The performance by Location Ensemble at the Saratoga Arts Center last Saturday began and ended with gifts to the crowd. Before the show started, free sets of ear plugs were offered up to attendees to blunt the impact of the experimental sound troupe’s eight guitarists and one drummer.
And the show ended when ensemble members passed plastic cups filled with fizzling champagne around the audience – a bit of participatory theater that concluded their fascinating final piece, “Electric Guitar II” by Swiss experimental composer Valerian Maly.
“This last piece happens mostly on the floor. It’s quite a bit less loud than what you just heard, for the most part,” announced guitarist and ensemble member Holland Hopson before he knelt on the floor and placed a champagne flute on his guitar strings – a process repeated by each guitarist, one-by-one.
Champagne corks were then popped and the vibrating glasses filled atop a roomful of guitars, creating a dynamic, clanging hum before the experiment was over when ensemble members and the crowd drank up.
Before the effervescent finale, Location Ensemble – featuring, on this night, drummer Matt Weston and guitarists Tara Fracalossi, Howard Glassman, Eric Hardiman (who also played bass), Ray Hare, Hopson, Thomas Lail, Jason Martin and Patrick Weklar – performed three original pieces, accompanied by live video projections from Albany-based noise and video artist 1983 (Jason Cosco).
The group came together in 2010 as a way for local sonic experimenters to write pieces for a large ensemble.
During Eric Hardiman’s krautrock-influenced, minimalistic “Diversion #3,” a spiny fossil-like figure spiraled on the large video backdrop as Hardiman conducted the guitar army, indicating when they should rise up or mellow out as they played a single chord in multiple paired configurations.
Organic-looking images – from yellow flowers to blue-washed hairy roots – accompanied Hopson’s portrait of decay, “Six Chords Every Rock Guitarist Should Know,” as ensemble members played off each other, strumming chords and then waiting for their own sound to fade away before picking up again, creating multi-faceted layers of sound.
And “Untitled (All the Times She Loves Me),” written by soundBarn co-founder Thomas Lail, repurposed two alternate tunings used by Sonic Youth for their song, “I Love Her All the Time.” Half of the group played in one tuning and half in the other, recalling the dissonant, lonely and haunting mood that Sonic Youth evokes so well.
Review and photographs by Kirsten Ferguson