Can plants make music? Writer-musician Jeff Bagato explored that question by researching a 30-year-old concert. After hearing 1974 recordings made by hooking up plants to amplifiers, the jury is still out. Whether it was fodder for art or for salad, the recordings -- which sounded more like a cicada invasion than an attack of killer tomatoes -- were a jumping-off point for an evening of performance art Monday at the Library of Congress's Pickford Theater.
Composer JS Adams used a similarly unusual source for his music, harking back 60 years to when arcade booths allowed customers to record a few moments of audio on an acetate disk. Adams created a sort of meta-composition in which these Voice-o-Graphs -- everything from love letters to demo records -- formed a pastiche with other sounds. With Doug Poplin and R.H. Bear playing cello and electric bass through electronic processors, the basis for the composition was a low growl, like the rumble of a truck going by, with snippets of Voice-o-Graph audio layered over it.
Less subtle was the improvised performance by Croniamantal. Poet Buck Downs bounced his readings off the unlikely combination of violin, viola, analog synthesizer, computer processor, electric keyboard and theremin, together producing sounds ranging from bass static to an uncoiled spring. It was especially fascinating to watch Amber Dunleavy on theremin, her hands waving above the instrument, adroitly playing in counterpoint to motifs going on around her.
Is it music? Hard to say. But it'll be difficult to look at a rhododendron the same way again.
-- Gail Wein