Thomas Willis in The Chicago Tribune, Mar 13, 1975
Deeply satisfying electronics
Of the three musicians who travel with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, David Behrman is the least known. Wednesday night's performance in the University of Chicago's Ida Noyles Hall was his first time here—unless one wants to be technical and count his improvisations with the company at Tuesday night's opening performance in Lake Forest. And his 1974 "Cello with Melody-Driven Electronics" was having its Chicago premiere.
He has been around New York City for some time, joining Philip Glass, Frederic Rzewski, and Christian Wolff in small ensemble concerts. From 1967 to 1970 he was a producer for Columbia Records. His affiliation with Cunningham began with "Walkaround Time" in 1968. Today, at 38, he is a full-fledged member of the Manhattan new music community.
If "Cello" is a fair indication, he is an eminently suitable addition to both ensemble and community. With John Cage, he shares an admiration for simple forms and pure statements. His fascination for interacting electronic circuitry - mostly designed and built by himself - equals that of David Tudor.
Like LaMonte Young, Behrman likes to energize spaces with multiple sawtooth sound waves. From beginning to end, "Cello's" backfield motion is created by these rich harmonic drones. In the packed Cloister Club, the frequencies drifted in and out of synchronization, tickling the ear with beats and gentle intermodulations.
Against this static, but never quite testable, background, the solo instrument played short phrases of three or more notes. Captured by a contact microphone on the bridge, they triggered a wide variety of tuning and detuning activities in the apparatus. Each of three pitches set off a different reaction, making it seem as though David Gibson, the cellist, was accompanying himself with a gradually unfolding succession of added sounds.
There is something deeply satisfying about this music. Each of the cello phrases produces a sort of respiration counterpoint. As each trigger note is sounded, the electronics spring to aid it. After the cello is finished, the system continues in action for eight to 10 seconds, then returns to the drone chord.
Time between phrases is up to the cellist, who keeps his place in the logic by watching three tiny signal lights near the music stand. The limitations of such a piece are one of its major virtues.
During the 45 minutes allocated for this performance, the density and strength of the patterns increased with ritual regularity. But there was neither sentimentality nor violence in the buildup. It was as though we were participating in a slow, skillfully thought out dance whose setting was the near weightlessness of space.