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Originally posted on April 7, 2011

Blarvuster played Matthew Welch’s Blind Piper’s Obstinacy # 2 at le poisson rouge last month, the group’s first time performing at the West Village venue (watch clips from Blarvuster’s set above).

Led by composer/bagpiper Matthew Welch, Blarvuster is part experimental chamber ensemble, part experimental indie-rock band, simultaneously capturing the rigor of composed music (note the sheet music in the video) with the spontaneity of rock music.  Infused into this mix is both a distinct Balinese gamelan feel—particularly in the way that each of the instrument’s lines interlock with one another—and of course the rousing Gaelic tone from the bagpipes.  What’s surprising is how very “New York City” the music sounds, with its continuous motion, created by considerable individual effort—individuals at times rhythmically unified and at others appearing to work independently of each other—and in which solo or duo lines can occasionally be heard singing through the multitude.

Welch describes his inspiration for Blind Piper’s Obstinacy # 2:

“A few years ago, the MOMA had an exhibition of large Richard Serra sculptures. They were gigantic, curvilinear, ribbon-like sculptures’ whose overwhelming size prevented one from really being able to absorb an entire work in one moment…This experience re-sparked my interest in the large-scale monolithic music composition (typical of early Glass/Reich and late Feldman) where the listener can become disoriented and lose one’s perception of the overall proportions of the structure. At that point I started writing long multi-modular pieces for Blarvuster, emphasizing an ecstatic web of gnarled contrapuntal lines and modal/noise improvisation. Blind Piper’s Obstinacy # 2 is one in this series bringing together dense and dark polyphonic arabesques in Balinese modes and the abstract, haunting lyricism of early Scottish Highland Bagpipe Piobaireachd.”

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Originally posted on April 24, 2009

Composer Matthew Welch walks into the room, playing repetitive, minimalistic sounding musical figures on the bagpipes, his music complemented by choreographer Rachel Bernsen’s precise movements, tracing geometrical shapes in the air with her limbs.  

Thus, “Singular Simple Present” (aka “Traversing Mad-hatten” sans dancer) served as a short prelude to the main event of the night, the premiere of Welch’s Jorge Luis Borges-inspired opera, second in a series of short operas with librettos drawn from the Argentine writer.

Lasting about thirty minutes, Borges and The Other #2 is an opera for Welch’s ensemble Blarvuster and two male voices, Older Borges and Younger Borges, the two being the same man, meeting each other on a riverside bench.

The opening is upbeat and jig-like, abruptly halting before the beginning of Scene 1, in which the younger and older Borges confront each other, the older proving his reality to the younger.  The music is fluid, mysterious, the flute commenting with short melodies periodically over the current of sound coming from the rest of the ensemble (viola, vibraphone, electric guitars, bass guitar, drums).  There is a brief pause, in which the sound floats in the air, and then the music resumes as the voices join.  Particularly nice was the pulsating bed of reverberation resulting from the vibraphone and electronic guitar tones’ sympathetic vibrations inside the open piano,  through which the instruments moved in gentle, continuous motion.  The upbeat jig returns at the end of this scene, and at the end of each of the scenes, jerking the listener out of the fantasy of Borges and into a visceral reality.

Like a strong light coming through a dark glass, the music of Scene 2 was somber but motion-heavy, the constancy of the sound rendering the music somewhat hypnotizing, while Borges’ older and younger selves reminisce/foretell.

Scene 3 is upbeat again, with a minor feel, and impressive swells in volume come from the ensemble before each entrance of the voices.  Here, at the end of the piece, the older Borges suggests “we meet again tomorrow, on this same bench that exists in two times and two places.”