Portland singer and multi-instrumentalist Liz Harris, who performs as Grouper, opens the recent The Man Who Died in His Boat (Kranky) with two minutes of amorphous, undulating ambience called “6,” its buried vocals and feedback swimming in reverb. Its underwater murkiness feels like waking up after a long night’s sleep, still foggy in the head—except that in Grouper’s music the haze doesn’t clear up. Harris’s rudimentary acoustic strumming and narcotic, melodic vocals are comparably lucid and clear on the next song, “Vital,” but they’re likewise bathed in milky reverb, droning hiss, and atmospheric sounds (rain and thunder?). The 11 tracks on The Man Who Died in His Boat were cut at the same time Harris recorded 2008’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (recently reissued by Kranky), arguably the most direct, tuneful album in Grouper’s eight-year discography, and it seems like a yin to Dragging’s yang. The diffuse atmosphere is as crucial as the songs themselves, which are so simple they’d feel almost formulaic without all the effects. This concert is part of Kranky Records’ 20th-anniversary celebration, which begins Thu 12/12 at the Empty Bottle, continues Fri 12/13 and Sat 12/14 at Constellation, and ends Sun 12/15 at Lincoln Hall. —Peter Margasak Benoit Pioulard, Christopher Bissonnette, and Justin Walter open. $18
In dance, the addition of other media can overwhelm and even distract where it ought to enhance. Valerie Williams and Co'Motion Dance Theater avoid this with an ingenious trick. Created live, video recordings of dancers are displayed in layers, and at a time delay, on a screen at the back of the stage. When the delay is significant, the video acts as a duet partner for a single dancer. Other times, treated with a fairy-dust filter, one layer comes across more as the suggestion of a figure—as white noise that resembles an evaporating dancer. Or there's an impression of many figures trying to catch the live dancer, who eludes them. Either that or she's tried to outrun her shadow and succeeded so well that it splintered five ways. The tangle of video cameras, projections, and spotlights makes a point about methodology: the dancers, like the equipment, are also instruments, each assigned one line in the choreographer's score. But there's much more here than special effects. Williams's quiet poses and sweeping motions have a mystical, sedative quality. She eschews leaps, lunges, and high lifts in favor of a mellower mix of walking, running, and falling. The dancers are best when they're at their most fluid—when they roll drowsily across the stage, or bend over backward until they fall in a fit of unexpected grace. Matthew Coley provides marimba accompaniment; he's also on the bill with Lynn Vartan as the persussive duo Solstice. —Jena Cutie $20http://facebook.com/comotiondance
Sound artist Tim Hecker recorded his newest album, Virgins (Kranky), with live ensembles in Reykjavik, Montreal, and Seattle, but you’d never know three cities were involved—fragmentation due to varying settings and personnel is negligible. That is, there isn’t any. Hecker also traverses a lot of aesthetic ground on Virgins, orchestrating squirming soundscapes in one moment (“Virginal I” is like a thicket of swirling wind chimes just before a storm, backed by a distorted, catastrophic rumble) and summoning a celestial chorus in another (“Radiance”). Hypnotic repetition is the album’s siren song, captivating your attention at least until you get distracted when Hecker piles up creaks, grones, and drones on top of his loops all at once. And he knows how to make fear into a sound: on the chilling “Live Room,” for instance, a smattering of keyboard and tinny percussion acts as a loose framework, even as it’s being annihilated and ravaged by a growling low-end buzz. This concert is part of Kranky Records’ 20th-anniversary celebration, which begins Thu 12/12 at the Empty Bottle, continues Fri 12/13 and Sat 12/14 at Constellation, and ends Sun 12/15 at Lincoln Hall. —Kevin Warwick Pan-American, Keith Fullerton Whitman, and Ken Camden open.
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