Under Kriya Studio's huge ceiling, a star-shaped paper lantern and separate strands of red, white and turquoise holiday lights illuminated the spacious stage, and amplification equipment encircled the seating area. After bundled-up concertgoers had filed in and chosen seats, local composer/musician Greg Davis stood and welcomed the 30-plus-member crowd, then surprised everyone by announcing the show would be Kriya's last - the cooperatively run performance space is closing its doors in the next week or so.
For James Tenney's 1971 "Swell Piece No. 2 (for Pauline Oliveros)," four or five folks around the room gradually turned separate amp volume knobs up and down to produce a single, rising and ebbing tone of oceanic intensity. Earplugs were a must. Weirdly, with 32 decibels of sound blocked out, it seemed as though the harmonic overtones were originating in my own head.
Next, Davis and Toby Aronson (who gigs around town as part of the "nu-new-age" trio Oak) set up piles of rocks of all sizes on wooden boards, hand drums and the floor, then played "Stones," a 1969 work by Dartmouth professor emeritus Christian Wolff. For about 20 minutes, the miked pair manipulated the smaller stones at various speeds, rocking the bigger ones back and forth and conjuring mental images of avalanches.
Afterward, 13 musicians stood up from the audience, uncasing acoustic and electric instruments for the pièce de résistance: Brooklyn-based composer Duane Pitre's "The Ensemble Chord in E-flat with a Minor 7th and a Pump Organ Base." Pitre himself conducted the 30-minute work, bringing in instruments in layers: harmonium, two violins, cello, alto sax, oboe, clarinet, bass, baritone sax, and then Pitre and another musician on electric guitars played with bows. Everyone seemed to come in on the same note, but then they were free to pick another note within it. The effect was amazing, with a mellow, mostly acoustic sound like one huge, happy harmonica. Imagine the music of the spheres - a great note on which to end an artistic experiment.