Using everyday objects for music on command

I took my 13-year-old daughter to a contemporary music concert this weekend, one in the Spoleto Festival’s Music in Time series, organized by Resident Conductor John Kennedy. It featured a program of recent music by the New York City-based composer Nathan Davis, who creates conceptual soundscapes inspired by natural and not-so-natural phenomena. It might seem heady for a young teenager, but I see no reason why young people should not be exposed to this kind of music — before their tastes become calcified by age and prejudice.

—Adam Parker

BY ZOE ALESSANDRA DE LUCA-PARKER
Special to The Post and Courier

The first piece by Nathan Davis in the Music in Time series concert on Sunday was “Bells.” The composer told everyone to take his cell phones out and dial a number, then an access code (there were four, labeled Astral, Cryptic, Telegraphic and Tintinnabular) of your choice. While in most concerts the music comes from the stage, Music in Time makes music come from every direction, filling the whole room with different sounds.

The second piece, “Weather Rock,” had many different parts to it. It had a violin and a cello each with one thin string hanging off. The players pulled the strings to make amazing, stuttering sound a little like the wind. The percussionists used various objects, including rocks to make a very interesting gravelly sound.

“On speaking a hundred names” was a piece for a bassoon, one of my favorite instruments. It changed from something classical to something exploratory and seemingly accidental, but all very much done on purpose. The bassoon player, Ryan Wilkins, also played the same note in many different ways. I enjoyed this piece very much because I liked the effects created by the playing and by the technology that enhanced it.

The next piece was “Crawlspace.” This piece was the most fascinating to me because the composer took a microphone and placed it on the keyboard of his laptop computer, then took a camera and showed what he was doing. Sometimes he would hit the keys, moving the microphone around to different spots on the computer. The result was robot-sounding, and very dynamic, with many sounds created at once.

The last piece was called “Skryzp Skzryn.” It was a string quartet that started very high and, as the piece proceeded, went lower and lower. I liked this piece because it showed how the instruments change sound and the instruments’ range. All four of the instruments would do things at different times.

Nathan Davis makes music from sounds that are natural or created by common things. Another composer might be inspired by these sounds and attempt to transcribe them for instruments, but Davis uses the sounds themselves, along with regular sounds from instruments, sometimes transcribed electronically.

This show was definitely one of the most interesting shows I have ever been to. This show was for everyone to enjoy.

Spoleto makes way for a Groovement

Spoleto Festival goers were treated to a Groovement on Sunday afternoon at the Farmer’s Market in Marion Square. (Click here to view the slideshow of their performance)image[5].

Charleston-based hip-hop group, Groovement, and it’s children’s counterpart, the Groovemini’s, performed a medley of hip-hop original dance numbers which included moves to songs by Wiz Khalifa and Drake.

“We’re having fun,” said Alternese Griffin, the founder and choreographer for the two groups. “We’re showing the crowd what we have to offer with hip-hop dance.”

She said the older group’s performance was inspired by letting loose and “going mental, absolute insanity.”

However, she wanted to teach the Grooveminis a more positive message, so, she choreographed a dance based on working hard and playing hard and the resulting success you can achieve as the rewards.

“We always want to educate the kids, and dancing is a good way to do that,” Griffin said.

Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Round 3 Southend Brewery

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(Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar)

Situated on the corner of Queen and East Bay, the Southend Brewery is a cavernous entity not far from Charleston Harbor and the Battery. Monstrous copper fermentation tanks dominate the backdrop upon entering the restaurant, with vaulted, workman style ceilings. Rustic and warm, this was the perfect place for Round Three. S&G Southend 2

Nic’s picks: After the disappointment that was round one, and the slightly better effort by our round two locale, my spirits were high going in to round three. It was short lived.

Again, the shrimp and grits came out expertly served in a shallow bowl, but covered with a thick, cream based gravy. While I know shrimp and grits isn’t the most health-conscious meal, the gravy makes it so much heavier than it needs to be.

