Michael Snow & Alan Licht | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Michael Snow & Alan Licht 

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MICHAEL SNOW & ALAN LICHT

Artist, sculptor, and filmmaker Michael Snow has also been a musician since the late 1940s, though not many people know it; even Alan Licht, an experimental-film fan and free improviser since his teens, didn't learn Snow played the piano until well after he'd fallen in love with his movies. (If you've seen one, it's probably the 1967 Wavelength, in which a stationary camera slowly zooms in on a photograph of the ocean for 45 minutes.) As a teenager Snow visited Chicago to meet his hero, Dixieland pianist Jimmy Yancey, and within the decade he was cutting sides with clarinetist Pee Wee Russell. Since the 70s the Canadian has been a member of the avant-garde improv collective CCMC (which now includes Plunderphonics mastermind John Oswald), and his playful curiosity about perception has produced pieces of sound art like Two Radio Solos (which advocates an even broader definition of "composition" than Cage did in his work for radio) and a 1987 album of faux ethnic music, The Last LP. Though Snow has said he doesn't see much connection between his film work and his keyboard improvisations, to me they seem like two halves of the same impulse: as a director he's meticulous, orderly, and puckish, as a pianist mercurial and alert. The recently released 3 Phases: Snow Piano Solo Piano Snow (Ohm-Avatar), a three-disc set that spans 50 years, should help newcomers get a feel for the arc of his musical career. Last year New York guitarist Licht released an album of structured, almost diamondlike music, Rabbi Sky (Siltbreeze), and for all his skill as an improviser, this semicomposed material is his best solo work yet. The record's two long pieces (one in five parts) for guitar, effects, and organ draw on Steve Reich and La Monte Young for their form--and for their function on the lusty force of the Seeds, as well as on permutational techniques inspired by cabalistic mysticism and the wordplay of Brion Gysin. During Licht and Snow's only previous performance, at the No Music Festival in London, Ontario, last spring (available on a five-CD festival set on Entartete Kunst), I was on the edge of my seat: they seemed to be opening doors and daring each other to follow. Licht's restrained power drew Snow toward density, the way iron filings crowd around a magnet; Snow's earthy wit and lightness constantly subverted Licht's maniacal focus. Here Snow will play acoustic piano, not the electric piano and vintage synthesizer he wielded there; I'm curious to see how this will change the character of their meeting. Wednesday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. MONICA KENDRICK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Hans Bock.

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