Eubanks Traces, Explores Unconventional Sounds

Liam McLean, Staff Writer

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Bryan Eubanks, despite what some listeners may assume, does not aim to transgress. His intention is not to push boundaries. Instead, he describes his development as an electronic artist as an organic evolution from his original work with acoustic instruments — primarily the soprano saxophone — to his current style, an elusive concoction of trance-like electronics, integrated acoustic sounds and ambient noise.

Beginning at 8 p.m., Fairchild Chapel’s resonant dome became an echo chamber for a zealous hubbub of around 30 students. Two tables supported an eclectic array of electronic instruments. The front table was reserved for Eubanks and boasted an open-feedback synthesizer, a computer for samples and a transducer, a device that channels frequency through a metal plate to produce sound. The rear table was set up for William Johnson, a double-degree sophomore pursuing majors in Studio Art and TIMARA, who opened the evening with a performance using a modular synthesizer.

Johnson began with an improvisational performance involving synthesized drones and wails. The more unsettling elements induced visible wincing and ear-plugging among the crowd. His work seemed to capitalize more on sonic “shock value” than anything; the music lacked build, and the hellish din that exploded in the middle of the piece was gratuitous. The performance’s saving grace was a single descending riff, the only melodic portion of the performance — and a surprisingly infectious one at that — which added a sense of cohesion to the chaos.

Following a brief intermission in the whiplashed aftermath of Johnson’s performance, Eubanks took the stage, commanded the attention of the audibly excited crowd with an unassuming, “Hey,” and proceeded to fill the room with his uniquely organic sound.

He performed his recent composition “Object,” a solo work that the Berlin-based artist developed on a February visit to the Elektronmusikstudion in Stockholm. According to Eubanks, the piece evolved from a number of fragments he recorded during this visit. “Object,” like most of his works, is continually explored and rediscovered through performance and improvisation, and has yet to be finalized.

The artist, by his own admission, is also apt to explore sonic extremes, but his exploration, particularly in Monday’s performance of “Object,” was sparse, deliberate and meaningful.

Rather than bombarding the resonant room with an urgent cacophony, Eubanks let his music live and breathe in the space. The first sound was a sustained tone which he channeled through a small microphone. The tone’s emergence was so unobtrusive that it was difficult to pinpoint the exact moment of its materialization. Eubanks joined this raw undercurrent with the clap of two wooden sticks, a percussive interjection that recurred throughout the piece and served as the only deliberate acoustic sound that occupied the space during the improvised performance. The organic nature of “Object” made Eubanks’s simulated soundscape receptive to outside noises. The clicking of a pen, the rustling of a page, a passing car horn and a distant coughing fit seamlessly integrated into the chapel’s sonic centerpiece.

Grounded by the tone that opened the piece, the composition evolved over the course of the performance into a cohesive collective of sounds: a noisy, jarring sample that became a recurring motif, an unsettling ringing from the transducer and the occasional murmur of white noise. As the music progressed, its sounds became decidedly more organized with a betterdefined rhythmic pulse. The highlight of the concert was the deft interplay between Eubanks’ acoustic percussion of the clapping sticks, a sample of rhythmic beeps and a subdued bassline that merged to achieve an unexpected groove.

Eubanks takes “shoegazing” to a whole new level; he remained fully fixated on his feet for the duration of the concert. While the resulting emotional disengagement might seem to be a limitation of a live performance, Eubanks, surprisingly, could not have presented a more charismatic stage presence. His lack of onstage flair seems intentional: the sound, not the artist, was the predominant force at Monday’s performance. While it may not appeal to the majority of concertgoers, Eubanks’ music is a sage and salient voice to the niche he’s created for himself, regardless of how unassuming his persona may be.

 

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