Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ensemble Pamplemousse

My article on Ensemble Pamplemousse appears in the Charleston City Paper.

Ensemble Pamplemousse's fresh take on the sound of music

Concepts and Crackles

Crescendoed hums, exotic flourishes, and more blips and beeps than a sci-fi convention — Brooklyn-based indie experimental collective Ensemble Pamplemousse isn't for everyone. But, for those seeking a sonic experience that's truly other-worldly, the sextet delivers.

The New Music Collective kicks off its Fall season as it presents the group at Redux on Saturday evening. The ensemble will cnduct a presentation beforehand explaining their music process and the implementation of the "super instruments."

The band name means "grapefruit" in French. "We searched for something that would describe what we wanted the group to embody — a thoroughly exciting, deliciously satisfying experience," says Flautist Natacha Diels. "There are several things in life which bring about a total-body thrill of this sort, and one happens to be eating a grapefruit. One starts by peeling away the thick outer layer to reveal the translucent inner layer. All that remains is the rich, beautiful ruby red heart of the fruit, achieved through just enough work to be truly rewarding."

It's an apt description when wading through the group's lengthy list of compositions. One might not quite understand what's going on when first listening to something like "ttt", which sounds at turns like a kettle's strange whistle, and a throatier sound, like a deep droning (rather than a high-pitched) squeal. But stick around and the transformative sounds start to create scenes, landscapes, settings for places only you can imagine.

But Pamplemousse wasn't always so experimental. They originally began as a more "traditional" new music ensemble.

"We started performing works we'd heard and liked," Diels says. "[But it] was somewhat unsatisfying, due largely to the lack of interaction we had with the composers."

Pamplemousse's other members include violinist Kiku Enomoto, writer Rama Gottfried, percussionist Andrew Greenwald, David Broome on keyboards, and cellist Jessie Marino. Diels credits everyone's strong-mindedness and creative inclinations with eventually moving Pamplemousse to crafting in-house compositions.

"Each member of the group is highly unique in their compositional material, yet focused on similar creative palettes, so we achieve concerts which are very diverse yet cohesive," Diels says. "We also have a composer-member, Rama Gottfried, who has strongly influenced the direction Pamplemousse's sound. I feel really fortunate to have this particular group of musicians to work with, not only because they're exceptional musicians, but because they are so adamant about forming the music into a product that is their own, which really is the essence of Pamplemousse."

Pamplemousse's most recent collaboration, the collectively-written Blocks, lends itself to the soundtrack of a wordless cartoon: fingers pluck while bows scrape cello and violin strings; and the marches up and down the piano keys call to mind classic Tom and Jerry escapades. At different moments it sounds like paper's being crumpled in fists, or someone's bouncing up and down on rusty bed springs, and then the drums seem to growl like an animal lurking in the forest. Diels, despite Blocks' success, is already anticipating new influences for the next compositions, though she's not sure how the inspirations will manifest themselves musically.

"The group's direction changes as the members' interests change, and therefore it's difficult to predict what will come next," Diels says. We can guess and wager it'll be unlike anything we've ever heard before.

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