by Claire Oxford
Patchwork, an experimental classical duo based in Cleveland, performed what was likely one of the edgiest classical concerts ever held in Brandi Recital Hall on Friday.
Saxophonist Noa Even and drummer Stephen Klunk make up the duo, which pushes the boundaries of music by commissioning pieces from experimental contemporary composers that meld the genre of classical music with rock, metal, and even funk influences. When Even reached out to Assistant Professor of Music Ross Feller to organize a performance as part of the College’s Warner Concert Series, Feller had already heard of the group through his colleague, composer Nick Didkovsky, who collaborated with Patchwork for this performance.
“Their primary focus is the newest of the new, so contemporary music written by young composers just starting off in their careers,” Feller said.
Klunk and Even met while studying at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, where Klunk was working on his master’s in percussion and Even was focusing on earning her doctorate of musical arts in contemporary music. The two began rehearsing together and officially formed Patchwork in 2013. This is their third season touring.
In Brandi, Patchwork performed five pieces with more than half the recital hall filled. At times the two instruments were sometimes deliberately in sync, with Even’s saxophone mirroring the percussive rhythm of the drums; at other times, they diverged and did more of a call-and-response as the performers took turns with solos. Certain quirks in Even’s playing included high-pitched squeaks and tapping on her saxophone for a subtle percussive effect. The third song on their setlist, “Fun With Teeth”, by composer Nate May, was, according to Even, described by May as “boogie funk metal” and was a catchy, aggressive piece with a mixture of intense drum work and smoother saxophone solos.
Klunk’s drum set, featuring staples like the snare, bass drum and cymbals, also had unusual additions like bongos and drumsticks with a bouncy ball attached to the end. Klunk used these superball sticks often, pulling them toward him over different drums or cymbals, allowing the friction between the ball and surface to reverberate.
Patchwork premiered a dynamic, approximately 20-minute piece, “Axamer Folio,” by contemporary composer Eric Wubbels — a unique arrangement, influenced by the spirit of free improvisation, composed of 16-20 movements that can be arranged and swapped around by the performer depending on creative impulses or intended effect. Klunk began with an aggressive, varied drum solo that moved into haunting, slower saxophone, and so on through numerous movements.
Even said rehearsing the premiere has been one of the most challenging parts of preparing for their opening concert. Since this is a dynamic piece with parts that can be swapped around, there’s the possibility to listen to their performance and experiment with the form further.
“We’re not sure if we want to rearrange some of the parts, so it will be interesting to listen to the recording and see what it actually sounds like and what we want to do with it from now on,” Even said.
Describing the general sound of their music, Klunk discussed how many people he talks with are confused when he identifies Patchwork’s music as classical because it incorporates aspects of many other genres, like rock or even funk, but the diversity of the project is something he greatly enjoys. “It allows me to incorporate sort of the rock and metal background that I have and the desire to create new things as well,” he said.