The grits were so-so. They had good texture and good cheesy flavor, but they weren’t anything special, and th gravy just overpowered any subtle flavors the grits conjured up. Tasso ham makes another guest appearance, and it was flavorful and smoky, but again it overpowered any subtleness this dish could have produced. I’m all for bold, flavorful dishes, but when one of the main ingredients of the dish is not a highlight, then there are some problems.

The shrimp were plump and juicy, and they provided a good flavor and meatiness for the dish. Of the three restaurants so far, these shrimp were the best, by far. They were rich enough to cut through the gravy, if only for a fleeting second. Fresh tomatoes were strewn throughout the dish, and frankly it confused me. They provided no flavor or texture, and their presence was more of a nuisance than any kind of flavor enhancer.

Overall, the dish was lackluster and not deserving of it’s relatively steep price ($17.95). The flavors did not come together, and it was an extremely heavy dish with too many ingredients. For such a simple dish, it was made too complex, and that worked against it. This dish would have benefited from a more delicate, deft touch.

S&G SouthendB’s business: Charleston has definitely capitalized on shrimp and grits being smothered in gravy with tomatoes — cold tomatoes. Which to my dismay, left most the grits on the outside of the bowl cold.

Unappetizing as it is to chomp into cold contents for a meal that’s supposed to be savory and hot, again, I immediately shoved the tomatoes and the tough and overcooked shrimp to the outside of my bowl with the hopes that its lingering, overpowering flavor didn’t completely ruin the dish. But it was too late. I couldn’t even finish or enjoy what I was eating.

The best part of this dish was the Tasso ham, which also seems to be a Charleston shrimp and grits staple. Otherwise, for the steep price, the grits weren’t well-cooked, the cheese was almost non-existent, and the gravy was too heavy.

The highlight of my visit to Southend Brewery wasn’t even for the shrimp and grits at all; it was for the collard greens.  Every time I’ve eaten greens in Chareston, they were choppy and weren’t cooked long enough to be supple and mushy, not chewy. But these greens were cooked just right. They were surprisingly sweet, not savory, from being basked in brown sugar, which was a welcome surprise.  They had a hint of Old Bay hot sauce mixed with vinegar and real bacon bits, both of which if layered on too heavily could’ve overpowered the natural bitterness of the greens; but they didn’t. They were sprinkled with enough restraint to be enjoyed and not frowned on.

Review: Noche Andaluza

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The outstanding premier of Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía fulfilled the expectations of the Spoleto Festival USA audience. The vitality and sensuality of the dancers made the “Noche Andaluza” (“Andalusian Night”) performance a delightful introduction into the secrets of Andalusian dancing.

Colorful dresses, clean dancing and live music harmonized in a show that had its strongest moments when the whole company danced together. Even though part of the essence of flamenco dancing is its spontaneity, the synchronization and elegantl interaction between female and male dancers gave energy and rhythm to the presentation.

The guest dancer (Pastora Galván) had an evident control of her body. Her power, security and attitude seemed to say that she could do anything she wanted to. She showed, in each step, why she has her own avant-garde style.

That is precisely why one of the finest moments of the show was the one in which Galván dances on one side of the stage, while the company is on the other. Traditional and avant-garde flamenco dancing were shown together to give the viewer a taste of the infinitive possibilities of the Spanish style of dancing.

The style of the show changed, though, when the choreographer and artistic director Rubén Olmo, appeared on the stage. His thin figure and his extremely versatile dancing capacity gave him the possibility to freely and delicately jump through the stage as if he were a bird in the act called “El Vuelo” (“The Flight”). Olmo’s solo pause the energetic rhythm experienced before and makes a good transition for the ending.

The show rightly finished with a more spontaneous scene in which the musicians had the possibility to sing and dance at the center of the stage, while the company surrounded them keeping the rhythm with their claps. This act highlights the importance of music for flamenco and especially the role that this Spanish has as an art manifestation truly encrusted in Spanish culture.

