“Sculpting Sound” concert series fuses performance, art at Nasher Sculpture Center

Nels Cline, holding an electric guitar upright, faces the camera, wearing a suit

Nels Cline. Photo: Sean Ono Lennon

What is art if not the possibility of alchemy? It’s a question David Breskin endeavors to answer over the next five nights at the Nasher Sculpture Center.

Breskin conceived and curated the groundbreaking concert series “Sculpting Sound: Twelve Musicians Encounter Bertoia,” in conjunction with the Nasher’s ongoing exhibition “Harry Bertoia: Sculpting Mid-Century Modern Life,” on view through April 23.

The series, which features a different pair of acclaimed musicians proficient on different instruments each night, began Tuesday with electric guitarists Nels Cline and Ben Monder. The performances conclude Feb. 27 with pianists Kris Davis and Craig Taborn.

In between, trumpet, saxophone, acoustic strings, and drums and percussion will be played in tandem with the late Bertoia’s sounding sculptures — described by the Nasher as works “comprised of metal rods in various metals anchored to bases, as well as gongs and ‘singing bars’” — creating a wholly unique experience. (Individual tickets are available here.)

A variety of sounding sculptures are arranged inside a barn on a wooden floor

Sounding sculptures in Harry Bertoia’s barn in Barto, PA.
Photo: Harry Bertoia Foundation

Each artist performing was hand-picked by Breskin, a writer and record producer whose own credentials include working with such notable Texas exports as Ronald Shannon Jackson, as well as luminaries like Bill Frisell, John Zorn and Mary Halvorson. The selection process, driven by what Breskin called “diversity of style,” resulted in unique pairings.

“I’m trying to go against the grain a little bit to open up more possibilities,” Breskin said during a recent conversation. “It’s an interesting experiment that might be amazing, or a very noisy failure, but either way, you have to be open to the possibility.”

Attendees expecting the familiar rituals of a music performance will be in for a surprise — each performance is intended more as a sonic exploration than a march through a setlist. Beyond the personnel in place, the audience in attendance and the sculptures situated within the room, little else will be planned, resulting in what Breskin hopes will be “wholly original” creations.

“There’s this chance-like element because [the musicians are] going to be duetting with someone that’s also going to be making it up,” Breskin said. “My role is I have to try, as wisely as I can, to create this good space for them to feel comfortable to explore, but also make sure we don’t damage these extremely valuable art pieces.”

Each performance will be filmed and recorded for posterity. On the eve of Cline and Monder’s opening night, Breskin wasn’t sure what would become of any recordings, but declared it “aesthetic malpractice” to not try and capture what will transpire. But even as a document, Breskin insists the experience is the point.

“I want to create the opportunities, and I don’t want to close down the possibilities,” he said. “I’d like people to just discover something new, and let themselves go — wherever it goes, go there with the people doing it. … I would like people to discover something that they didn’t know they knew.”

Preston Jones is a freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT. 

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