Music Review

Deleuzer fuses disparate voices at Washington Street Arts

SOMERVILLE — Among performers involved in freely improvised music, a chance encounter among unfamiliar artists is a well-worn method for generating fresh, unexpected results. Still, the history of the genre, typically traced back to the freedom-besotted 1960s, is dotted with notable examples of working groups, some whose players might stick together for decades: AMM, Musica Elettronica Viva, Globe Unity, and so on.

Such groups have made potent use of the tension that results from tying the spontaneous instincts of individuals to an intent to fashion a communal voice. The same can be said for Deleuzer, formed just over two years ago by the violinist Morgan Evans-Weiler, on the evidence of a concert presented on Saturday night at Washington Street Arts in Somerville — the second of four events in a monthlong residency titled “One or two things — for a long time.”

Named in puckish homage to the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, the group includes Evans-Weiler, reedist Howard Martin, trumpeter Jesse Kenas-Collins, keyboardist Dan Wick, Chris Johnson on laptop computer, and Michael Rosenstein on amplified surfaces and oscillators. (A seventh member, synthesizer player Peter Gumaskas, did not participate on Saturday.)


The residency, which runs through Feb. 1 and includes an exhibition of visual art and custom-designed instruments, confirms the group’s corporate identity. But each concert also embraces strategies meant to inject novelty: solo performances, guests, and even compositions. On Saturday, Deleuzer welcomed Nick Hennies, a percussionist and composer based in Ithaca, N.Y., and premiered “The Loser,” a piece that Hennies wrote for the occasion.

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The opening improvisation, around 17 minutes long, demonstrated how closely and respectfully Deleuzer’s members listen to one another. Hennies found his way into the mix nimbly, his bowed, scraped, and pattered sounds on a snare drum gently permeating a motley, moody arc of crackle, rumble, and breath. That all seven players recognized the end of that musical span, unanimously and instantly, was a textbook illustration of the elusive thrill that collaborative improvisation can yield.

Alone, Hennies played pieces from a series called “Casts.” His simple gestures on vibraphone — single notes and simple intervals, struck rapidly and repeatedly — fused with electronic sine waves, forming mutable, metallic clouds of thumping impact, ringing tone, and chiming interference.

In place of conventional staves and notes, “The Loser” plotted out a 45-minute span with text instructions: “continuously play the lowest sound possible,” “play only loud, staccato/short sounds in a wide variety of pitches and timbres,” “secretly choose one player of the group to imitate as closely as possible,” and so on. The strategy proved sound; even when directed so that their exertions had a common shape and consistency, the Deleuzer players responded with the same individuality and impulsiveness that infused and enriched their completely spontaneous work.

Steve Smith can be reached at
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