popping pills

Review from Popping Pills. By Alysha Bulmer

Nearly two weeks ago, my husband and I were invited to an evening of music with
Timepoint Ensemble. Neither of us had experienced an entire evening of contemporary
music and Popping Pills certainly could not have been a brighter introduction. We
thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and thought the stage at Commonwealth was a perfect fit
for the performance. Advanced techniques combined with compositional creativity
made for some very interesting and entertaining music. Truly, nobody would have been
able to tell if there were a missed note or forgotten rest as all of the music seemed to
follow a stream-of- consciousness form of composition. My 2 favorite pieces were
“Respiration” and “Le Fusain Fuit la Gomme”. Read on to share our musical experience
with Timepoint Ensemble!

I likened “Grimace” by Lionel Ginoux to Ian Clark’s “Icicles” as it’s the closest piece I
can relate it to with the alternate and open fingerings. It called for percussive tonguing
and the sounds from Holly’s mouth were like a bottle being opened. “B-SH- K”. With
brief moments of clarity in an ever changing meter, the sheet music was spread over 3
music stands and withstood the power of her air. The coins falling into the tip jar
surrounding the bar sounded as if they belonged in the music.

“Solecism” by Pierre-Henri Wicomb sounded futuristic and reminded me of the
soundtrack to Blade Runner. Mat’s mismatched shoelaces fit the dystopia as he bent
notes in and out of tune, and in and out of creative reality. It was hard to follow, but
there must have been some direction as he was keeping time with the electronic
soundtrack. There were no limits to manipulation in air and technique. This piece was
challenging in the sense that it stretched my understanding of performance proficiency
and good practice. I liked it, but it wasn’t my favorite.

“The Future of a Curve” by Laurie Radford featured a synthesizer ostinato and more
alternate fingerings for the saxophone. A pulse was created; texture and depth were
built by the harmonics and synthesizer’s string-like effect. Ascending and pulsing, the
curve reached its arch, and then in a distorted flutter tongue; descended. Tumbling
down over and past the axis, the saxophone recovers and eventually the electronic
music adds a clarinet to the strings and the pulse of the piece returns. The baritone’s
range is featured, and the circular motion can be felt in breath and direction.

My very favorite piece was “Respiration” by Andy Costello. It included the whole
ensemble and showcased wind players’ (am I alone in this?) contempt for pianists.
Even before the players started huffing and puffing, I was already thinking “curse the
pianist” and when the other players began speaking breathily “the pianist breaths
whenever he wants” I knew that my feelings were on track! My hatred for all of the
instruments capable of breathing mostly whenever they’d like grew when I saw
Nathaniel checking his nails, sitting back, relaxing... Each instrument takes a turn
showing the exaggerated athleticism to their instrument; sustaining notes, counting,
watching their neighbour etc until the piano has had enough and shouts, “Shut up!
Everyone just shut up!” only for the winds to return to the same huffing and puffing.

“Locus” by Paul Newland was memorable. I heard many people in the audience liken
the title to locusts of the biblical variety, where in fact a locus is a point in time or an
object in place. Was the locus the water bottle in the saxophone? Or was it the bee –
the humming coming from the flute? Towards the end, I was looking around trying to
locate the source of a whistle. I finally figured out that JiaJia was whistling into the flute!
Ironically, Nathaniel looked bored throughout this piece, but glared defensively when a
coin dropped into the tip jar too loudly – pianists are fierce friends indeed.

“Le Fusain Fuit la Gomme” by Marie-Helene Fournier. Bryan, my husband, made an
interesting observation: the piece was written in 1999 and reminded me of the frantic
anxiety surrounding Y2K. Similarly, this piece could be used to illustrate Je suis
Charlie tragedy in France. The listener may observe the shaky line drawn over the
page. The sound gradually gains confidence and an almost lyrical progression emerges
showing the range of the baritone, but doesn’t last because the eraser follows with an
urgent, monotonous rhythm like a dirge. I might be wrong, but I’m fairly certain circle
breathing or another amazing technique that carried the sound longer than Holly’s
visible breathe. The rhythm builds urgency until the eraser catches up to the pencil.
Overblown harmonics sounds like a train and the eraser must have caught up! Is it the
end of the pencil! No! The pencil will fight and indeed the piece repeats! Then a
relaxed embouchure creates a whoosh of air that sounds like the blowing of the eraser
pieces from the paper. The rhythm returns softly and the piece ends. There were other
impressive techniques that I can only describe as “smacks on the mouthpiece”, but I
loved this one for the story I could follow.

The horn piece “Not I” by Arthur Kampela is sure to cause a seizure and should come
with a warning. I knew to expect a light, but did not think it would angled towards the
audience. It begins with buzzing into the mouthpiece and that’s all I can say about how
to describe this piece because save for high school band, I haven’t heard anything like
it. The disjunct and confusing recitation smattered throughout the piece could never
keep up with the light. This piece is an all encompassing experience and I was certainly
uncomfortable. Well done.

In each piece, Timepoint Ensemble’s commitment to their personal performance,
practice and the players’ commitment to their instruments was unequivocally evident.
Each piece held its own dramatic tension that each performer conveyed expertly to the
audience. We should be a grateful audience to the musicians who put themselves in a
place of creative vulnerability in order for us to have these experiences. Well done!