Piccolo Poetry Walk

In addition to Piccolo Spoleto festival goers attending the Sundown Poetry Series, they may also take part in the Charleston Poetry Walk sponsored by the Poetry Society of South Carolina.

The walk takes festival goers on an hour-long journey through downtown Charleston to see historic places where poets were once inspired by. “We have such a rich heritage of poets from and/or influenced by their time in South Carolina,” said Mary H. Harris, coordinator of the walk. ” It is great fun to let visitors and locals know a little more about them and hear their words.”

The walk starts at 125 Meeting St. and has several times to join starting at 10 a.m. Admission is $12.

Natalia Khoma Presents Bach’s Solo Cello Suites (1-3)

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After last year’s presentation of J.S. Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites, Natalia Khoma brought it to Piccolo Spoleto again, this time at First Presbyterian Church.
For the concert on May 29, she played the first three suites of the six. Her interpretation was rich and colorful. Her skills allowed her to add layers, change volumes and vary tempos while performing. All these, integrated with her graceful appearance, made her even more charming.

Khoma, a native Ukrainian, is a renowned cellist and a cello professor at College of Charleston. Among her competition wins is the Budapest Pablo Casals Competition, named after the Spanish cellist who played a crucial role in popularizing the Bach cello suites.

These suites were largely unknown until Casals recorded a full version of all six in 1939. They then became a peak that seemingly every cello maestro tries to reach at some point in their career.

Unlike Casals’ deep interpretation of the Prelude of Suite No. 1, Khoma’s playing is brisk and absorbing. Her first note in Menuet—bright, quick and forte—was a potent contrast to the mournful Sarabande. Her refreshing articulation of the beginning was joined by an elastic and elegant reinvention of it in terms of melody and sound intensity. It enriched the acoustics and added layers to the suite.

The second suite in D minor, in contrast to the first one, is darker. The lines lingered in her strings, her fingers, the hall and the church. The mournful notes were like endless sadness and gloom. However, the pace in the Allemande was unexpected. In her interpretation, the lines and notes plunged forward in an incredibly fast tempo that still captured every nuance.

Yet the Courante was somehow even speedier. With greater contrast in volume and pitch in phrases, the emotion became so fierce that when the final crescendo came, you felt the agony and drama falling on the audience. During this suite, Khoma kept wiping the sweat off her head and fixing her hair between movements. Her dress strap also fell off her shoulder, which seemed to distract her. (The strap fell from time to time throughout the concert.)

After going backstage for a while, Khoma came back and played the third suite in C major. Her melodic short notes leaped over the fluid bass. While the strong resonance in the First Presbyterian Church sometimes blurred the piece’s echoes, the emotions were amplified. Khoma’s seamless playing then integrated the layers, the volumes and the richness of sound in the Gigue. With successive fortes near the end, she ended this journey with an intensified and prolonged coda.

Review: Pamela Z

Review of ‘Music In Time I’ by Pamela Z at the Memminger Auditorium.

The crackle of popped bubble-wrap and the dainty ding of two metal rods, carefully sampled live onstage at the Memminger Auditorium, have become two more looped elements added to Pamela Z’s cauldron of sound. The multilayered, droning mix contains samples of lyrics and the occasional soaring operatic vocal, elements that the abstract shapes in the projected video behind Z respond to in every instance. It is a hypnotic experience, with multimedia singer and performer Pamela Z serving as both musical alchemist and gatekeeper for the audience into her signature soundscapes.

The ensuing chaos can sometimes be overwhelming, with all of the aural stimuli building to a cacophonous, overpowering crescendo that threatens to spin out of control. But then, with a wave of her hand or the subtle press of a pedal, Pamela Z reins in her noisy creation, proving once again that every sound was indeed in its intended place.

