Music review: U.S. debut of Norway’s asamisimasa at Zipper Hall


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It is tempting to view the performance by virtuosic, maverick Norwegian group asamisimasa, Monday at Zipper Hall, as comic relief from the contemporary music scene’s more serious side. After all, the concert menu included a megaphone trio, a percussionist holding forth on “household implements,” a conductor/composer writhing spastically onstage before falling off it, and other John Cage-meets-Dada-meets-Spike Jones doings.

But to dismiss this conspicuously gifted young chamber group as a novelty would do disservice to the group’s considerable, serious artistic powers. Given its coolly absurdist theatrics and dazzling musicianship beneath the zany surfaces, asamisimasa’s concert was one of the freshest and funniest new music performances in the Southland in memory.


This was the U.S. debut of asamisimasa, formed in 2001 and named after the baffled psychic scene in Fellini’s “8 ½.” Leave it to the venerable yet always newness-seeking Monday Evening Concerts series to broker this enthralling encounter.

In a program of U.S. premieres penned within the last decade, the token vintage work was Alberto Savinio’s 1914 “Le Chants de la Mi-Mort,” a fractured, surreal and perhaps “Ives-ian” song set, nimbly played by pianist Ellen Ugelvik and soprano Silje Marie Aker Johnsen, adorned with a few well-placed bass drum poundings. Stirring in elements of rock and “found sound,” Norwegian composer Øyvind Torvund’s savory “Neon Forest Space” is scored for clarinet (Albrecht Scharnweber), cello (Tanja Orning), electric guitar (Anders Førisdal) and percussionist Håkon Mørch Stene, whose arsenal included precisely rhythmic aerosol cans. Danish composer Simon Steen-Andersen’s cerebral joyride “on and off and to and fro,” incorporating tautly-articulated, sometimes feedback-coaxing megaphones, was a bracing tour de force, while British composer Laurence Crane’s “John White in Berlin” was something of a minimalist snoozer, salvaged by the ripe play of textural light versus dark.

Saving the wildest card for last, the concert closed with the half-hour “Unsichtbare Musik (Invisible Music)” by Norwegian Trond Reinholdtsen, who “conducted” the mosaic-like, neo-dadaistic half-hour work with verbal commands, which players illustrated or sometimes ignored. After keeping a straight, stoically Nordic face, some musicians struggled to stifle smiles at the finale, a Grieg song recording with its vocalist pitched up to Munchkin-like range.

In all, it was a quirkily enchanting evening, in which both factors of the serio-comic equation played with and against each other.


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