‘Garden of Memory’ Festival draws performer/composers in Oakland
This year’s solstice celebration, Garden of Memory, was again held at the Chapel of the Chimes, a Julia Morgan designed columbarium and mausoleum whose multiple levels cascade down the hill onto upper Piedmont Ave. Thirty-six groups of avant-garde and experimentalperformers, ranging from a bass clarinet quartet to the electronic amplification of water droplets, were invited to perform by New Music Bay Area, with help from the American Composers Forum, Amoeba Music, and the Berkeley Arts Festival. Well-known pianist Sarah Cahill created this festival in 1995, and along with keeping it going, she performed there.
Its intricate spaces are kept light and airy with large skylights and openings, while indoor gardens, pools, and tropical banana trees confused indoor and outdoor. Glass and stone walls created very live resonating chambers, but the labyrinthine floor plan and sharp corners contained and diffused each performer’s sound, an intimate feel as one quietly wandered through the performances. Arriving in the Chimes’ main chapel for William Winant’s percussion ensemble, I was greeted by cymbals beating out Japanese village rhythms. Winant played an array of drums and pails, while one of his troupe drummed on tin cans and another used muted piano for a “dinky”, clacky sound.
IIn the last piece they were joined by radio: snatches of Beethoven, pop music and loud ads were carefully conducted into the score. Angry piano chords, interrupted by radio techno-pop, gave way to boogie, while tight percussion gave it all perfect form. Winant was followed by Sarah Cahill, whose set included a beautiful rendition of Rzewski’s “Down by the Riverside.” Cahill interviewed Rzewski at the recent Edgefest (profiled in the Piedmont Post, June 20), and has been a long time champion of his work.
The familiar melody peeked out from rolling runs whose rhythmic articulation was breath-like. Then the melody moved into the bass while the right hand got jazzy. It ended in extreme pianissimo, a wistful hope of peace. She concluded with a piece by contemporary main-stay Terry Riley, who couldn’t show. The smooth water-like arpeggios were a departure from his jazz/raga improvisations, but contained a beautiful complexity of voices.
Down a hallway in the middle chapel, Amy X. Neuberg and Paul Dresher played back to back sets. Neuberg, accompanied by electric cello, combined electronic sophistication with a huge vocal range to “over-dub” her own voice. Beginning with a nasal “nyeck nyeck nyeck” and looping over it with vocal honks, grunts and bleats, she creates a richly textured a cappella chorus against which she weaves her high pure vocal line. And the lyrics! Personal, poetic and flip, and widely appealling.
Jazz improv group “Daniel Popsicle” greeted entrants from the upper outdoor courtyard. Bright “ice-cream truck” intervals infused their semi-structured compositions, as Daniel Plonsky’s sax led a group featuring Chris Silvey on trumpet and ably anchored by Lynn Murdock on keyboard. The hour-long Rafting Season was full of humor and shifting polyrhythms, and a delicate Color ran gently down like a broken clock, a whimsical good-bye to stragglers leaving the event. World whistling sensation Jason Serinus, didgeridoo artist Steven Kent, Bobrowski’s electronic kelp and Karen Stackpole’s bowed gongs were among the many brilliant artists I barely had time to sample.
Originally published by the Piedmont Post