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Published: Wednesday, 9/22/2010

Toledo Museum of Art to be site of musical experiment

BY SALLY VALLONGO
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

"Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating."

- John Cage

Most people go the Ritter Planetarium at the University of Toledo to look at stars.

Jill Berkana has discovered another sensory stimulant inside the big moving dome: sound.

She and some music and dance cohorts will present the results of her discoveries in a recital of improvised responses to Ritter sounds in the Great Gallery of the Toledo Museum of Art.

Its title: Play with the Machine.

In an interesting twist, this free public recital could introduce the latest non-

celestial star find at the popular observatory.

Plus, it will return to the spotlight an approach to music that is old as the hills yet brand new whenever it occurs. Improvisation.

Some call it chance music.

Jacqueline Leclair, a professional oboist with faculty positions at Bowling Green State University and the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, who will join Berkana and a few others for this musical experiment, explains its more modern roots.

"The idea of taking a 'found sound' or 'musique concrete,' recording it and playing it back verbatim and improvising along with the recording is a less common approach to music-making, and a fascinating and fun way to go," she said last week via email.

Since the 1940s, when tape recording emerged as a new technology, Leclair continues, "musicians almost immediately started 'sampling' sounds and making music out of the recordings - often transforming the recorded sounds."

French composer Pierre Schaeffer was a leader in the movement in that post-World War II period, and his experiments drew the attention of American composer John Cage, among others, and French Dada artist Marcel Duchamp.

Leclair, who also directs the MidAmerican Center for Contemporary Music at BGSU, has built a subsidiary career performing in groups inspired by chance music around the world.

And a Leclair recital at BGSU drew Berkana, a self-described outsider artist whose primary form of expression is dancing with the Nightfire Dance Theatre in Ann Arbor.

"I was knocked out," Berkana says of that moment. "I approached her because this was what she does. I don't have experience in this field."

Leclair responded to Berkana's e-mail by inviting her to play the recorded Ritter sounds, which she, too, found inspiring musically. Plans were made, the TMA venue was secured, a date was set, and plans began to set up - like concrete.

And, like concrete, glass, and other man-made, seemingly hardened materials which actually remain forever in a state of slow flux, the Berkana-Leclair plans took an early shape. Now, the results will be experienced for the first time by everyone - audience and performers - at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Leclair, on flute instead of oboe, plus BGSU grad students Ellery Trafford and Mihai Berindean, will respond musically to the Ritter sounds while Berkana and a fellow dancer, Paula Frank, react to the same sounds in dance.

A wonderful wrinkle in this unique performance will be a repeat of the premiere during the event, with the audience invited to participate. "We plan to bring simple instruments with us," says Berkana, so those moved by the debut Ritter improv can add their own personal responses in the reprise.

Leclair also will play oboe in two subsequent works with Trafford and Berindean.

Contact Sally Vallongo at svallongo@theblade.com.



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