With its careful, hushed vibe and slow pacing, it is only all the more amazing that this 24 minute piece is the work of pure improvisation, without the benefit of practice or rehearsal. It is simply the product of four disciplined, like-minded individuals captured in the moment perfectly.
The four participants, Molly Berg (clarinet and vocals), Olivia Block (tapes and electronics), Steve Roden (lap steel guitar) and Stephen Vitiello (electric guitar), congregated for an impromptu performance late one night at a San Francisco cathedral. Given the nature of the performance and instrumentation, each individual can be heard clearly: Roden’s guitar appears early atop taped clatterings and subtle electronics from Block, which then is met by sparse, wordless vocals from Berg.
When she switches from vocals to clarinet, the piece gets sharper and a bit louder, but then calms back down, allowing bird chirps and gentle melodies to fill the opened space. Sparse electric guitar from Vitiello becomes audible, as does a deep, almost rhythmic loop of clacking sound, rocks perhaps? At this point each element that comes in sticks around, leading to a complex, but not overly dense mix, placing expansive electronic drones with what could be rainforest field recordings and repeated backwards melodies. With the clarinet leading, the closing moments end up taking along a subtle jazzy feeling.
While there is a noticeable improvisational feeling to be found, the four players synthesize their sounds together quite well, especially considering this isn’t extracted from a longer performance, and that there was no practice or rehearsal beforehand. Each artist can be heard, but no one overshadows the other, truly uniting them as a group. The result is a beautiful, understated performance that retains the live, at the moment feeling that was surely felt in the cathedral when it was recorded.