AMPLIFY 2003: elemental
Jon Pareles, NY Times

Tiny clicks. A hum. The buzz of static. A whoosh of breath through a trumpet. The rustle of a stick brushing a drumhead. The distant clang of a gentle touch on an electric guitar string. Those were among the sounds receiving intent concentration from both performers and audience on Thursday night at Tonic, starting the two-night Amplify 2003 festival of improvised music.

The four ensembles on the bill shared a predilection for quiet, purely textural music, with the musicians cooperating to create sustained, minimal, slowly changing pools of sound: music that is ambient and enveloping but by no means soothing. (Much of it is released on the Erstwhile label.) They share John Cage's acceptance of all sounds as the makings of music, and they have developed alternative techniques of virtuosity. Lê Quan Ninh, who played bass drum in a trio with Bhob Rainey on soprano saxophone and Greg Kelley on trumpet, had set up the drum sideways on a stand, and while he occasionally tapped the rim of the drum, he spent most of the set stroking the drumhead with brushes, sticks or a cymbal, which created rushes of activity and ringing, disembodied tones. Meanwhile Mr. Rainey was playing high notes, and Mr. Kelley was blowing rumbling, sputtering subtones.

A dancer, Yukiko Nakamura, seemed to sense tension and need in the unstable sound. Nude under a loose red robe, she gradually unfolded from the fetal position, groped her way from the stage to the floor and writhed slowly behind most of the audience, at one point crying out.

Keith Rowe, performing with a tableful of gadgets and electronics including an electric guitar and a portable radio, appeared in two duos with fellow gadgeteers, Günter Müller and Toshimaru Nakamura. He and Mr. Müller came up with a throbbing, crackling, burbling, creaking half-hour of sound, like a mad scientist's laboratory being inundated by floodwaters.

Mr. Rowe's duo with Mr. Nakamura made more austere music, similar to their duet album, "Weather Sky" (Erstwhile). They shared hisses and whooshes of w hite noise, low guitar notes like liquefying bells, little blotches of controlled static and high-frequency tones more often heard in hearing tests than at concerts, which sent shivers down spines. The music was simultaneously remote and intimate, demanding newly open ears.