The Illinois Modern Ensemble (IME) is described by its performance of contemporary and experimental music. Wednesday night at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, the ensemble was joined by Urbana band Feral States and filled Foellinger Great Hall with resonations of Joe Meland’s experimental composition “Fauve.”
In the last year alone, Foellinger Great Hall has provided a grand venue for many performers such as the renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra and jazz legend Wynton Marsalis; however, this may have been the first occurrence that you could read through the program and expect to hear musical influence of a progressive metal band like Meshuggah.
Meland’s piece was the third of three compositions which the IME performed. The first of the three avant-garde pieces was an emotionally intense composition by University of Illinois faculty member Carlos Carrillo titled “Four Postcards” and featured two vocalists accompanied by the ensemble. The second piece was called “Hesychasmos” and used the acoustics of the hall to its advantage with shimmering metallic hits and lingering overtones.
After the stage was arranged for a third time, there seemed to be a growing number of percussion instruments along with an expanded collection of musicians. The IME walked out onto a warmly applauded stage, followed by the six members of Feral States; Joe Meland on keyboard, Sam Hasting and Noah Gehrmann on guitars, Daniel Hinze on saxophone, Erik Opland on bass guitar, and Justin Peters on drums. The instrumentation set up seemed redundant, as there were both electric and acoustic bass and piano, but this proved to be anything but a hindrance to the performance.
After an introductory collective bow, the ensemble sat still in patient waiting for conductor Erik Lund to raise his arms and signal the first striking sounds of Meland’s pseudo-concerto piece. In the silence, one could almost hear how greatly excited each of the musicians were. Meland held a contemplative look of both excitement and fear as he stood over his keys. And so it began.
“Fauve” is composed of four movements; each seemed to blend into the next while demonstrating different themes. It was difficult to tell where each movement ended or began and for the majority of the piece, it was difficult to tell what was happening, what had just happened, or what was going to happen next. A form as complex as this requires a great deal of focus to decipher, therefore, the listener would find greater enjoyment in the momentary bliss of each powerfully shrill chord.
At times, it felt as if the entire ensemble was also lost in the complexity of interwoven layers, but the seven heavily nodding heads of Feral States members were reassuring during the brief moments of subtle rock grooves illustrated by Justin Peters syncopated kick drum. In the midst of organized chaos, around the second or third movement, began an intense polyrhythmic section which began with Sam Hasting’s resounding riffs, chopping the time into a math equation. After the meticulously composed groove had been established, the entire ensemble joined in to form a large orchestral wave of metal. The blend of acoustic and electronic instruments made for unique texture for the audience to sift through as each part danced around and mimicked others.
Experimental is just the word to describe the entire performance. During some moments I could imagine the music being the theme of chemical experiments and liquids blending together, reacting with explosions, bubbles, and fire. The audience was eclectically made up of every kind of person from passionate punk teens to sophisticated scholars of music. They gave an astounding applause at the conclusion of the abrasive piece, depriving Meland of any previous doubt that it would be almost too much of an experiment. Music such as this is questionable — it may simply not work, it may be a huge risk and end in disaster. But this was not true last night. Joe Meland’s composition “Fuave” can be considered a successful experiment.