Your eardrum vibrates in response to sound traveling down the ear canal. Three small bones connected to the eardrum vibrate in turn, and that vibration stimulates the fluid in your inner ear, which moves small hair cells. These small hair cells produce the electrical impulse that your brain interprets as sound. This is how we hear, in the most literal sense. But Robert Blatt, Jorge Gomez Abrante, and Mark So have more radical opinions about it.
“Through looking, you can listen. Through feeling, there are essences of listening. There are different things that conjure sound that may not have sound itself,” says Abrante, a founding member, along with Blatt, of the Inlets Ensemble and Inlets Foundation, both dedicated to experimental music.
The work of the three composers concentrates on sound, but it often involves more than just music. Soon after Abrante and Blatt met in 2014, for example, they hosted a series of concerts in an abandoned check-cashing store. And then in a porn shop. In Rock, Paper, Scissors, the ensemble performed three pieces: one producing sound with only stones, one using paper, and a final using (you guessed it) scissors. The trio composes music using environment, constraint, and time.
“It becomes not so much strange and surreal as, let’s say, more elemental,” says So, an L.A.-based artist who began trading emails with Blatt after they realized a mutual respect for each other’s music. “To re-engage with things in this elemental way, and to be astonished at a completely different order of those possibilities as they unfold, is not nonsense. It’s not a conceptual category; it’s a profoundly more live circumstance for music.”
When So flew to Miami in the spring of 2016, he and Blatt explored musical scores and activities that now make up much of Experiments on the Periphery, the upcoming swath of formal, informal, and even unplanned “concerts” the trio will perform in South Florida May 12 through 22. Some of them include musical scores written by composer Manfred Werder, although much of what will occur is based on work already started by Blatt, So, and Abrante. One piece, written by Abrante, involves a performer riding on a skateboard while playing a ukulele, and reads almost like instructions:
push and get on
play a pulsating chord that decelerates with the skateboard
for Pauline Oliveros
travel through an environment
tune your strings to the environment
retune as the environment changes.”
In Blatt's Books of Hours, moments in time in a 24-hour period are printed on pages that represent each hour in the day, from 00:00:59 to 23:59:29, and scores of timestamps between. Whoever is holding the book can take these points of time as activations or opportunities to make sound — or not. It’s highly interpretive, which is indicative of each musician’s dedication to openness.
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“All the works that we're playing come from an experimental music tradition where there is a crossing between what is notated and what is not notated in order to open the score up to chance and chaos, to sort of poetically open them up to the environment,” Blatt explains. “They have this open multidimensionality to them. They can open to beyond the concert hall, can open up to the living environment, blend into the lived situation, and move in and out between the lived and performed situations.”
Adds So: “What this work insists upon is that audiences don’t exist; there are only individuals. It appeals to any individual’s potential openness. It relates to anyone who approaches it in an openly private way.”
“I think it can be very liberating,” Abrante reflects, “being open to the extent of letting every part of you listen to the music — every organ. Use it all.”
Experiments on the Periphery’s first performance will take place Friday, May 12, on Krome Avenue and SW Eighth Street. Visit periphery.ricercata.org.