Meditations on Music: Concert by Sam Pluta and Peter Evans

“Not too much, but it will probably be enough.” Electronic musician Sam Pluta’s words, while accurate in retrospect, did not begin to prepare me for the meditative cacophony that flowed into my ears for a continuous 45 minutes on Monday night, Nov. 7. A plethora of creative, improvising souls graced Harper Hall’s stage, but Pluta and trumpet player Peter Evans’ concert this past Tuesday was an exploration of sound like I had never heard. Completely improvised, the duo dug into the notions of noise with a high-powered expertise that never let up.

The soundscape began with concentrated yet open air propelling from Evans’ horn into the mic in front of him. The subtle whisper focused itself into a pure tone and with gradual ease, shifting to and fro, and as the electronics came in, my psychoacoustics were challenged. Pluta’s output came from Evans’ input, and by live-sampling his collaborator, he had source material, which he could then manipulate and orchestrate in ways unimaginable by most. With the understated playing Evans provided at the beginning, Pluta spread his contributions across time and space, fading into an ethereal chorus of delicate, panning calls that reacted to their acoustic trumpet origins.

The music they made together called itself to attention effortlessly, but it was difficult not to overlook the two musicians as individuals, especially Evans, as I myself am a trumpet player and am particularly fixed on similar styles and approaches to playing. For a lot of the concert, Evans’ sheer virtuosity stared the audience in the face—he jumped across wide intervals, blazed through strings of firecracker notes, and played both pitches that were barely audible and made my ears ring with fervor. His technique on his instrument could leave even the non-trumpet player floored, but the true awe came from his control and use of it. Evans excelled as an improviser, constantly creating in countless dimensions. Each gesture was explicitly deliberate and crafted—a balance of variables that together produced a wholly unique sound.

Pluta’s sound palette was vast—overwhelmingly so at points, but despite this fact, I was always hungry for the next morsel, taking in the wide variety of sounds. What was so intriguing to me about Pluta’s playing is that it initially relied on Evans, but after Pluta took what he needed, he could alter it beyond comprehension, often to the point of it being unrecognizable as a trumpet sound. With this ability, he played with effects unabashedly; building many textures from the ground up—from thick, lush pads to warbly percussive squawks and anything between or beyond. It was a completely different experience watching Pluta rather than Evans, because while I could see and understand some of what was being done with the trumpet, I was in the dark with electronics, unable to comprehend how Pluta’s twisting, flicking and tapping affected his output.

Because of the abstractedness and unpredictability Pluta provided—among other factors, such as the overall density—the 45 minute concert was amorphous and over in what felt like several minutes. While I tried my best at all times to listen in the moment, I found myself thinking about everything that had already happened in context of what was happening, and now, while writing this review the day after the concert, everything just feels like one dense moment, separated from the time that constrained it. Certain parts of that moment stick out, but it is near impossible for me to separate them after the fact. A clearer section contained Evans playing with clean, intervallic lines, accompanied by trippy, fluctuating harmonies almost sounding as underwater responses. There was a certain welcoming allure, but at the same time, the conjoining utterances set up a cryptic atmosphere. Other parts featured a frightening barrage of short bursts, coated in distortion and combatting with and against each other. A sensory overload, Pluta and Evans’ set was still a highly positive experience, training my ears to take in as much as they can but with care and knowledge that not all of it will be processed and analyzed equally.

The concert ended unexpectedly, perfectly abiding by my view of it as a singular moment. The music stopped, Evans ripped the horn from his face, thanked the wide-eyed audience and relaxed. But we were too stunned to react right away and not at all ready for it to be over, so, unlike the show—which seemed much shorter than it actually was—the lag between the end and applause seemed to last forever. Dumbfounded, inspired but with mostly frozen thoughts, I finally stood up and applauded.