It is easy to restrict one’s thinking about what it means to be a musician. The life of a professional cellist, for example, may evoke images of long years of training that culminate in the ability to flawlessly execute works of the great classical composers. Even within jazz or the recent popularity of stringed instruments in pop music combos, improvisation tends to operate on a set of expectations about rhythm, melody and instrument handling. In a conventional sense, the identity of a musician is strongly tied to the kind of sound they produce.
In Theresa Wong’s current explorations with music, there are far fewer rules about what it means to be a cellist, or what kinds of sounds we may reasonably expect a musician to produce. On Tuesday, March 5, at 2739 Edwin Gallery in Hamtramck, Wong teamed up with Detroiters Joel Peterson (upright bass), James Cornish (trumpet and tuba) and Abby Alwin (cello) to execute an improvised music performance that was their debut as a quartet. The performance highlighted the foursome’s ability to experiment freely and successfully with sound making. At any given time the performers were as likely to sing, vocalize or emit a high-pitched stream of babble; beat on their instruments; strum with their hands; or augment them using items from Wong’s treasure trove of household objects, which included clamps and chopsticks. There were also intermittent periods of silence and intense listening, as these individuals created interactions far beyond the scope of what might be expected in a mainstream performance.
With the artifice of musical expectation stripped away, the true essence and skill set of these musicians came shining forward. A cacophony of seemingly random and discordant noisemaking came suddenly together to unveil a musicality as inarguable as a jazz quartet hitting its groove. A solo might consist of Cornish breathing heavily through his French horn or rattling the bowl he was using as a mute against the ground, but its nature as a solo was obvious to all.
It was a truly boundary-pushing performance by these local and visiting virtuosos of improvised music.