“The Force of Things: An Opera for Objects” is being performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble at the Peak Performances series at Montclair State University through Oct. 8. And composer Ashley Fure does not use the word “force” lightly.
This is an abstract, 75-minute piece, a collage of sounds created with both traditional and newly created musical instruments, and vocalists who murmur and moan and howl but never use actual words. It’s experimental but also, ultimately, a fully realized and powerful work — viscerally compelling in a way that experimental music rarely is.
It’s obviously not for everyone. But I’d enthusiastically recommended it to anyone interested in exploring new ways to experience music.
“The Force of Things” is being presented at Montclair State’s Kasser Theater, but not in the theater’s usual space. After a brief talk by Fure at the opening performance, Oct. 6, attendees were led to a side door that led to a room that was mostly empty except for cables and large hangings of raggedy latex (created by the composer’s brother, Adam Fure). I’m not totally sure how the sound was generated, but it was a pulsating rumble, reminiscent, at times, of wings fluttering, or waves crashing in the distance. Attendees stood in the middle of the room at the sound surrounded them. As the minutes passed, it got louder.
After maybe 10 or 15 minutes of this, vocalists Alice Teyssier and Lucy Dhegrae appeared, expressionless and wearing outfits also made out of the raggedly latex. They made urgent, whispering noises into megaphones, and led the audience into a larger, adjacent room, with more cables— Fure had said in her introductory talk that two miles of cable were used— and more hangings, as well as places to sit.
There were more sounds and textures and structure to the music in this room. The constant rumbling continued, with sections featuring Teyssier and Dhegrae, as well as saxophonist Ryan Muncy, bassoonist Rebekah Heller and three percussionists (Ross Karre, Levy Lorenzo and Dustin Donahue) who moved around the room, playing the cables with bows. In the climactic segment, Teyssier and Dhegrae stood side by side, unleashing pure, piercing wails.
In the opera’s program, Ashley Fure wrote that “The Force of things” “wrestles with the animate vitality of matter and the mounting hum of ecological anxiety around us.” (She spoke about climate change, too, in her introductory talk.) I’m not sure if I would have figured that out on my own. But it makes perfect sense. The piece’s rumble represents climate change, constant but almost unnoticed; the more violent sounds sometimes made by the vocalists and the instrumentalists represent the results of that rumble.
Even without this greater meaning, though, “The Forces of Things” would still be rewarding, via the sheer beauty of its unconventional music.
“The Force of Things: An Opera of Objects” will be presented at the Kasser Theater at 3 and 8 p.m. Oct. 7 and 3 p.m. Oct. 8; visit peakperfs.org.