Fearless New Ensemble Loop38 Performs In Complete Darkness

Since its debut in December, the 17-person group has been breaking uncommon musical territory in Houston.

By Sydney Boyd April 14, 2017 Published in the May 2017 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Loop38 percussionist Brandon Bell, performing with the ensemble at Rice's James Turrell Skyspace last March.

Image: Loop38

Most of Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas’s 2000 work, in vain, takes place in complete darkness. The hour-long piece slides between worlds—not only of light, but also of tonality, moving through a kaleidoscope of harmonic series, wispy overtones and microtones that defy the traditional Western scale.

“Part of what is so cool about weaving things together into textures is that you can’t exactly pick out what’s going on, but each component is essential to the webs and clouds that he creates,” says bassoonist Ben Roidl-Ward, who, in May, performs the piece at the Rothko Chapel with Loop38, a local ensemble that focuses on the genre known as New Music—made up of recent works, usually by composers who are still alive.

Co-founded by Yvonne Chen and Jerry Hou, Loop38’s 17-person collective is original in both size (larger than most chamber groups, smaller than an orchestra) and repertoire. Since its debut in December, the group has been breaking uncommon musical territory in Houston.

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With the choice to close its inaugural season with in vain, Loop38 has solidified its fearlessness. Stretching beyond the traditional bounds of sound, the piece is not only hard to play but must be performed from memory since it happens in the dark, with players hearing rather than seeing one another in the space. And as implied by its title, in vain has a solemn, emotional history. The work is a response to Austria’s 1999 elections, when the extreme right-wing Freedom Party, led by Joerg Haider, rose to power.

“I think that’s something that’s really relevant today for obvious reasons,” Roidl-Ward says. “I like the idea of finding music as a way to have a response to this kind of vitriol, and make something productive, and bring people together.”

May 2 at 7. Suggested donation of $10. 3900 Yupon St. 713-660-1403.

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