I felt like I was wandering through an orchestra. Presented by Redshift Music Society and Ecstatic Waves — a charitable organization focused on bringing contemporary composers to the general public and a concert series that features local composers writing pieces for open instrumentation, respectively — Still Life With Echo took over the chandelier-ed atrium of the grand and stately Orpheum Theatre.
Twenty-four musicians, playing a variety of mostly orchestral instruments scattered themselves throughout the three ornate levels of the historical theatre’s lobby. All coordinated by stopwatches, the ensemble performed six open-score pieces by six Vancouver composers — Michael Park, Mike WT Allen, Jordan Nobles, Christopher Blaber, Katerina Gimon and Nancy Tam. For close to an hour, the group filled the space with an array of music, emanating from seemingly everywhere.
Michael Park’s opening composition “The Orpheum Lobby” started the show with the most soundscape-y moments of the evening. The performers played short and disparate musical phrases between reading aloud sections of text about the features, history and amenities of the Orpheum. At one point, an automated message announcing the show was about to begin played through the theatre’s PA system — a thoroughly disjointed and wonderful way to begin.
Just as the musicians were distributed throughout the many alcoves and hallways of the lobby, the audience were not fixed to any specific area. Moving freely around the space, listeners constantly shifted focus from the sound of individual instruments to the ensemble as a whole. While some found a spot the seemed to suit them and stayed still, most of the crowd were in constant flux, pacing in and around the performers, comparing the reverberant qualities of different areas and listening to the ever changing ways in which the music interacted with the space around them. It was a choose-your-own-adventure concert, where no two audience experiences were alike.
Mike WT Allen’s “Woke Floke Gaze” and Katerina Gimon’s “Rain on a Tin Roof” were both standout pieces because of their drastically different approaches to writing music for the room. Allen opted for a lush and flowing feel, melding all the sounds together into one smooth and beautiful piece of music. As I walked around, the different instruments washed back and forth, building in intensity and drifting back down. Regardless of where I was in the lobby, it sounded full.
Like the title of her piece suggests, Gimon’s “Rain on a Tin Roof” sounded more sparse and strewn around the space. Instead of bringing the different sounds together, she kept them far apart, emphasizing the spatial dynamics of the event. I found myself almost on edge, catching bits of clarinet here and cello there, never able to settle my attention on any one thing.
As I moved up and down the stairs, through the hallways and across the floors of the Orpheum lobby, I began to think about the inherent subjectivity of the concert experience, how the perspective of every individual is equally valid, and that there is no ideal way to experience any event — unless of course I could’ve somehow hung from the central chandelier. That would’ve been ideal.