Washougal Art & Music Festival

45th Parallel Universe: Lost in Deep Time

With great music and visuals and a fantastic performance, a warehouse concert creates an artistic evocation of vast geological disruptions and troubling environmental times.


Pyxis Quartet and Yoko Greeney performing in “Lost in Deep Time.” Photo: Lisa Lipton

On Friday, April 12, the Pyxis Quartet and Yoko Greeney headed up to the Straub Collaborative in Northwest Portland for a warehouse show titled Lost In Deep Time. A show many years in the making, the first half showcased Brad Johnson’s installation from which the concert gets its name, Lost in Deep Time. The installation debuted in Sun Valley, Idaho, accompanied by a pre-recorded version of Akiho’s Prospects of a Misplaced Year. It was natural for the visuals to eventually accompany a live performance of Prospects. The second half of the program contains pieces of his upcoming He Who Saw the Deep to accompany music by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, inti figgis-vizueta, Gyorgi Ligeti and Anna Meredith. 

45th previously worked with Brad Johnson on Les Boreade back in 2019. The opening pre-show graphics featured cliffs spotted with greenery and desert browns, like a vista from eastern Oregon. Above the graphics was a quote attributed to Barry Lopez’s 2019 book Horizons

“All landscapes are on their way to becoming something else, with incremental slowness and terrifying speed.”

For our local new music ensembles, the draw is far more than simply what’s on the program. Buying a concert ticket is not merely admission to two hours of great live music. It is an invitation to a multimedia project that expands beyond the spatial and temporal boundaries of a typical concert. Curious audience members can indulge in suggested reading, blog posts, podcast episodes, visual art, pre-concert conversations, and journalism to let the concert seep into their lives. 

This is usually in service of some broader theme. For FearNoMusic and Resonance Ensemble, that theme is often social justice. Groups such as the Portland Baroque Orchestra, Friends of Chamber Music, Choral Arts Ensemble and Bach Cantata Choir encourage us to learn more about the great composers of the past. One very common theme through many Pacific Northwest composers’ works, including John Luther Adams, Hildegard Westerkamp, and our own Deena T. Grossman, is environmentalism. 

For Lost in Deep Time, there is a lot of supplemental material to take in. The aforementioned epigraph will lead you to the writing of Barry Lopez and his Horizons. Lopez’s frequent references to a Sixth Extinction will lead one to Elizabeth Kolbert’s Pulitzer-winning book of that name. A reference to J Harlen Bretz on Brad Johnson’s website leads to theories about the Missoula Floods. Before you know, it you go on a quest to learn the entire geological history of the Pacific Northwest. 


Seattle Opera Pagliacci

45th Parallel Universe’s blog offers some short articles to preview each of their shows. Director Lisa Lipton interviewed Portland State University Emeritus Professor Scott Burns on the Missoula Floods, which inspired the whole thing. The two little paths Burns left open lead to a book he wrote with his colleagues on the flood, Cataclysms on the Columbia, and some documentaries by Oregon Public Broadcasting on the floods. 

To me, the Missoula Floods have two thematic resonances. First, the floods shaped the geography of the Pacific Northwest. Local artists and musicians necessarily take inspiration from Oregon’s landscapes and many biomes. Second, they remind me of an existential fear for some future cataclysm. It’s terrifying to think about this massive flood wiping away millions of tons of soil and turning millions of creatures into fossils for future generations. But those floods, according to Burns, gave us our rich soil that lets us grow Hermiston watermelons, Walla Walla onions, massive brambles of marionberries, and grapes for award-winning Pinot Noir wines. 

Lost in Deep Time was at the Straub Collaborative, hidden amongst the industrial area of Northwest Portland. Getting there requires crawling over abandoned train tracks and weaving between warehouses. On their website, when inquiring about renting the space, the room we were in states in bold that it is not a sound stage. And despite that, along with the general acoustic oddities of warehouses, the show generally sounded good. During the second-to-last piece (Chorale, by Anna Meredith), a woman sitting in front of me had her ears plugged. While the loud tape part was not an issue for a youngster like me who regularly goes to rock shows (with ear plugs of course), I can imagine it was a bit much for some of the older patrons. 

Glaciers and music in the warehouse: The crowd takes in 45th Parallel’s performance of “Lost in Deep Time.” Photo: Lisa Lipton

Misplaced Years and Deep Time

The first set of the night consisted of Andy Akiho’s Prospects of a Misplaced Year from 2016, alongside Johnson’s Lost in Deep Time. Pyxis previously played Prospects on 2022’s Carrot Revolution concert. In the pre-concert blog post, Pyxis violinist and former 45th Executive Director Ron Blessinger described the work as

“an awesome piece, epic in scale, and daunting in its technical demands. It’s thrilling music, brilliantly inventive, and exactly the kind of piece that inspired me to be a musician.”

