Branic Howard and Loren Chasse are the kind of guys who will spend hours rubbing rocks together, or listening to HVAC systems, or crawling inside culverts to record the sound of rain against the corrugated steel tube. When the two Portland composers are together, they’re liable to geek out on the sonic potential of obsidian flows (Chasse once made a wind chime out of volcanic glass), or pass back and forth a prickly teasel plant, plucking its spiny head like a tiny zither. They are, simply put, obsessed with the sounds around us. And in a March concert commissioned by Third Angle New Music, Howard and Chasse hope to bring that enthusiasm to audiences, spurring us to rethink how we listen to the world.
“How can we change the relationship of the listener to the sounds they hear every day?” asks Howard, who by day teaches audio engineering at Grant High School and has worked with Third Angle in the past. “Not that we want to force them to hear any way, but how can we reconfigure their—and our—experience of these sounds?”
Third Angle, known for its off-kilter approach to classical and chamber music, approached Howard last spring about a project that would explore the interaction of urban and rural soundscapes in Portland. Other than a name for the concert—Habitat—they supplied no mandate. Howard recruited Chasse.
“We’ve worked together rubbing stones for John Cage or Christian Wolff pieces,” says Chasse, a drummer turned sound artist. “In [those] pieces, we’re only supposed to rub rocks for 45 seconds. We’re like, what if we did this for three hours?!”
Do not fear, wary listener: their Habitat piece, which they’ve titled “In a Room,” will run only 40–50 minutes and will feature a much wider suite of sounds. Howard and Chasse have spent hours making field recordings—of ice storms, creaking pine trees, and power lines sizzling and crackling in the rain. At the concert, audience members will be arranged in clusters, their chairs facing different directions. Howard and Chasse will move about the space, stopping to tinker with objects, including bells, metal disks, a tub of water, and a bingo cage (and undoubtedly some rocks). Add abstract lighting—the sound artists plan to play with reflection and shadow—and you’ve got an audiovisual experience unlike anything else this spring.
Not traditional musical fare, maybe, but the composers are also keen to avoid an aggressive or esoteric show. “I go to a lot of weird performances, and I just feel like something’s been imposed on me,” says Chasse. “I hope with our piece, it comes off as being generous.”
Mar 7–8, New Expressive Works, $10–25