Times Staff Writer

With 10 speakers placed strategically around the Griffith Park carrousel, no Doppler effects were possible when the E.A.R. Unit, ensemble of the musical vanguard, gave a concert there Friday night. In all positions of ridership, passengers on the 14-miles-per-hour merry-go-round heard the same frequencies.

No woo-wah here: What you hear is what you get--and vice versa.

Still, this was no ordinary new-music concert. It took place outdoors, at dusk, under the trees and at the bottom of a hill, darkness encroaching with every minute.

And, just this once, patrons of the Chamber Music in Historic Sites series--of which this concert was the closing event of the 1984-85 agenda--wore black ties and other evening clothes.


In addition, there was fantasy food: hot dogs en croissant ; liqueur-flavored ice cream bars; cotton candy; popcorn and long-flowing wines, among other goodies.

Did the event, then, stir childhood memories, bring us back to our earlier selves, as some thought it would? Hardly--unless one had grown up eating food of this kind while riding wooden horses in an environment of this bucolic nature.

Indeed, there could be little of deja vu on this Friday night. All of the music, for instance, seemed filtered--as heard coming out of 10 speakers, filtered is the right word--through an impersonal medium. Perhaps that was one of the messages of this event: No experience, even one apparently straightforward, is uncorrupted.

The eight players/singers of E.A.R. Unit, arranged surrealistically between two trees on a very uneven piece of ground next to the carrousel entrance, occupied that place as unconcernedly as if they had lived there for years. Doesn’t everyone make music under a tree?


Certainly not with this aplomb. The program-proper began, almost imperceptibly, with electronic music of the 1960s and ‘70s from Holland, at 7:20 p.m.

Following half an hour’s worth of calliope-music accompanying the merry-go-round, these short, almost innocently atonal, pieces by William Breuker and Cor Kee fit easily into the general aural ambience. Halfway through a coconut-flavored sorbet-on-a-stick (Fruta-Mex is the brand name), one realized the concert had begun.

Frederic Rzewski’s fist-raising, repetitive “Les Moutons de Panurge,” a work not everyone admires in a formal concert setting, sounded wonderful in this atmosphere. It is music to socialize by, to talk by, to wander in the park by, to ride a carrousel by. In this setting, it seemed almost irresistibly attractive.

And, incidentally, the E.A.R. folks--who are Erika Duke, Amy Knoles, Arthur Jarvinen, Lorna Little, Gaylord Mowrey, James Rohrig, Rand Steiger and Dorothy Stone--gave it a serious, careful and tight reading, one worthy of any physical setting.


John Cage’s “Radio Music” loses its sense of humor out of doors, where randomness, being rampant, is less cherishable than in the concert hall. One assumes Griffith Park on a normal day already sounds like “Radio Music.”

But Steve Reich’s “Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ” proved the perfect outdoor, and at-dusk, piece. Even the most talkative of concert patrons stopped to listen; wisely, the management had chosen this moment to stop the merry-go-round.

Some climbed the little hill above the carrousel to hear Reich’s gradually shifting harmonies rise in the air; the combination of still nature, approaching night and evolving, hypnotically repetitive sounds produced an aural glow.

Then the spell was broken. The ordinary funkiness of a Scott Joplin rag brought us back to earth and to the end of the program. For an encore, the ensemble repeated the rag. Following that, the carrousel calliope resumed its survey of 19th-Century sources--among them Suppe, Verdi, Gounod and Wagner. And, soon, we were back on the freeway, in the real world.