The connections between what we were hearing and what we were seeing were often tenuous. But I think it ultimately works. The juxtaposition allows the viewer to sit in the middle, trying to make sense of how these two disparate things relate. It provides more space for contemplation than something more concrete and one-to-one would’ve allowed. But don’t let this fool you: The visuals were tightly choreographed to change at specific points in the music, per Brad Johnson’s synchronization. They achieved this through practicing (and I assume performing) to a click-track that kept the performances tight. 


All Classical Radio James Depreist

The Pyxis Quartet plus Yoko Greeney were able to find a consistent toe-tapping groove throughout — which I imagine is not easy with Akiho’s music. For one, his music’s dense polyrhythmics require everyone to be one hundred percent locked in to make it all fit. It’s a balancing act, like riding a bicycle without handlebars. At the same time, the sheer intensity of sonic information means it can be hard to hear everything that’s going on. But Akiho lets the grooves breathe, providing ample time for the listener to acclimate to each new rhythmic structure.

Composer Andy Akiho answearing questions at a recent Classical Up Close concert. Photo: Joe Cantrell

The second set opened with the first movement of Sola by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, performed by violist Charles Noble. I feel that Icelandic composers such as Thorsvaldsdottir, Johann Johannsson, and Hildur Guthnadottir share some thematic interest with Pacific Northwest composers. As for Sola, some reverb-heavy textures in the background and Medieval fifths interrupted some more chaotic passages. The accompanying visuals leaned into the aesthetic of grainy film stock and oil paintings. It evoked open landscapes, with countless tiny details dotted around a richly textured surface. 

The oldest piece on the program was the first movement of Gyorgi Ligeti’s Sonata for Solo Cello, performed by Marilyn de Olivera. One of his earlier works (finished in 1953), his Sonata for Solo Cello is more in line with his more rustic, Bartok-influenced compositions such as his Six Bagatelles. It contrasted an upward double-stop fifth glissandi and plaintive melodies in the cello’s high register. The visuals accompanying it seemed based on topographic maps and deserts. 

inti figgis-vizueta is a composer whose work we’ve heard a few times in Portland before. Including the Pyxis Quartet themselves, who played Imago at the American Haiku concert about a year ago, on April 13. This year Olivera performed figgis-vizueta’s solo cello work the motion between three worlds. Reading off an aleatoric graphic score, Olivera wove together the disparate textures into a solid performance, based mostly around open string harmonics and arpeggios. 

The show ended with two pieces by Scottish composer Anna Meredith, for the whole quartet. I’ve known her work through her albums such as Fibs and songs such as Nautilus that feature tense and driving synth work like the composer Michael Gordon’s. With accompanying visuals reminiscent of a river delta, the first piece, Chorale, evoked the slow undulation of ocean waves, or the rise and fall of sand dunes. The strings played start-stop fast notes to accompany a tape part of stuttering glitchy digital effects and a field recording of bird calls. The stunning ending builds upwards in C minor through a snowy tremolo, climbing like the climax of Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

The concert ended with Meredith’s Haze, a majestic C major string chorale from her album Anno. It is allegedly based on “Summer” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, but it’s an abstracted interpretation. The performance hung for a long time in the microtonal gaps between the twelve pitches, slinking between notes. The piece was relatively short, consisting of a striated texture of furious strings beneath a straightforward chord progression that grew and receded over a course of three or so minutes. 


Washougal Art & Music Festival

After a long and at times dense and heady show, it was nice to have a relatively short cool-down piece to return us back into our reality. Back in this world, we must make the most of the concert and take heed to its warnings about the environment and the existential threat of climate change. 45th Parallel plans to take the show on a tour through the path of the Missoula Floods, from Montana and Alberta, California through Idaho, and back to Oregon, spreading this message to more across the Northwest United States and western Canada through great music and visuals, along with Pyxis’ fantastic performance. 

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Charles Rose is a composer, writer and sound engineer born and raised in Portland, Oregon. In 2023 he received a masters degree in music from Portland State University. During his tenure there he served as the school's theory and musicology graduate teaching assistant and the lead editor of the student-run journal Subito. His piano trio Contradanza was the 2018 winner of the Chamber Music Northwest’s Young Composers Competition. He also releases music on BandCamp under various aliases. You can find his writing at CharlesRoseMusic.com.


2 Responses

  1. Thanks for the review, Charles. Just a quick correction: the event was held at Straub Collaborative (vs. Collective) in Industrial NW. David Straub, the founder/owner is a long-time supporter of the PDX classical music community.

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