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Polygraph Lounge’s musical “arsenal” varies in accuracy

Classically unorthodox, Polygraph Lounge, a musical duo self-described as “inspired lunacy/ anarchy fired from a veritable arsenal of original instruments & vocal stylings”, performed at Carleton’s Concert Hall on May 8th and 9th. The group consists of Rob Schwimmer (piano, theremin, vocals) and Mark Stewart (guitar, vocals, cello), and featured a frequent collaborator, Melissa Fathman (soprano) who sang several songs performed. The Friday, May 8, concert featured a performance of David Lang’s death speaks, and guest violinist Hector Valdivia, professor and director of the Carleton Orchestra.

Starting off the concert with Continuum Duo, a piece written by Schwimmer and Stewart themselves, the duo jumped directly into displaying the special range of unorthodoxy that they express through their music. The entire piece was a carefully choreographed dance of sounds between the theremin, handmade slide whistles connected through piping, an electric guitar plugged into different amplifiers, the piano, and even the Concert Hall’s wall itself. Exploratory and original, many of the sounds were produced by ordinary materials combined into an extraordinary instrument. Stewart’s ‘daxophone’, a series of white tubing seemingly connected through duct tape and sheer willpower, was capable of producing an amazing range of tones and pitches, reminiscent of both a classical saxophone and a chicken’s squawking by turns. On the other hand, conventional instruments like the piano were repurposed to accompany Stewart’s percussion on the Concert Hall wall. Schwimmer, clearly a classically trained pianist, played both the keyboard and the strings themselves. The pair seemed to be moving chaotically in sync, filtering the sound into something futuristic and ethereal.

While the first piece was fresh and novel, the next few pieces, Pay Me Now and When the Bee Sucks, both featuring Fathman as the main soprano soloist, fell flat with the audience, which was sparse and mostly of an older generation. Both songs seemed to drag on longer than was necessary, and at times were repetitive and lacked substance. However, the soprano’s performance was impressive, showing off her range and enormous control over her vocal flexibility.

The next set of pieces were performed by Schwimmer on the theremin, which he explained was an instrument that produced two electromagnetic fields which the player could control volume and pitch. Invented in the 1920s, it appeared to be a fad instrument, although amazing in the similarities of tone and pitch to the human voice and other string instruments like the violin or the cello. Aligning his performances with a background of classical music, the pieces he played were beautiful, but once again, as the novelty wore off, the performance tended to drag on as each song performed was extremely similar to the last.

While at first glance the performances were interesting and original, the instruments showcased became more commonplace in the audiences’ eyes and thus lost some of their previous luster. Altogether, the theme of the concert seemed to be a commentary on the past, present, and future of the musical performing arts; an interactive mishmash of the classical and the modern, both in terms of instruments themselves and the sounds produced. In these terms, Polygraph Lounge certainly succeeded in bringing something innovative to the stage.

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