Liminal show takes minimal approach
The Oregonian, February 25, 2003
By D.K. Row
Some music is meant to be listened to, some simply experienced. Such was the case with Saturday evening’s show by the Liminal Performance Group, “minimal at liminal.”
The event, which christened Liminal’s new Old Town space, reawakened the spirit of the avant-garde 1960s, when important minimal composers such as Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass and John Cage refined music to its most essential elements with their repetitive, non-narrative compositions void of conventional characteristics such as contrast.
The result of these conceptual explorations was music akin to philosophy rather than pleasure. That’s a fitting foundation for a group that, above all, promises to take audiences to the outer edges of art. Since forming in 1997, Liminal has presented eight avant-garde performance and media works.
Their first performance in a new Old Town storefront space was both a glimpse into the future and a reflection of the group’s dedicated aesthetic. A crowd of about 40 filled the large, open space that—save a rusty upright piano, some buckets, hanging microphones from the ceiling and a table with a laptop—was void of any pretense of officiousness; this was a bare-bones enterprise.
The program of nine pieces featured some of the movement’s key works, many of which were shorter than a three-minute pop song: La Monte Young’s “Composition 1960 #7,” merely a sustained interval of two notes; Cage’s “Music for Marcel Duchamp” and his landmark “4′33″”—4 minutes, 33 seconds of silence—which was performed by Amanda Boekelheide and Bryan Markovitz as a duet, with Markovitz signaling entrances by Boekelheide that never happened (or did, depending on your point of view); and Reich’s “Pendulum Music,” in which swinging microphones and loudspeakers located in the buckets created feedback sounds that grew in length and severity as the mike’s pendulum movement petered out.
But the evening’s high—and low—point was Riley’s “In C,” performed by an ensemble of about a dozen players, including flute, bassoon, saxophone, vibraphone and accordion. Composed of a single phrase repeatedly overlaid whole and in part, “In C” bears all of the trademarks of minimalism: endless repetition, the influences of Eastern music and dronelike moments indistinguishable from joy and sheer pointlessness. After nearly 50 minutes of relentless canon phrasing, five audience members finally succumbed to dozing.
That was both the beauty and frustration of the evening—one could regard the music as cathartic or so reductive as to be emotionless and boring. But in offering this unique program, Liminal is taking Portland viewers where few dare to go.