Should you choose to take refuge in William L. Harkness Hall on a Tuesday evening, between the hours of 7:00 to 9:00 p.m., the building will mostly greet you in much the same way it always greets you. Your feet will slip into the sandy steps of worn stone, your muscles will heave against the heavy wooden doors, a comfortable gush of warmth will greet your frozen cheek. But your ears will perk up to something unpredictable, an eerie sustained note from an electric violin cutting through the thick, musty air, ricocheting off the wood panels walls, joined shortly by delicate drops of sound from a flute, then by the sound of a car scraping against a road and suddenly, inexplicably, a beat that sounds like a cross between a garbage can and a French horn hurtling at you, quickly and fiercely, so insistent that you may forget to breath and find yourself gasping for air.
If you were to follow that sound, up the stairs, to room 209, you would find SIC InC in the midst of their weekly rehearsal. There, you would probably find John Yi ’12, the flautist, running through a particularly bubbly section of Mozart’s “Concerto in G” while Jourdan Urbach ’13, fiddles with the controls of his electric violin; the strains of Scott McCreary ’11, warming up on Dvorjak’s “Cello Concerto in B minor,” dueling with Lady Gaga’s “Papparazi” on piano played by Ari Borensztein ’12.
Their upcoming spring show, going up at the Off Broadway Theatre this weekend, is purposefully no less chaotic. A typical set might consist of strips of caution tape, Christmas lights, trash cans, thick white PVC pipes, “No Parking” signs, blue Yale recycling bins, a five foot tall traffic cone likely pilfered at an ungodly hour from outside the construction on Chapel Street and at least one gigantic screen, for projecting purposefully plotless movies consisting of, for example, falling snowflakes tinted Blair Witch green, a bridge from the window of a moving car and the Hudson river flowing in high-speed. SIC InC’s producer, Matthew Slotkin ’11, explains that the venue is meant to feel like a rock concert, “not classical, full of clutter, modern and ready to make a lot of noise.”
Steve Feigenbaum ’11, co-founder, resident composer and conductor of the group, who can be identified by the large headphones enshrining his ears, sees SIC InC as an opportunity to infuse chamber music with the energy and accessibility that will make it interesting for an audience who wouldn’t normally be attracted to classical music, such as college students. The visuals are part of this, an attempt to let your mind wander, when it does wander, onto something which will bring you “back into the music, an extension of the music.” To this end, SIC also incorporates pop/rock influences — synthesized sounds and beats, electric instruments.
But SIC InC is not trying to trick you into listening to classical music with pictures and synthesized sound — to give you something which sounds vaguely like pop but really isn’t in order to get you to listen to classical. “I love pop in some ways more than classical music. There are so many ways to listen to pop — modern [classical] is so cerebral,” says Ellis Ludwig-Leone ’11, the other co-founder, resident composer and creator of SIC InC’s unique electronic backtrack. As he explains, pop music “completely opens up the sound spectrum. Each beat is painstakingly chosen. Pop music is no less complex than classical music.”
SIC InC’s goal is also to play pop music more precisely than it would ever be played otherwise, even down to the performance of a upside down five gallon orange Home Depot bucket. “The inverted bucket player came to rehearsal,” is how Urbach, the bucket master, as it were, hopes it will sound.
SIC InC, then, is an attempt to have the best of both worlds — the precision and complexity of classical music and the raw power and diversity of sounds of popular music. In practice, this melding presents more than a few difficulties. For one, it’s incredibly difficult for a group of musicians to play with the clock-like precision that is necessary when being accompanied by the electronic beats of a machine. And if it doesn’t line up perfectly, then, as Ludwig-Leone says, “it sounds like butt crack.”
Doing so puts them outside of any recognized genre, and one might even argue that they are doing too much to ever be put into a genre. And finding an audience for genre-less music poses difficulties.
It’s so new, so aggressively innovative, something most audiences have never heard before. It’s full of discordant notes and bizarre turns of phrase that are meant to be interesting. To some audiences, the visuals may seem artistic. To others, they are as artificial as a Gap commercial.
And yet, there is something eerily entrancing within the discord. The music is piercing and yet the musicians perform it so soothingly — one could easily drown in McCreary’s deep, melodious cello and float on Yi’s cloud-like flute. To hear one of their newest pieces, “Jacob 2.0,” was for me to hear visuals — ones as crazy, jumpy and experimental as the music itself — of rainbows morphing into watery cascades of color that spill over the Women’s Table and coalesce into dark chocolatey puddles. The music massages my brain, churning through it. My foot taps, my head knods, and dizzying thoughts flood my head.
SIC InC is performing their annual spring show at The Off Broadway Theatre today, Friday, at 8:00 p.m. and tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. Tickets are $5 and are available online at www.sicincyale.com.