‘Timber’

ArtsWatch Weekly: a Will and a way

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

The first thing we do, let’s count all the layers. He’s been updated, squeezed down, rethought, rewritten, cleaned up, dirtied down, worshipped unabashedly, reviled occasionally, shrugged off as a front man for some more sophisticated writer (Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is the latest in a long line of contrarian candidates), quoted out of context ’til the cows come home.

Shakespeare's funerary monument, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Wikimedia Commons

Shakespeare’s funerary monument, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Wikimedia Commons

And still, four hundred years after his death, old Will Shakespeare’s a survivor. In a lot of ways, it seems, he’s never been healthier. He’s translated into pretty much every language of any size on Earth, and adapted into everything from ballets to symphonic musical scores to teen-movie comedies. And he’s an economic powerhouse: towns from Ashland, Oregon to Stratford-upon-Avon, England are built on the sturdy foundation of the money and visitors he draws in.

So, happy anniversary, Will. No one’s absolutely sure of the precise date he was born, but he was baptized on April 26, 1564 (probably three days after his birth), and died on April 23, 1616, and April 23 – this Saturday – is the day that much of the world will be celebrating his legacy. In Portland, the biggest party might be Shakespeare at 400, an all-day event (8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.) at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall. It’s presented by PSU, the Portland Shakespeare Project, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s “Play On! Project” of contemporary “translations” of the plays (that word’s caused a lot of ruckus in the Church of Shakespeare), with input from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s The Wonder of Will celebration. There’ll be lectures, and readings, and a sonnet slam, and excerpts from three of OSF’s controversial translations by contemporary playwrights. Come see and hear for yourself what Amy Freed’s done with The Taming of the Shrew, Ellen McLaughlin with Pericles, and Douglas Langworthy with Henry VI: fresh approaches, or sacrilege?

Everything’s free, but organizers want to know how many people will be showing up, so click that link above and send in your RSVP.

"Oberon, Titania, and Puck with Fairies Dancing," William Blake, ca. 1786, watercolor and graphite on paper, 18.7 x 26.6 inches, Tate Britain, London / Wikimedia Commons

“Oberon, Titania, and Puck with Fairies Dancing,” William Blake, ca. 1786, watercolor and graphite on paper, 18.7 x 26.6 inches, Tate Britain, London / Wikimedia Commons

 


 

Once upon a time the woods were mighty, and so were the men who worked in them. Paul Bunyan could clear-cut a hillside with a single swing of his ax (such activities are frowned upon these days) and hard-working, hard-living woodsmen were memorialized in folk songs: I see you are a logger, and not just a common bum, for nobody but a logger stirs his coffee with his thumb.

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Songs from the wood: Third Angle’s ‘Timber’

Percussionists coax big sounds from unlikely sources.

Mallets in hands, the six musicians stood onstage, arrayed around a hexagon of wooden plank of varying length. One started to play, rapping a persistent pattern on the plank in front of him with one mallet, another on the plank next to him with the other. The sound, surprisingly rich, echoed through Alberta Rose Theatre, and the pattern soon flitted around the hexagon, with each member (four from New York’s Mantra Percussion, two from Portland’s Third Angle New Music) in turn picking it up and passing it along, rippling around like a wave across a pond.

During the next hour, playing continuously, the musicians’ bodies swayed to the main beat as the individual interlocking patterns grew more complex, volume rose and fell, at one point halting entirely, then resumed, until the whole theater seemed to reverberate with a rich variety of tones and rhythms—all generated by twelve hands and six planks.

Members of Third Angle New Music and Mantra Percussion played the planks in Michael Gordon's Timber. Photo: Tom Emerson Photography.

Members of Third Angle New Music and Mantra Percussion played the planks in Michael Gordon’s Timber. Photo: Tom Emerson Photography.

The single, hour-long piece that comprised the entire program in Friday night’s opening concert in Third Angle’s 2014-15 season, eschewed or de-emphasized two of music’s most familiar traditional qualities, melody and harmony—which consequently cast the aural spotlight on others, especially rhythm and timbre (that is, the sonic quality of the instrument itself). It also contributes to the work’s double entendre title, Timber.

That’s a typical strategy in the classic pulse minimalist music that originated in the 1960s and ‘70s: less is more. But if New York composer Michael Gordon’s 2009 composition didn’t achieve the depth and richness of its most obvious predecessors, such as American composer Steve Reich’s 1970s minimalist classic Drumming, it did provide, for most of the journey, an often mesmerizing sonic experience unlike any other we’re likely to hear this year.

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