Adam Rosenblatt: Reclaimed Timber

March 8th, 2019

Creative Alliance is a fantastic resource for all people interested in contemporary art. While hosting live performances of multimedia art exhibitions, the organization also features resident artists who regularly present projects and demonstrations within the various halls and rooms of the old Patterson theater. On Friday, March 8th 2019, resident artist, Adam Rosenblatt presented a multimedia performance of the composition, Timber by Michael Gordon in the gallery at Creative Alliance.

The composition requires six performers using mallets on six pieces of wood. Although the wood that is typically used for this composition is carefully selected for its hardness, durability, and timbre, Rosenblatt sourced his instruments from abandoned, vacant, and demolished houses across Baltimore City. In addition to the pieces of wood, a real-time responsive light installation was prepared by the light artists, McCormack and Figg which illuminated cardboard images of Baltimore’s buildings. These visuals mimicked the sound in terms of saturation and intensity throughout the performance. This event was the culmination of a year’s work by Rosenblatt which forced him to confront the complex issue of housing in Baltimore and compelled him to state that, “this presentation exists because of the way Baltimore is.”

The music began with six percussionists facing each other in a circle, situated on a platform in the center of the room. Surrounding the musicians were concentric circles of the cardboard images illuminated by lighting strips on the floor. The audience filled in the remainder of the room on all sides of the stage, and Rosenblatt encouraged everyone to walk about the room and experience the sound from different locations. On a cold and rainy night, there were many people in attendance and audience members actively wandered about the room and observed the performance from all angles.

For several minutes, each performer hit a piece of wood creating six distinct pithes that circled around the room. In a clockwise rotation, one performer would create a crescendo and decrescendo bringing the pitch of their instrument to the foreground and subsequently yielding that presence to the person on their left. The sonic wave of intensity was mirrored visually by the colorful light fixture creating a circular motion of lights around the stage that illuminated the most prominent instrument at a given moment. As this circular motion began to accelerate, new rhythms appeared through the use of dynamics and articulations meant to disrupt the established pattern. As new gestures were passed around, motivic phasing typical of minimalist compositions could be heard (and seen in the lights), which created a feeling  of conflict that ultimately resolved when the rhythms returned to synchronization.

After an intense build up and a satisfying climax, the audience recognized the resolution with a hearty applause. Unphased by this approval, the ensemble continued onto a new section that featured another build up of rhythms. These layered rhythms formed another sonic wave, but new interjections took on a creepier almost skeletal feeling. Like the rattling of bones down a distant hallway, the gesture began to slow down in terms of the relative speed of each mallet attack and eventually reached a mechanical climax. I took the opportunity to walk around the room during this section and the sound truly resonated differently depending on location. At one point I left the gallery and went up the adjacent stairwell to listen from an exterior location. The sound emanating from the gallery was that of a heavy engine room constantly rumbling and turning large objects inside; somewhat like a giant drying machine.

As I returned to the gallery, the mallet falls on each piece of wood were more deliberate – like unbalanced beams falling or objects of disproportionate size hitting the floor, each taking different lengths of time to decay and come to rest. A new buildup brought unison hits that echoed like the sound of voices. I found myself moved by the presence of these seemingly lost voices. It touched me like an old chant in a haunting but also seductive way. Towards the end of the performance, an ominous drumbeat moved to the foreground of the soundscape before being broken by polyrhythms, instability, and finally the return of the opening motive and the end of the piece.

At roughly an hour in length, this performance of Timber was just the right length for a crowd that enjoyed standing, sitting, listening, moving, and all around experiencing the event. Plenty of moments reminded me of the physical features of housing (hammering, pipework, building, deconstructing), and many sounds alluded to the philosophical issues in housing policy (communication, uniformity, conflict, imbalance), but ultimately I was most impressed by the conviction and execution displayed by the performers. This was an amazing presentation and I look forward to experiencing future performances by Adam Rosenblatt.

Jeremy Lyons is a guitarist, composer, and writer living in Baltimore City. He is an artistic director of the contemporary music ensemble, Pique Collective, a performing member of the music cooperative, Mind on Fire, and he collaborates with artists of all kinds working in a variety of mediums. If you want to get in touch with him or suggest an event for him to experience, use his contact page.