Last night’s concert featuring Aaron Roche and FLUX Quartet with Logan Coale was a perfect example of why staging is so important. That isn’t to say that the staging was necessarily bad at the Church of Advent Hope on the Upper East Side, but it vastly underserved Roche’s otherwise fantastic performance.
When Roche, drummer Anthony Lamarca, electronic guru Michael Hammond and Roche’s wife Whitni took to the stage - or I should say, floor - it was immediately apparent that all the wizardry of this little collective would not be seen well, especially by anyone not sitting in the first few pews. Pedals and sound boards were set up on music stands while Hammond's drum set was all but blanketed in darkness. When the two Roches sang together, Whitni remained seated, making the performance feel suddenly overly casual, as though you were hanging out with the group while they rehearsed.
Still, the songs themselves were beautiful, at turns ambient and dissonant, eerie and soothing, woven together so that there were no pauses or break. Accompanying the performance was a rather strange selection of old French documentaries about underwater creatures. Surprisingly, it ended up being the perfect accompaniment to Roche’s guitar, calling to mind a more subtle Link Wray. Even Hammond and Lamarca’s electronic passages were well served by the footage, though the low rumbling and frequent blips had a feel similar to Iggy Pop’s “Mass Production,” as opposed to anything natural. The overall effect was that of humming along the ocean floor in a musical submersible, exploring the origins of life. It was beautiful and haunting.
FLUX Quartet were better received, as they actually had a stage on which to perform. Their opening selection, “Navigation for Strings” by Alvin Lucier, was an interesting choice, considering how somber and plodding it was. Long atonal chords don’t exactly win an audience over, and it wasn’t surprising to see many in the group fixated on one of Roche’s French documentaries, this one about seahorses, as opposed to the musicians (Tom Chiu, Conrad Harris, Max Mandel, and Felix Fan.)
For “Quintet for Bass Guitar and String” by the talented young composer Gilad Cohen, FLUX was joined by bassist Logan Coale. The piece was filled with excitement from the trembling start of the “Andante” to the ebullience of the “Largo Sostenuto”. Paired with Coale’s thumping bass, the composition felt at turns completely new and totally familiar. It was, in many ways, the most successful work of the evening, precisely because it labored no points and lacked any pretension. Chiu and Mandel’s feverish and excited playing was palpable, and made certain the audience felt it. If only everything could be so unabashedly fun.