Evolution of Sound took place at Warehouse D in downtown Lancaster this past Saturday, the first installment of a new experimental music series called Lancasphere.
The premise: put 10 of the area’s finest musicians onstage with no plan, no setlist, no shared repertoire, and turn them loose in front of a seated audience. The result could be either a night of inspired improvisational musical magic, or a self-indulgent trainwreck.
It was certainly not the latter. Instead, ten players went on a musical journey that covered as much stylistic and thematic ground as one could imagine, with some 60 adventurous listeners along for the ride. The featured musicians came from the worlds of indie rock, metal, jazz, folk, Celtic and world music. And the players made the distance between those forms seem small indeed.
In the concrete-floored box of Warehouse D, there was enough space for the spectators, who sat arranged on sofas, folding chairs and high-top tables. And sound filled every corner with minimal amplification.
After a brief introduction by even co-producer Jason Mundok, Tim Baum opened the show with an invocation of cascading notes and impassioned, descending wails on oboe, evoking a call to prayer from some distant place. If there was any doubt that the players would rise to the occasion, Baum set the bar high.
Following the rules of the format, guitarist and co-producer Scott Bookman joined him after five minutes to add Fender guitar to the mix. He played clean, prickly lines evoking a koto, then pulled things in a jazzy Eastern direction before being joined by bassist Mike Bridgman, resulting in a fuzzy, cosmic blues.
Drummer Aaron Marcel Gagne replaced Bookman, bringing a heavy foot that pushed Bridgman even further. With mandolinist Matt Underhill, things quickly took on an Eastern European flavor, but with Gagne’s heavy beats eventually speeding things up.
Dave May followed, and with him came his loud, gravelly voice and strummed acoustic guitar. His repeated “My heart is beating in my throat…” were the only words of the night, yet did not seem out of place. Mollie Swartz’ mournful electric violin echoed the sentiment. Eventually, the two found something of a clear arrangement just before drummer Nick Christenson took the throne.
Toward the end of her time, Swartz’ fiddle took listeners to the high mountains of Appalachia, just before tenor saxophonist Randy Bucksner rushed everything back to the city. He and Christensen took things to the edge of Coltrane’s classic quartet before the addition of electric guitarist Adam Rohrer—with echo, swells and arpeggios—made a thrilling psychedelic duet with Bucksner.
With the round-robin portion complete, musicians slowly took the stage again until all ten were playing. The thrilling crescendo that resulted marked the night as a triumph, with Bucksner eventually taking the role as director, as it were, and bringing all the parts together into one surging series of major chords.
To say the night was a success is to put it plainly. Though there was no score, nobody clammed. Each played at the top of their game, even if the very language they were playing in had to be negotiated in the moment. Though no audience member knew what to expect, they were in rapt attention; none left early. At just over one hour, the program covered a world of sounds and angles. To extend it any longer might have risked people running out of ideas, or worse yet, noodling.
The event marked the launch of two new creative ventures in Lancaster. Lancasphere, a semi-regular concert series at Warehouse D, is the idea of Mundok, a member of the Candy Factory co-working space and producer of Wood Stove House. Evolution of Sound is the brainchild of Bookman, a member of the online Lancaster Experimental Music Collective and a veteran of regularly weekly improv jams with the basement band Primitive Agriculture.
Further Lancasphere events continue monthly; the next installment is scheduled for Friday, November 14, and will feature ambient, atmospheric and experimental music from Birds of the Cloud Forrest with Tim Baum (Lancaster), Des Sera (Harrisburg) and The Reverie (Lancaster). Plans for a second Evolution of Sound are in the works for later in the winter.