(Editor’s note: I had forgotten that I had heard the composer himself perform “?Corporel”.)

A one-man band of surreal sound // REVIEW: Avant-garde musician Vinko Globokar offers a survey of his experimental works, with humor attached.
Published:  11/24/2000

If you haven’t seen or heard Vinko Globokar you’ve never seen or heard anything quite like him. The French-Slovenian composer-trombonist, who appeared in the Music and Media Building at University of California, Irvine, Tuesday night, is a one-man band of the European avant-garde. If the world were a painting by Salvador Dali, he’d be the street musician.

Trombone is his nominal instrument. But he rarely plays it in a conventional way. Instead, he uses it as a tool to make an encyclopedia of sounds, a rich catalog of sci-fi sonorities that you wouldn’t imagine possible, usually accomplished without electronic additives.

Throw a large dose of humor into the mix and you lose the dour pretentiousness that mars much of the avant-garde. Add a strong element of theater, too, and you have little instrumental vignettes, unpredictable in direction, ending with a smile and “voilá!”

Tuesday, the composer served as his own soloist in six works. He began, with “Prestop II,” by talking to us and playing the trombone — bleeps, blasts, blats and rips — in another room, behind us somewhere. Making his way into the hall, he stopped to serenade, playing low notes and singing high notes into the instrument at the same time, creating vibrant chords.

The lights went out. With flashes of a spotlight, the composer was revealed about to address various instruments — about to slam a timpani, to crash cymbals, to blow a whistle, to shoot a gun — but each time, with a different groan, the mission was aborted before impact.

He sat down, a microphone in front of him, a microphone behind him, a foot pad controlling a sound processor below him. Taking the tube out of his valved attachment in back, he shot sounds in both directions, alternating between microphones in a split second. Manipulating the sound processor he turned the instrument into an orchestra of a thousand trombones, played into an echo chamber the size of the Grand Canyon, blew blasts into a cave miles in depth.

And so it went. “Echanges,” for a brass player of any type, requires the soloist to apply various mouthpieces (including double and single reeds, and two at once) and various attacks, to slap a cymbal on the bell, to sing and play at the same time. “Res/As/Ex/Ins-Pirer” (which Globokar described as “a dialogue between to give and to take”) proved to be a kind of electronic music without electronics, the player producing a stream of continuous sounds, vocal and instrumental, inhaling and exhaling, for nine minutes.

The theatrical element came to the fore in “Corporel,” the shirtless composer, seated on a spotlit platform, using his body as a percussion instrument (head and sternum, especially), making faces, stomping, scratching, snoring. Call it Weird Theater, but one always wondered what was next.

In “Cloud of Seed,” for a trombone player in movement, Globokar strolled and danced as he played, did a duet with a drum set in one corner, played into a punchbowl full of water in another.

The white noise, hums, clicks and all around sonic mayhem that comprise Globokar’s pieces are often given form by the theatrical element.

The piece de resistance was “Cri des Alpes,” performed on a 10-foot-long alphorn using a trombone mouthpiece and oboe reed. He mumbled phrases into it such as “Don’t worry, everything is OK.” He lighted a cigar and blew smoke through it.

Then he raised the instrument to the ceiling, into a square of red light. Its bell became an eye and, as it looked nervously around, Globokar blew quick squeaks through it.

Everyone was laughing, and the composer didn’t appear to mind. It seemed the only proper response to his giddy imagination.