Transient Canvas takes contemporary music to unexpected places

Transient Canvas should feel right at home when the contemporary music duo shows up in Bowling Green to play a show at the Clazel Monday, Nov. 20.

Amy Advocat on bass clarinet and Matt Sharrock on marimba have played all manner of venues, including being featured on a series of concerts at microbreweries in their home-base Boston where brewers concocted a special beer to serve with the music.

“One of the things we love about this group is so we’re so mobile,” Advocat said in a recent telephone interview. “We want to reach people in unexpected places.”

Transient Canvas will perform at 8 p.m. Nov. 20 in a free Music at the Forefront concert presented by the MidAmerican Center for Contemporary Music at Bowling Green State University. On Sunday, Nov. 19 at 3 p.m., the duo will perform in the Toledo Museum of Art’s Great Gallery.

Advocat said the programs for the two shows are tailored for the different venues.

The museum concert will featured “a thoughtful program, more classically oriented.” On the program “Looking Forward, Looking Back,” the program notes state: “The composers featured … have created something new and fresh by evoking the past, acknowledging their influences without directly emulating them.”

At the Clazel, Transient Canvas will turn up the volume, and play a set of electro-acoustic works, that draw on a range of influences including pop and acid rock.

All the pieces on both programs have been written expressly for Transient Canvas.

Advocat and Sharrock first got together to play a piece he had performed at conservatory. They also read through other pieces, hardly a handful, written for clarinet and marimba. They liked the sound and working together. “We found the bass clarinet has just a remarkable blend and balance with the marimba, so recently we’ve been sticking with that,” Advocat said. “If it work, it works.”

Sharrock said that having two instruments in the same range makes the partnership a more equal one. Whenever Advocat would play a higher pitched horn, it would always feel like he was the accompanist and she the soloist. Having the lowest octave on his five-octave marimba also adds more heft to the sound.

They approached their composer friends to write pieces, and have since extended their circle of collaborators. In the past six years, Transient Canvas, which made its concert debut in April, 2012, has commissioned more than 75 compositions. And they haven’t stopped. They have created a fellowship program aimed specifically at encouraging younger composers.

They work closely with composers. In person, or using email and Skype as needed.

At the Clazel they will premiere Dan VanHassel’s “Epidermis.” Their work with VanHassel represents the “optimal” way of working with a composer.

Before he started writing, the composer told Sharrock and Advocat that he needed to spend a couple days with them recording sounds. So they invited him up to the house they shared during a short residency in New Hampshire.

VanHassel recorded them playing all manner of sounds, some they’d never attempted before. He then programmed those sounds into his keyboard.

The resulting piece, Advocat said, pushed the duo’s limits almost to the point of being “unplayable.” But they worked more with him, noting where something that can be executed on a keyboard may not be possible on a live instrument. The result was a piece that’s “really fun, really kinetic.”

Also on the program is Kirsten Volness’s “Year Without Summer,” a composition that addresses the global environmental catastrophe in 1816 caused by a series of volcanic eruptions in Asia culminating in a massive eruption in what is now Indonesia.

Advocat said they knew Volness would provide them a “beautiful piece to play, something quite tonal, quite accessible and really meaningful.”

The program is titled, “Wired,” and it is intended to be “a portrait of technology’s integration into modern life.”

The program also features music by David Ibbett, Peter Van Zandt Lane, Rudolf Rojahn, and Mischa Salkind-Pearl.

It opens and closes with Lainie Fefferman’s “Hyggelig.”

Advocat wrote: “Hyggelig is a 4-minute acoustic piece based on breath (in fact, Matt and I both have stretches in the piece where we just inhale and exhale). It acts as the lone voice of humanity in an otherwise computer-heavy program. The concert program has a trajectory where the music is increasingly reliant on computers – perhaps this acts as a commentary on our lives today. Placing ‘Hyggelig’ at the end allows us to see ourselves, our humanity. What we make of that in the context of the program is very personal, as personal as breathing.”

Advocat said that they see the shows as conversations as much as concerts.

Both Advocat and Sharrock came to their careers through initial studies on piano then in high school bands.

Advocat, 35, said her mother, an amateur pianist, heard her when she was about 5 “playing” the piano and singing along, and thought it sounded “cool.” So she started her on piano lessons. When it came time to select a band instrument, Advocat picked clarinet because her father played the instrument and had one around the house.

That launched her on a trajectory that took her through conservatory. At the New England Conservatory in Boston, she was placed into upper level ensembles as a first year student. “In order for me to participate, they kept throwing all these auxiliary clarinets at me. I spent a lot of just kind of winging it, learning a lot of different instruments, playing a lot of music I hadn’t heard before.”

That experience gave her the flexibility to pursue a freelance career, eschewing getting an orchestral job.

Sharrock, 31, started playing piano at 12. All his friends were joining high school band, so he wanted to join them. So he played the percussion keyboards, xylophone, vibraphone, bells, marimba and the like. Being in Marion, Ohio, he quickly rose to the top, and then headed off to Baldwin Wallace intending to become a band director.

But his studies, “which took me from nothing,” encouraged him to pursue a performance degree instead, and that led him to Boston Conservatory, and then a freelance career.

As individuals Sharrock and Advocat play with a range of ensembles and in a variety of venues, including the top classical showplaces in Boston, Symphony Hall and Jordan Hall.

“You almost don’t know what you’ll do from one day to the next,” Advocat said.

Transient Canvas, though, “is the most rewarding thing we do. I have my hands in this it feels really personal. This is way for me to have my own personal outlet, to have control.”

That means booking the gigs, publicizing them, and arranging the tours.

The Bowling Green show will be the next to the last engagement on a two-week tour.

The interview was conducted as they drove, with Sharrock at the wheel of his Honda Fit, and Advocat doing most of the interview. He said in jest that he was considering looking at getting sponsorship from Honda to go along with his affiliation with Marimba One and Advocat’s with Selmer.

After all, the vehicle helps them in their mission to bring their sound to all corners of the cultural landscape.