Her technique of building abstract collages of sound—sometimes rhythmic, sometimes atonal—makes the process and the performance and integral part of her compositions (I don’t imagine a Pamela Z CD would be nearly as enthralling.) In that regard, her show is almost geeky. I found myself at certain points straining to see when she was starting to capture specific vocals and sounds, and trying to identify the pace of specific loops of songs. Her performance dares you to decode it, to dig down into the bed of music as it occurs to discover her secrets. In that regard, she is not only a performer, but a shepherd, controlling what direction we move within the soundscape and inviting a strong analysis of her process rather than relishing in the performance of the final product.

However, it was when she didn’t provide an entry point—whether it be a consistent beat, a new vocal or an overarching theme—that her work began to falter. One particular piece, in which she used a laptop camera to record a short video series of brief motions and sounds that she then controlled using waves of her hands, never seemed to come together as a composition itself, and played more like a technological demonstration than an artistic work using a compelling audio-visual tool.

The audibly shuffling feet of exiting patrons punctuating the end of each of her first five works made it abundantly clear that Pamela Z isn’t for everyone. Her approach can be hypnotic, cacophonous, atonal, and even comical at times. However, it isn’t entirely accessible. Even “Broom,” her final performance that she quasi-jokingly declared her “pop song,” had a hint of soul and verse/chorus/verse song structure, but it still leaned heavily toward her signature piecework aesthetic.

With the very nature of her work being predicated on live sampling, I can’t imagine two Pamela Z performances ever being exactly alike, even if the blueprints are generally the same. It’s with this in mind that the process itself becomes more enthralling than the end results. I have to admit, it sure was fun watching her hands pluck, pry and stretch the noises she’s created using a small, mysterious custom made theremin-esque box. It’s her most fascinating onstage piece of equipment, but it’s the ingenuity of Pamela Z itself that proves to be her most valuable instrument.

Shrimp and Grits Showdown Round 2: SWAMP FOX

(Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar)

As Georgia (Nic Bell) and New Orleans (Briana Prevost) natives, we know authentic Southern food. Naturally, coming to Charleston as Spoleto festival reporters meant finding the best food in the low country. Our mission started with one simple goal in mind: finding (and eating) the best bowl of shrimp and grits in the city. Our next stop in our bi-weekly Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Swamp Fox Restaurant & Bar.  

Swamp Fox Restaurant & Bar, located inside the historic Francis Marion hotel, is the epitome of Southern charm. White tablecloths, ornate settings and beautiful china, rich mahogany and Southern gentility abounds in the dining room. Nestled in the corner of the restaurant was a grand piano pumping out contemporary songs and setting the mood for a wonderfully relaxing brunch. On to Round Two!

Nick’s picks: First and foremost, as a restaurant in Charleston, shrimp and grits should be on your menu all day everyday, breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and nightcap. Am I right? Well, the Swamp Fox doesn’t disappoint. When B and I ordered, we each were presented with a steaming, delicious bowl of Southern gritty goodness.

Creamy, smooth grits were topped with plump, perfectly opaque shrimp. Throughout the velvetiness, red and yellow bell peppers provided a subtle sweetness and texture. Pepper jack cheese was sprinkled over the top and provided just enough depth of flavor, but it wasn’t overpowering for the delicate shrimp or grits.

Shrimp and grits in Charleston seems to come served with a signature gravy pooled over the top of the dish, and while the grits at Husk was overpowered by the smoked tomato gravy, the grits at the Swamp Fox were elevated with its lobster and Tasso ham gravy. Rich and decadent, it provided a deliciously briny seafood flavor that only heightened the flavor of the shrimp. Morsels of Tasso ham definitely didn’t hurt the dish. It may have provided too much richness for an otherwise deftly executed dish, but the flavors melded together beautifully and left me completely satisfied.

B’s business: After trying the first batch of shrimp and grits from Husk, I must admit, I was a bit skeptical when this batch came out as I scoped the contents of its bowl. Automatically, the gravy reminded me of popular New Orleans bases for remoulade or etouffee, which was exciting – until I saw the red and green bell peppers and my skepticism was amplified.

