After interviewing Ekmeles director Jeffrey Gavett, I was eager to hear a performance by the group and get a feel for the type of music they perform. Luckily, I was able to attend a concert of theirs on Monday, which was part of the “Pairings” series at The Tank, in which groups perform a work by an established composer (in this case, John Cage) alongside new compositions (by Troy Herion and Jude Traxler). All three pieces were performed by Ekmeles’ Jeffrey Gavett and Rachel Calloway.

The concert started off with one of the new compositions, “Um, So,” by Troy Herion. Troy was inspired by the speaking-style of Alan Watts, whose lectures on Zen highly influenced John Cage (though Watts later “questioned the relation” between Cage’s music and Zen). “Um, So” explores the idiosyncratic nonsense utterances and noises Watts made when giving a lecture.

Cage’s piece, “Litany for the Whale,” was performed next. Jeffrey and Rachel sang on syllables like “lu” and “li,” in slow, repeating, and subtly shifting patterns that sounded like a sort of religious chant. Accordingly, the effect was that of lulling, trance-inducing music.

The last piece, clips of which you can hear in the video above, was written by Jude Traxler, called “When the Lights Change,” in which time-lapse videos of plants growing/decaying and weather moving accompany rhythmic, inexplicit-syllable singing. Jude wrote the piece by incorporating into “a constantly shifting structure of mobile forms” a series of “games” that the singers play during the performance. This game-playing is behind the actions you see the singers perform in the video (shifting a box, changing a setting on the effects pedal that’s hooked up to the microphone, etc.). At the very end of the piece, you can see Jeffrey and Rachel leaning over a toy piano and singing softly.

Ekmeles will perform again at The Tank on January 11th, 2011.