Bearthoven: Music of the Planets

Look elsewhere for big, fat hooks. During their record release party last night at Le Poisson Rouge in New York, the trio Bearthoven performed what might best be harkened back to the ancient Greek philosophy of Musica Universalis, or Harmony of the Spheres. The concept states that the planets themselves have tones: unique pitches based on their orbital revolution. (Maybe that’s the real reason that in space, no one can hear you scream – planets making too much noise.)

During their performance, the trio – Karl Larson, Pat Swoboda, and Matt Evans – seemed to be trying to tap into those tones. In their opening song, Fjola Evans’ “Shoaling,” the music swelled with echoes of approaching thunderstorms, sheets of notes swelling and falling, rather than sheets of rain. Evans, the percussionist who looks like elfin Jude Law, reinforces the otherworldliness: he would wait, eyes closed, completely still, after the last note had played, listening for a final silent note that no one else could hear, before he opened his eyes to signify the song was finished.

The trio perform new works that were commissioned specifically for them, and many of the composers were in the audience, standing up and applauding at the end of their piece. And because political statements have seeped into every aspect of our lives, this time it came in the form of Scott Wollschleger’s “American Dream,” a dystopian series of discordant notes and harsh buzzing coming from some very fancy kind of kazoo.

While the instruments (piano, stand-up bass, and percussion) make you think “jazz,” the music is more experimental and difficult to pigeonhole. These are the kind of guys who find something that makes an interesting sound and work it into a symphony; music geeks who explore an in-between space of genres. The most approachable song of the evening was Brooks Frederickson’s “Undertoad,” an upbeat number that you could easily put on during a dinner party so people would know how avante-garde you are.

Bearthoven is already established within the experimental music community of New York, and maybe this first album –Trios, a title that Larson explained is a nudge-nudge wink-wink play on the Beethoven works – will expose their harmonious tones further around the planet. Who knows? The Earth could even change its tune.