Every so often the universe shifts (probably more than we think) and allows fortune to look down upon…the patrons of musical arts. Last Saturday was one of those times. Kali Malone put on a 60-minute organ performance (aided by the two “extra hands” of Stephen O’Malley for about two-thirds of the show) that was a perfect facilitator for an autumnal evening of sound as instigator of vision.
Obvious credit to Malone and O’Malley…both talents in long form, immersive drone-like works and in Malone’s case (from what I’ve previously heard), epic (and slow) organ-based structures. I wasn’t overly acquainted with Malone’s previous work, only hearing sporadic bits and pieces so subsequently, I was expecting more of a minimalist vibe. My expectations were dashed a few minutes in as there was a whole lot more activity within the pieces than I was expecting. (Don’t get me wrong, this was welcomed.) There was the mistaken assumption that I was going to hear long, drawn-out tonal studies focusing on the interior nature of a single sound or small group of sounds, i.e chords. Instead, I got lots of chordal movement and lots of melodic motifs which proved to heighten my perceptions and senses in very colorful ways. Over the course of the show, there were re-occurring themes floating in and out which I began to anticipate and interpret as “a return to safety” but came to realize they were there acting as sort of a base camp for the newer excursions that followed.
Both artists have the ability to move planets off their orbital planes with the subtlest variance of timbre…but let’s not forget some extrinsic factors at work that had equal sway in elevating this musical evening. While the sound creation was seeded by Malone’s excellent Pipe Organ scores, there were certainly other “things” that equally contributed. The gargantuan E.M Skinner Pipe Organ, one of the biggest instruments of its kind at the equally impressive Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago were integral actors in this experience.
The performance, for the most part, was in total darkness apart from some unusually styled accordion-like lamps flanking the upper portion of the organ. These provided enough ambient light to read the scores. The small lamps were aesthetically interesting, enough to catch my attention throughout the performance but it was the sound of the organ itself, and its ability to inundate the sky-high cathedral with impressionistic vibrations that was riveting, in short…awe-inspiring.
Starting with a black canvas, the performers ported their energy into, and through the organ. Working in concert with the space, the perceptual frame was filled with a multitude of experiential emotions and personal (perhaps even shared) stories.
These three components (performers, instrument, space), taken together, synergistically delivered an encounter that resonated in individually unique, and maybe even in common ways with the almost packed house. Judging from the reaction of the audience…the encounter was highly positive. For me…well let’s just say I’m highly anticipating her appearance at the 2023 Big Ears Festival. If she is performing in your area any time soon, this comes as a strong recommendation!