It’s not exactly the homecoming the Line Upon Line Percussion trio imagined.
Adam Bedell, Cullen Faulk and Matthew Teodori were still graduate students at the University of Texas Butler School in 2008 when they formed their ensemble. Since then, they’ve traveled the country and the world, working with composers who are at the cutting edge of adventurous new music. And while Line Upon has been back to teach once in 2018, the now critically-acclaimed trio has yet to return to UT for a public concert.
Until the coronavirus pandemic, that is.
On Dec. 17 and 18, Line Upon Line will perform in the new Texas Big Top, a tented outdoor temporary venue set up on the plaza of the Bass Concert Hall. The Big Top is the pandemic work-around of Texas Performing Arts, UT’s performing arts presenting program. Capacity is limited and audience members sit in two-person pods that are at least six feet apart.
“It’s not exactly the circumstances we imagined that would bring us back to UT,” says Teodori, Line Upon Line’s executive and artistic director. “But here we are.”
Usually on a peripatetic trail of residencies and concerts, the trio saw its busy schedule of travel and performing come to screeching halt when COVID-19 shut down the world. Since then, they’ve opted for a more thoughtful approach, presenting a few things virtually, but otherwise not filling up the bandwidth with digital programs just to fill up the bandwidth.
What Line Upon Line has done is to continue working with composers, using part of the organization’s COVID-trimmed budget to commission a couple of new pieces.
“Sentience,” by Kelley Sheehan, is written for objects, snare drums and recording tape, and there’s an intentional dialogue between the acoustic instruments, the recorded sound and the carefully mediated space between.
Isaac Blumfield’s “Sunken Landscape: thread of light” considers the unseen web of wires that physically make up the internet that carry, the composer says “our experiences, conversations, hopes, dreams, and intimate secrets from one continent to another (and) bind the world together in this strange, beautiful, and terrifying way.”
Also on the program is the U.S. premiere of “decoder.” Each musician is equipped with, and performs on, an electric MIDI drum pad, and a digital performance directive arbitrarily decides what sounds are produced and how they are manipulated.
Says Teodori: “I think this year, and the pandemic, has only solidified for us that we have to make new things, make new music — and play it live with an audience. It might seem illogical now, but for us it’s really, really important.”