lawrence through the New Music Series, led by Associate Professor of Music and Composition Faculty Asha Srinivasan, Associate Professor of Music and Teacher of Piano Michael Mizrahi and ensemble member Assistant Professor of Music and Teacher of Flute Erin Lesser. Future events include “The Music of Marcos Balter and Stacy Garrop” on Feb. 19 and “Roomful of Teeth” on April 7.

You can find out more about Lawrence’s New Music Series at www.lawrence.edu/conservatory/performance_series/new_music and watch Wet Ink perform online by visiting www.wetink.org.