Abbie Weisenbloom

Caballito Negro: embracing the void

Ashland-based flute and percussion duo strives to ‘connect with the world as it is’

I almost don’t want to tell you about Abbie Weisenbloom House in southeast Portland, where Ms. Weisenbloom has been hosting living room potluck shows for most of a decade. Like surfers and brunch enthusiasts, I don’t want to give up a sweet secret spot, lest it become overcrowded. This is, of course, an exquisitely Portlandian problem, and a bullshit one, which is why I’ve decided to tell you all about the intense, intimate concert I attended there on a dark, windy night in February. The stars of the evening: flutist Tessa Brinckman and percussionist Terry Longshore, a pair of accomplished Ashland-based musicians who compose, record and tour together as Caballito Negro.

I spoke with Brinckman and Longshore after the show, and later by phone; their answers have been edited for flow and clarity.

On “Caballito Negro” and Why They Do It

Longshore: We have played [George Crumb’s Madrigals] together with a wonderful vocalist, Christine Williams. And we found that that really spoke to us on the idea of both our modern music and our influence of musics of the world, traditional music of India, Spain, etc., and that cross-pollination of influence just there, hanging out for us to take.

Brinckman: I like also the translation: you can say “little black horse” or “little dark horse,” the English expression of being a dark horse. I like that. The idea of going where music is not nice but meaningful and necessary is something we are both quite fond of.

Longshore & Brinckman

There is always that moment, right before you’re about to go do performance and you’ve worked so hard and there is so much stuff and so many bits and pieces that can go wrong, and you think “what the hell was I thinking?” There is always that moment, and then the opposite of that is this ridiculous enthusiasm for music that is a visceral addiction. I can’t not do it.

Longshore: It’s the same thing for me. Once I started doing it, I couldn’t stop. It’s the combination of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual reward I get from doing it. And I know what it feels like when I am inspired by someone else’s art. And I always aspire to do that myself. I think some of the most rewarding things are when you know you’ve been moved by a performance you’ve given and it has moved someone. That you connected with someone at that level is a very special feeling.

Brinckman: I feel also that what we are doing is connecting with the world as it is. It’s not sticking our faces towards the wall and being separate from the world. It’s not ignoring the pain in what’s going on. And to really get mixed up in it is a worthy thing. I don’t want to be the kind of artist that is separate from it. Because I would feel ashamed. I feel a responsibility to connect with what is going on and not ignore something. So all the issues that are hot, getting hotter, there is always a way to react with it artistically.

My favorite art of anybody’s engages who we are. Using our privilege for good deeds. The good witches. Using our powers for good.

A Music Salon in Southeast Portland

An assortment of percussion instruments covered the little stage area, toy pianos and various flutes filling the rest of the space, a rug on the floor for Brinckman and Longshore to sit and play on. Chairs lined the living room, spilling over into the den, where I huddled under maps and books and tchotchkes and other souvenirs from Weisenbloom’s travels. An old upright piano anchored one wall, bookcases framed the others, a busy back kitchen buzzed with popping wine corks and potluck leftovers and audience chatter.

Upstage, the musicians were flanked by a drawing of Pan on the left and some Rothko-esque miniature to the right. Appropriate in myriad ways, that pair, Pan’s divine chthonic flute and Rothko’s divine foursquare order indicative of the Apollonian-Dionysian spirit in the house, classically trained musicians performing wildly personal intercultural modern music for a tribe of tipsy enthusiasts passing around hand-folded programs in a dimly lit living room.

It turns out Brinckman once lived in this same neighborhood, had in fact known Weisenbloom when she first turned her home into a music venue.

On Playing Weisenbloom House

Brinckman: Abbie was a neighbor of mine. I used to live right in that block. She has done an amazing job making a series of it work. She’s dedicated. She’s truly created a Parisian salon—she used to live in France, so she knows what she is doing. And she really wants to bring the world, as she says, to her house. What is beautiful about it is she gets people communing—eating and drinking—especially in the drinking before the concert, they’re in a space where they just want to connect. They’re not inhibited or wondering how comfortable they feel. They’re in it with us.

And that’s what we long for as musicians—that we’re not just kind of objects on stage. People crave things from us, demand things from us, and there is this kind of loop of energy that goes along. It’s always a competition going on with the audience, and you absolutely need that, otherwise you might as well stick on a CD and leave.

Continues…