But upon first bite of the smooth, soft grits with just Swamp Fox’s Lobster and Tasso Ham Gravy, I thought, “now this is what grits should taste like!” The savory grits were cooked just so that the pepperjack cheese blended into the grits without stringing and separating from its parent ingredient. Not too salty, yet not at all bland thanks to the rich flavors from the gravy, the grits were the main delight in this dish – as they should be.

Although originally doubtful, the other contents within the grits were surprisingly agreeable to the palette. The onions were sautéed just right as to taste a hint of carmelization while the sautéed bell peppers supplemented the slightly sweet flavor in contrast to the savory taste of the thick grits they sat atop.

The shrimp, however, was not worth adding to the rest of the medley of flavors in the bowl. Tastlessly too fishy, the shrimp was also translucent and tough. By the end of my meal, each piece of seafood had been pushed to the side of my bowl, leaving me to enjoy the tasso ham as the meaty counterpoint for my grits consumption.

Expect the unexpected:

Nic’s pick: The bread pudding was all kinds of decadent, but it wasn’t nearly as heavy or dense as some that I’ve had before. Inundated with raisins, the vanilla custard was subtly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. Delicious and unctuous, the bread pudding is definitely not something to be missed.

B’s business: The bread pudding was not terribly drenched in a cream based finishing sauce, this warm dessert-for-breakfast had just enough cinnamon and dryness to the dough to be considered a mushier version of French toast. It included a New Orleans favorite ingredient – raisins – dispersed perfectly throughout the pudding as to not overpower any of its simple tasting pleasures.

Robot Candy Co. store closing

One of the first places that caught my attention on King Street was the Robot Candy Co., with its large T-Rex in the window, and eponymous machines on display. It was exactly the kind of place I’d like to shop for candy, inviting me to explore that kid-centered part of my brain that wishes to really just make things and eat sugar.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I learned they were closing.
However, as reported in March by the Post and Courier, the store will be closing as the owners search for a new location in the downtown area. Until then, if you want to get their quirky and tasty candy, you’ll have to stock up before June 1st, or make the trip out to their Mt. Pleasant location.

Check out this panorama of the current store’s setup before it disappears.

Robot Candy Co.
Mount Pleasant
Belle Hall Shopping Center
Mt. Pleasant SC 29464
robotcandy.net

The body beautifully decoded in Compagnie Kafig dance

Something beautiful lives in the expression of athletic skill. Compagnie Kafig, a troupe of 11 dancers performing at TD Arena as part of Spoleto Festival USA, shows just what a body can do. In its hip-hop heavy version of Brazilian fight dancing, Kafig’s capoeira takes advantage of isolations common to pop lock dancers.

Toward the end of “Correria,” the first presentation, one dancer comes out for a solo with his torso bare. He torques his abdomen until it takes on the flow of a pencil wobbled between two fingers in the rubber pencil optical illusion.

Later, Kafig kicks around the stage with an extra set of wooden legs in hand. Dancers use their arms to drive the fake legs into the same steps as their real ones, to dramatic effect. Each episode demands, “Pay attention, this is what legs can do, this is what muscles are for, this is what torsion, contraction and relaxation can produce.”

Kafig explores the body’s history. As “Correria” opens, a primordial orange glow—designed by Yoann Tivoli—lights three dancers on their backs, with their legs up in the air pedaling an invisible bicycle. We see them first as machines in the body’s present or future.

“Agwa,” the second presentation, is much more organic. During “Agwa,” a grid of clear plastic cups fills the stage. Only after a dancer backflips through the maze do we see that some of the cups are filled with water. The dancers dazzlingly dash it from one cup to another, visibly delighted with Mourad Merzouki’s choreography. You can’t help but be reminded of the fact that up to 60% of the human adult body is water. Kafig earns its finale, and you’ll want to stick around for the encore.