It’s well past sundown, the crisp, clean, night air filtering through the crowd, and for a moment, everything feels like it was before. There’s couples laid out on the grass, shoulder to shoulder, wondering where the stars went. A pinned up sheet for future projections blows gently, quelling the buzzing excitement of the show. Dion Nataraja, Luke Taylor, and Daniel O’Connor, a well-recognized trio of the Jennings family, flit around the grass, energized, prepared, eager to share their work, which contrasts greatly with the subtle poise and tranquility they each display, daily.
It’s an undeniable fact that Bennington is a cinematic place, and few genres can match the level of transportation that music allows the audience like “experimental” can. The term isn’t necessarily appropriate, given the fact that it encompasses so much of what we’re accustomed to, along with what we’d consider taboo. In fact, while I sat with the group the evening before, preparing myself for the performance ahead, there was a common agreement that “new” music isn’t new at all, but a ‘continuation’. The outlook they share is both modern and classic, a sort of reverence for their predecessors and promise for the future.
The future’s something we’re all thinking about in a time like this, and often, we muddle the past with the present and come to the conclusion that what’s coming must be as complicated as everything else seems to be; however, as I’m sitting in the dark and watching O’Connor take the stage, it feels as if the future’s all there really is. They’re presenting two pieces tonight: an original composition for percussion titled “Antifon”, after a chant in the early stages of polyphony, featuring Ben Wattson, and a piece by Jessie Marino called “Ritual I :: Commitment :: BiiM”. Marino’s work begins the night: sullen, empty, hypnotic. It’s something haunting but honest. It’s simple, a piece playing with basic percussion and a light switch, but it’s the minimalistic approach that allows everyone to choose their own meaning. It’s rare to come across a work that manages to remain both impactful and unimprinted, but in my opinion, Marino did a fantastic job of accomplishing a goal so many artists strive to meet. “Antifon” drives inspiration from north Indian music, and O’Connor manages to utilize every sound they can. The amplified guitar pairs nicely with the help of Wattson’s talent with the drums, and together, they help the setting shift to a place both unknown and familiar.
Music and science seem to never meet, at least in the public eye, but Taylor manages to merge the two in a fascinating way. He’s excited when he discusses what he’s been working on, and as a spectator, I’m just as enthused. “It’s an exploration of the grating sounds of soundwaves, like what you associate with physics class, the really exact precision of pleasant sounds. So there’s the bad sounds that are tuned in a way that they imitate what we think is pleasant and also incorporating the golden ratio into the two main systems to create chords that we think are pleasant.” Needless to say, I’m intrigued, so I ask, “how’d you get an idea like that?” He explains that his interests lie in different tunings, or sine waves, and in the inherent music of test tones. “Just, like, the purest possible sound — like if your coffee machine was broken.” Although the piece may sound a bit daunting at first, given its mathematical tendencies, I can’t help but feel at complete peace as I listen to the surprisingly choral impressions of the electric bass. A common proverb every artist grows up learning is that ‘you have to know the rules before you break them’, and it’s entirely evident that Taylor’s mastered this concept. His musical proficiency shines through the seemingly simple melody of his work in the way a ballerina fools us into believing her movements are effortless. His work evokes imagery of Kubrick films and upholds a timeless quality. It appears the audience agrees.
Closing the show is Nataraja’s latest work, with Biborka Janka and David Guzman performing a dance in tandem. One could argue the greatest strength an artist can have is a palpable level of vulnerability. It’s for this reason that we’re unable to tear our eyes away from Janka and Guzman. Nataraja’s piece is a constant ebb and flow, with deep chimes blowing along with the dancers. The music and movement are unusual, eccentric, captivating, a creature entirely of itself. Janka and Guzman work together in creating a narrative that perfectly captures human fragility and our most base impulses. With their costumes growing dirtied, their movements nearly jagged, and the music remaining pristine and cathartic, it’s a wonder what the true meaning behind Nataraja’s piece is, or if it has any meaning at all.
Experiencing new methods of music is important for everyone and shouldn’t be limited to the Jennings community. In fact, I was incredibly pleased to see how many non-music majors I found in the audience. As someone who often questions the purpose behind modern art and what a person uninvolved in the field could possibly gain, I felt quite impacted from what I learned at Paris-Borden that night. It’s not a matter of trying to understand anything, but instead, an invitation to expose oneself to new worlds while withholding judgement. It’s a challenge in suspending your disbelief, and it’s one that Nataraja, Taylor and O’Connor have accepted with ease. I wouldn’t be surprised to see their work defining the new age of music we’re bound to enter soon.