Eclectic Minimalism works wonders

Special to The Times

Deceptively simple, composer-performer Eve Beglarian’s “Book of Days” is in fact a grand and gradually manifesting work in progress. For 20 years, Beglarian has been building a catalog of short pieces that combine texts, her multiple flavors of Minimalist writing and sometimes video. She’s aiming for a set of 365, one for each day of the year.

Apart from its conceptual ambitions, this project serves as a handy vessel and turbine for Beglarian’s scattered, restless creative impulses. On the evidence of 10 pieces performed Sunday at Highways Performance Space by the impressive, locally based Robin Cox Ensemble and pianist Sarah Cahill, it’s an eclectic and wide-open series of enticements.

Highways is typically a home for performance art and various theatrical offshoots, but its intimate black-box format makes it an ideal venue for new music, especially of Beglarian’s multidisciplinary ilk. She effectively crosses the lines between music, spoken word and multimedia and even slips into the outskirts of performance art.


Her instincts for possibility are also sharp. She plucks texts from a dizzying variety of sources, including a Zen lesson in the riveting “Five Things,” selections from the Gospel of Thomas in “Until It Blazes” and “Do Not Be Concerned” and a snatch of Stephen King in “All Ways.” Here, King’s accidental haiku is set against a fractured honky-tonk piano part from Cahill. The purpose of this piece can be described as a reflection on the notion of “fragment” -- as both verb and noun.

Cahill, an acclaimed new music specialist, was often spotlighted in the performance. She veered from terse chords in the Ruth Crawford-based “Fireside” to neurotically mechanistic chattering in “Landscaping for Privacy” -- a rumination on the suburban mind-set and clouds as memento mori.

Beglarian’s compositional language is rooted in Minimalism’s repetitive, interlacing maze of lines. In her hands, the style is pushed into interesting new corners and sometimes plainly echoes Steve Reich’s older writing.

“Michael’s Spoon,” heard here for the first time in an “unplugged” adaptation, was a study in old-school Minimalist bubbling, the rhythmic grid underscoring languid long notes from cellist Carter Dewberry. Michele Manno’s video component -- blending abstract water imagery, scenes of the homeless and a scrolling text -- was a standout among the evening’s video pieces, which otherwise seemed more distracting than illuminating.

The program closed, wisely, with “Lullaby,” its text from a 13th century English plainchant airlifted into a contemporary context. In it, Beglarian’s vocal melody was colored and seconded by voices within the ensemble, another Reichian touch. “Lullaby” proved a brief yet memorably enchanting finale to a refreshingly diverse new musical encounter.