According to the “Brass instrument” entry in Wikipedia, the members of the brass familiar are also called “labrosones.” This word comes from “labrum,” the biological (and Latin) term for “lip;” so a labrosone is an instrument whose sounds originate through vibrating lips. Labrosones was also the title that Pamela Z chose for the final concert in her current ROOM Series, and those of us on audience side discovered that the labrosonic phenomenon need not be confined to the brass family.
This was most evident in the work of Krys Bobrowski, who performed a piece with Brenda Hutchinson entitled “Horns and Other Tubes.” Bobrowski’s “official” instrument is French horn; but her mastery of the horn mouthpiece has taken her in a fascinating direction. On stage were three pieces of dried bullwhip kelp (Nereocystis), each of a different length and curvature. One of these had a diameter that allowed it to be its own mouthpiece; the other two were played with Bobrowski’s horn mouthpiece.
In her approach to performance, the sonorities of these objects constituted only part of the story. Through the physical properties of their shapes, she also used them to explore their resonant qualities, setting other objects (such as a drum head or a wine glass, each amplified through a contact microphone) into vibration. Throughout these “sonic investigations” all sounds were captured and transformed by Hutchinson monitoring an impressive array of electronic equipment. The program listed her instrument as “short tube,” which appeared to be her primary control device through its ability to sense the different ways Hutchinson touched it. Taken as a whole, the performance amounted to an exploration that combined physical disposition with auditory phenomena, somewhat in the spirit of John Cage’s pioneering “Music Walk.”
Another departure from the brass family came from Richard Marriott. Marriott’s primary instrument is trombone; but his performance last night began with an array of conch shells of different sizes, whose tones served as input to Loopback sampling software. Having created a sonic texture from a few of these instruments, Marriott then added his trombone to the mix. He also performed on a straight herald trumpet (without valves). He offered three relatively short improvisations, the third of which was distinguished through his exploration of the natural seventh harmonic, adding his own voice to the sampler with the words, “You can’t do that on a piano!”
Tom Dambly restricted his own focus to the trumpet family (including a flugelhorn). He began with a piece entitled “La trompette concrète,” which he performed against prerecorded material. The recording presented a thick texture of sonorities, all of which may well have been upper natural harmonics, within which Dambly almost unobtrusively inserted his own performance of a melodic line whose lyricism seemed to recall Miles Davis. There seemed to be an interplay between the “piano-based” chromatics achieved by the keys on Dambly’s instrument and those natural harmonics on the recording, which made for absorbing listening.
Dambly then performed “Labrosonic Liminality” with Pamela Z controlling live electronics. She then did an arrangement of “The Heat” from her Carbon Song Cycle, accompanied by Dambly on trumpet, Marriott on trombone, and Bobrowski on horn. The evening then concluded with the four of them joining with Hutchinson for a free improvisation of vibrating lips, incantations, and electronics, bringing this season’s ROOM series to an exhilarating conclusion.