Music in Wriston galleries mimics displayed patterns

On Feb. 18 students gathered in the Wriston Art Center Galleries to view a presentation of interconnected music and visual art called “Pattern & Music: Performances in the Galleries.” Nine musicians performed contemporary compositions in front of modern art pieces.

The event was all about finding beauty in patterns of all kinds—in the modern art pieces and in the musical techniques demonstrated—and restating the value of pure aesthetic attraction, rejecting the need for ethical appeals.

For a long time, Frederick R. Layton Professor of Art and Associate Professor of Art Rob Neilson and Assistant Professor of Art History Benjamin Tilghman worked to collect pieces of art that fit this theme. Neilson and Tilghman feel that “Beauty has been so exploited in our society that we have learned to mistrust it […] Carefully crafted objects are dismissed as elitist; lush and pristine surfaces are considered superficial.”

The first musical offering was a performance in the main lobby by the ensemble Slipstream. Slipstream is comprised of senior Joe Connor on saxophone, senior Matt Blair on piano, Dan Reifsteck ‘15 on percussion and senior Ilan Blanck on guitar. Their delivery of Louis Andriessen’s “Hout” set the mood for the following hour.

Described by members of the group as “music from space,” “Hout” uses a familiar musical form, the canon, and turns it on its head. Each melodic line begins only one sixteenth note after the others, creating an “organized mess” of other-worldly sounds. The piece undergoes numerous transformations during its ten-minute runtime, but it usually retains its active canonic pattern.

Immediately after “Hout” concluded, juniors Jason Koth and Jack Breen performed a wild saxophone duet at the bottom of the lobby stairway. The audience had to stand up from their seats and lean over the railing to watch. From this point on, the event was much more freely structured; people were invited to wander around the gallery as they pleased—the music could be heard from any of the rooms.

One outstanding work in the gallery was “Arabesque” by Jennifer Angus, a University of Wisconsin – Madison artist. She covered all four walls of her allotted room with hundreds of insects arranged in geometrical patterns. From far away, it could almost be mistaken for a wallpaper design. Every preserved insect in the design was meticulously positioned; it must have taken ages to cover such a large space.

After viewers had taken a few minutes to survey all of the pieces on display, a new performance began. Super senior and flutist Leo Sussman performed “Loops I” by Philippe Hurel, a whirlwind of challenging scales. Sussman was positioned in front of three drawings comprised of nearly-random markings that were symmetrical along a vertical access. Both works shared an anxious and unstable tone.

Next, junior and flutist Erec VonSeggern performed David Lang’s “Thorn,” a piece about spacing between alternating musical “spikes” and lulls. Later, senior Kenni Ther and Reifsteck performed percussion duos on unique bell-like instruments.

After about 45 minutes browsing the galleries and listening to the music, everyone returned to the lobby to listen to Slipstream as they rounded out the program with music by Chris Misch and Patrick Marschke ‘15.

While the theme of the show was well-developed, neither the performances nor art installations thrust it upon the attendees. People were allowed time and space to draw their own conclusions about the nature of beauty and where it can be found.