I came to the opening night of Beyond Baroque’s Sound Festival III a stranger in a strange land, but I‘m getting used to that. The content was beyond reproach even when baffling. The space -- filled on this night with the kind of all-knowing, participating, mostly young audience that opera companies and symphony orchestras dream of attracting (or should) -- is one of the most valuable active arts venues in the area. That’s what Ferrara might have been like in 1500.
I wasn‘t quite all-knowing, but Lord knows I tried. Something called the Joe ColleyCrawl Unit was beyond me: a tall guy wrapped around his tableful of gadgetry, sending out audible daggers and bulldozers, never sparing an outward glance at his presumed targets. (Were we even there? Were we needed there? What about music as communication?) Kraig Grady’s retuned mallet instruments wrapped the room in a soft gossamer of indeterminate (and, alas, interminable) almost-harmony. Germany‘s Achim Wollscheid had wired the space with a network of small microphones and speakers, so that every audience move -- words, breathing, perhaps a snore -- got processed and sent around the room: John Cage’s 4‘33” in other words, writ large.
At the end Pauline Oliveros sat with her great zillion-button accordion, drawing out long, oozing chords that transformed the entire space, both as sight and sound, into a kind of breathing, which I could identify -- for the first time, that night -- as music.