MUSIC REVIEW : E.A.R. Unit Ends Season at Museum

Although monsters and ghouls are usually associated with Halloween, they seemed to be haunting the concert by the California E.A.R Unit on Wednesday night in Bing Theater at the County Museum of Art.

This fourth and final concert of the E.A.R. Unit’s residency at the museum this season offered four works from the 1980s inspired in different ways by the Minimalist school, three of them also inspired by images from the supernatural.

Highlighting the evening was a spirited performance of Frederic Rzewski’s “Mary’s Dream” (1984), for clarinet, cello, piano, percussion and narrator.

Using a text from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Rzewski achieves a seductive quality through extended sections of amplified breathing by the narrator and pianist. Parodies of monster-movie music pop up here and there, including sounds imitating the famous electronic hardware from Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory.


Rzewski’s device of repeating a melody, chord progression or text--adding and/or subtracting elements in each repetition--avoids the simple textures found in some of his earlier music. Use of the contrabass clarinet, performed aptly by Jim Rohrig, also added an appropriate creepiness.

The world premiere of Burr van Nostrand’s “Love Songs of the Vampires,” for flute, clarinet, viola, cello, prepared piano and percussion, also made musical references to Hollywood monsters, although perhaps not as intentionally as Rzewski does. Glissandos, portamenti and other extended effects quivered delicately, creating an atonal collage of eerie sounds--and continuing for about 30 minutes.

Conductor Rand Steiger accomplished a multifarious, homogenous mixture of all the instruments. Amy Knoles and Art Jarvinen had fun with a wild percussion coda, while Gaylord Mowrey’s sensitive approach to the prepared piano blended nicely in the overall.

In Morton Subotnick’s “Trembling” (1983), for piano, violin and “ghost” electronics, rapid, austere patterns are repeated and electronically altered into sensuous textures. Pianist Lorna Eder and violinist Robin Lorentz performed adroitly.


Also on the program was a tight performance of David Ocker’s familiar “Pride and Foolishness” (1987), conducted accurately but tentatively by Paul Pretkel.