2017_03_07_PaulDresher

Ever heard of the Quadrachord or Hurdy Grande or Marimba Lumina? Composer Paul Dresher and sound designer Joel Davel push the boundaries of electronic and percussive music with these invented instruments, some looking as bizarre as Dr. Seuss creatures.

The instruments and their inventors were put to the ultimate test for a mesmerizing Visions and Voices performance at the Alfred Newman Recital Hall on March 7. Some of these stimulating contraptions had been on display at the USC Fisher Museum of Art in the days preceding the performance, as well as the following day for a final exhibition. But all of them were made available for us to play after the performance, in a gesture representative of Dresher's extremely experimental, generous mindset.

By playing with them, one was able to discover up close that the largest of the instruments, the Quadrachord, has four steel strings totaling 160 inches in length, which are elevated above a flat, wooden base on which varying percussive items are placed, including gongs, cymbals, and tin cans. The instrument as a whole can be strummed, plucked, bowed, and slid to create an array of stimulating, rhythmic sounds.

Moving over to the fabulously named Hurdy Grande and its seven steel strings laid on top of a spinning wheel, which varies in speed according to the desired pitch, both hands were enabled. The Hurdy Grande allows musicians to be even more expressive. The Marimba Lumina, an impressive electric control board with flat, white keys of varying shapes and sizes, is, by contrast, gently played by accurately tapping specified keys with padded mallets of varying sizes.

In their performance, Dresher mainly commanded the Quadrachord and Hurdy Grande instruments. Davel stuck to the Marimba Lumina and Buela Lightning.

They used looping technology to showcase the many capabilities of their inventions, and built up the music to heart-racing rhythms that were especially thrilling in "In the Nameless," which began eerily, like the theme music of a horror film, keeping the audience curious and engaged. It transitioned into a church-like atmosphere denoted by the ringing of bells and the fast-paced drip of water– a recurring theme of the program as a whole.

Beginning with a loud, almost cringe-worthy screech that slowly transformed into a melodic, ear-pleasing tone, "Moving Parts," utilized the Hurdy Grande and Marimba Lumina. Dresher and Davel drummed and plucked their respective instruments transitioning to an ethereal, hypnotizing series of reverberations that were soothing though unsettling.

As if there weren't enough strange instruments on stage, Davel produced "Out of Thin Air," a last minute solo addition, with the Buela Lighting virtual instrument that relies on infrared technology to produce different sounds.

"Glimpsed from Afar" ended the program with Dresher and Davel mirroring each other's movements with astonishing fluidity and grace. Their bows and mallets were no longer tools, but extensions of their bodies. Sweat dripped down the sides of their faces, as they furiously pounded the instruments to take the show to its magnificent end.

"Paul Dresher and Joel Davel Invented Instrument Duo" was on March 7, 2017 at the Alfred Newman Recital Hall on USC's campus. Tickets were free. For more info visit http://visionsandvoices.usc.edu/events/listing.php?event_id=679160

Contact writer Rachel Camonayan at rcamonay@usc.edu