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andrewcsmith on 04/23/2010 at 12:00PM

Three-Stringed: Koto / Cello / Violin

Miya Masaoka

There’s that rare time when seeming strangers move together over the course of a half-hour. Back in March I posted something about Jon Rose’s fence-playing, and Jon himself brought the FMA his mind-bender “Fringe Benefits,” which takes the violin to its logical conclusion (hint: it usually involves more strings and sometimes embedded FM radios). The set below is a trio with Miya Masaoka on koto, Alex Waterman on cello, and Jon Rose on violin.

If the violin began as a model after the human voice it was way back when the voice was all bel canto, open vowels and delicate vibrato. Now, though, the violin, like the voice in classical music, has branched out. Rose gets consonants out of his instrument: stuttering plosives, and reflexive squeaks. This trio of stringed instruments becomes a chorus, speaking in faltering unison.

Throughout this fifteen-minute segment, Masaoka, Waterman, and Rose align themselves with one another’s timbre and purpose like they’re reading from the same text, albeit with different voices and at different tempi. All contraries become complementary; these improvisers prove themselves to be not players, but listeners.

There’s a beautiful moment around 5’20” when the bottom falls out of the chaos, Rose seems paralyzed on a single note, Waterman’s cello begins heaving, and finally Masaoka’s koto comes through as a pseudo-ground, freeing Rose for a solitary moment to find a melody—without suggestion of correct form, there would be no way to get sidetracked. This is itinerant music, where any rest is defeat, and although it doesn’t seem as if any one voice is pulling the group, the trio still drifts from one sonic area to the next.

The following is the first (and best) set from their performance as part of ISSUE’s Festival of Strings.

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