I didn't listen to much from young composer and musician Jonathan Chen, who graduated from Northwestern with a master's in violin performance in 1999, until after he left Chicago in 2004. But since then I've been repeatedly impressed by the consistency and rigor of his work. He's occasionally sent me pieces of music from Middletown, Connecticut, from Karlsruhe, Germany, and most recently from Athens, Georgia--all places he's lived since leaving. The recordings usually come in advance of return visits like the one he's making this week, and every time they reveal new facets of his output.
Tuesday Chen performs at Elastic and on Wednesday he's at Heaven Gallery. On both nights he'll play solo and with his project Patterns of Affect (pictured; the lineup currently includes Jamie Kempkers, Joe Mills of Haptic, and Peter Rosenbloom of Tiny Hairs).
The two pieces that Patterns of Affect will perform at each show push minimalist precepts to the breaking point, avoiding the usual incremental development of such music in favor of rich stasis. The piece that gives the group its name opens with loose banjo arpeggios, spinning and spinning, and then suddenly opens up with the addition of violin, cello, hurdy-gurdy, and electronics, all working over the same simple pattern and creating a luxuriant thicket of harmony. On "To Be Continued" Chen repeats the same series of chords on an acoustic guitar "for as long as he can make them meaningful (to himself)," accompanied by a music box that uses player-piano-like rolls that unspool onto the floor; the melody is never in sync with the guitar, and the slippages create lovely and unexpected juxtapositions.
Both nights Chen will also perform "Three Switch-Hitters," a pure electronic piece built from feedback created with a computer program for real-time sound synthesis called Supercollider. I don't know enough about the software to guess how he created this music, but I do enjoy the violent but balletic ebb and flow of its writhing, wriggling sounds.
Information, Biomekano (Rune Grammofon)
Noah Creshevsky, To Know and Not to Know (Tzadik)
Afrirampo, Kore Ga Mayaku Da (Tzadik)
Jacob Sacks, Eivind Opsvik, Mat Maneri & Paul Motian, Two Miles a Day (Loyal Label/Yeah-Yeah)
Vladislav Delay, Whistleblower (Huume)