Sunday, April 26, 2020

“Almost Live” Revival of Dresher-Neuburg Project

A little over a month ago I wrote about how a planned revival of They Would Have Been So Beautiful at Z Space might still be feasible. At that time the first rehearsal by Amy X Neuburg and the Dresher Ensemble Electro-Acoustic Band was scheduled for April 7, which was after the expiration of the “Shelter in Place” Public Health Order that had been imposed and extended earlier in March. As readers now know, the order did not expire and was instead extended until early next month.

By way of compensation the Paul Dresher Ensemble circulated an electronic mail message that included hyperlinks to videos of three of the movements from They Would Have Been So Beautiful. These were all made at the premiere performance given by Neuburg and the Dresher Ensemble at Zellerbach Playhouse in Berkeley in December of 2014. The three selections included the compositions by both Dresher (“A Picture Screen Stands in Solitude”) and Neuburg (“Is it Conflict Free and Were Any Animals Harmed in the Making of It?”) The remaining selection was Guillermo Galindo’s “Blood Bolero,” whose image had been appropriated for the poster of the planned revival concert.

Readers may recall that I had attended the San Francisco premiere of They Would Have Been So Beautiful, and it was one of my last articles written for in June of 2016. In revisiting the project through these three videos, I quickly realized that the selection that had the greatest impact at that time was one of the three Dresher had selected. It was his own composition, based on a text by Michael Nelson, a lifer in San Quentin Prison. Nelson’s capacity for writing descriptive prose was nothing short of awesome; and Dresher knew how to keep that text in the foreground, enhancing it with both music and image projection without ever undermining the spirit behind the words.

I had also observed that experiencing ten compositions, each with its own characteristic uniqueness, constituted a problem of cognitive overload. Experiencing only three of the movements through Dresher’s hyperlinks was much more manageable, but it also entailed more critical examination. As a result, I have to confess that, while Neuburg’s piece began with the promise of a witty but jaundiced reflection on “modern life,” it left me cold after I had experienced roughly the first quarter of the piece. I suspect that it would manage better in an actual performance in which one is aware of not only what was being presented but also of the general “response” to those “stimuli.”

“Blood Bolero,” on the other hand, which seems to have lost any place in my memory, made a far deeper impression in this more modest setting. Much of this had to do with the disquieting images, photographs by Maya Goded that seemed to capture both affectionate and sinister connotations of expressions of love. Those connotations then resonated in Neuburg’s delivery of the text by Juvenal Acosta. The clarity of her diction left the impression of reflecting on the high-contrast sharpness of the Goded photographs. This is the shortest of the three videos, but the overall experience of listening while watching registers with intense impact.

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