The clouds that blanketed the sky for most of Thursday had dispersed enough for an audience gathered at the Institute of Contemporary Art to watch the horizon change colors through the huge window behind the violinist Gabriela Diaz, as she performed “Anthemes II” by Pierre Boulez. Beams of sound seemed to refract as if through a rotating prism, bouncing all over the room. Plucked strings popped and danced in short bursts as stage lights flashed in fragments on Diaz’s sequined leggings. Long notes multiplied into an eerie chorus around the live instrument, rising and falling in foggy waves. Even a page of manuscript being lowered to the floor was amplified into a relieved breath.
The occasion was a concert by the contemporary sinfonietta Sound Icon in collaboration with IRCAM, the Parisian bastion of electroacoustic music that Boulez founded in 1977, which was in residence at Boston University last week. In addition to Boulez, Thursday’s program included music by some of the institute’s most renowned associates. IRCAM sound engineer Jeremie Henrot and producer Serge Lemouton provided the electronics, sending crystalline computer manipulations of the live instruments through speakers surrounding the audience.
Buildings, bridges, and buoys turned into shadows outside during Jonathan Harvey’s “Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco,” a tape composition that chopped, twisted, and scattered the sounds of cathedral bells and high, sweet choristers. The hypnotic piece cast the audience as the clapper of a giant bell; by its end, it wasn’t clear whether the walls were moving toward listeners, or we were swinging toward them.
It quickly became evident that the title of Beat Furrer’s “Aria,” a term that suggests song, is a joke. Sound came out of the instruments in jittery wisps: the strings muted, the xylophone struck with hands. Soprano soloist Jennifer Ashe gasped, clicked, and whispered, moving through the piece to her internal rhythm, occasionally letting out a recognizable tone before plunging back into the percussive forest. Rare fully voiced, slower paced interludes shone light through the darkly pointillistic whirlwind.
The final piece, Tristan Murail’s atmospheric “L’esprit des dunes” for small orchestra, evoked a colorful if meandering journey through a desert. Murail drew upon the stirring open harmonies of Tibetan monks chanting and Mongolian throat singing, and the work’s texture shifted like sand and whistled like wind. It was pitch-dark outside, but high electronic tones called to mind the sun’s harsh glare, and out of a full sound, Sound Icon evoked emptiness.
SOUND ICON + IRCAM
At Institute of Contemporary Art, April 28Zoë Madonna can be reached at email@example.com.