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Electronic music concert offers soundtrack for world in transition

SOMERVILLE — Electronic music and its ever more digitally polished and precise tools have thoroughly infiltrated the mainstream, but there remain, particularly on the experimental side, those devoted to more distinctive, temperamental, unpredictable analog and lower-fidelity electronic resources.

On Saturday, the Non-Event concert series — an invaluable source for such sounds — presented a provocative program of electronic music makers, filling Somerville's Washington Street Art Center with a host of rumbles, rasps, and chirrups. The anthology was revealing: Within the amplified grit, one could sense the outlines of an aesthetic.

LAN (local-area networkers Joseph Bastardo, Mickey O'Hara, and Seamus Williams) had the most elaborate apparatus, a riot of wires and mixers, effects boxes and custom-contrived controllers, filtered through a modular synthesizer (laconically manned by Bastardo), then sent back through the web of circuitry. The result was a rich negotiation between pings and tweets, undercurrents of static and hum, clipped-signal clicks, and rhythmically looping feedback.

Montreal-based Anne-F. Jacques highlighted simpler technology, basing her set on the heavily amplified, loping industrial scrape of strips of film and paper rubbing against a slowly spinning metal disk. The addition of a wooden cube produced organic growling, a mesh sink trap a muttering groan, all rotated into regularized irregularity. Benjamin Nelson, a Northeastern graduate now living in Norway, conjured an even more minimalist soundscape, a single, very gradually shifting wall of sound, a diffuse white-noise roar with gentle crests of feedback. (Nelson's stage presentation — manning his modular rack with his back to the audience, clad in dark coat, scarf, and watch cap — gave the not-inappropriate impression of a lone mariner watching the tide roll in.)


Their styles diverged, but all three acts mined setups and situations designed, in a way, to harness accidents: aural artifacts, technological limitations, the instability of a network deliberately pushed beyond its capacities. The evening's sounds — LAN's bright breakdowns, Jacques's implacable, limping machinery, Nelson's static turbulence — converged on a limbo-like point where musical action and reaction cease to be distinguishable.


The late physicist Arthur Iberall once suggested that the best way to think about how societies change was not as a series of superseding improvements, but as something akin to phase changes in matter — the Brownian motion of hunter-gatherers, for example, becoming the fluid motion of nomadic tribes, in turn crystallizing into urban grids. The music on Saturday's program was, perhaps, the soundtrack for what increasingly feels like a transition between societal phases: a world in just-out-of-control flux, waiting to see if things melt or harden, freeze or boil.

Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at matthewguerrieri@gmail.com.