By Robert Johnson Jr.
On Monday afternoon in the Heineman Ecumenical Center, Christian Gentry, FSU professor of music, launched into the final midday performance of the semester with no opening remarks as the attendees filed in.
Every light was turned off, except for a green one that shined upon Gentry’s face, as he performed a concert as part of his “drone_vox_jams” project – this performance being “volume one” in the series.
With an arsenal of instruments and technology at his disposal, he confused and wowed the audience with his Impulse 49 MIDI keyboard, a foot pedal attached to the keyboard, skillful use of a MacBook, and a microphone.
Gentry opened the concert with his first piece, “Wandering,” which quickly informed the audience of 30-plus people why he called these pieces “drone_vox_jams.” He utilized long, droning, low-pitched melodies with soothing elements and ethereal space-like sounds, giving off a sensation that the listener could feel as if they were lost in the void of space.
The piece ended with one low key played several times, with the last time being held as a sustain, creating a level of suspense equal to that of the “Alien” movies.
He then stopped.
A variety of techno noises and jumbled samples leaped out from the speakers, creating the intro to “Voyaging,” the second piece on the program.
The samples, in conjunction with the noises, played out for several minutes, until a new element was added: Gentry’s voice.
Several melodies escaped his lips, with soothing “Ohhhs” and relief-ridden “Ahhhs” over the backing track, creating an operatic feel to the music, even as the samples and noises began to get more jumbled and hectic as he played on.
He also experimented with going up several scales, hitting an eventual high note, which also reflected in his voice before going to the outro, creating a mellow descent in both the backing track and his voice.
In a post-concert interview, Gentry remarked that he “never felt that he could be a singer. ... This component was a big risk for me. I felt incredibly vulnerable doing it.”
The final piece, “Returning,” got the attention of the audience with a “gong-like” sound to open the piece, welcoming the space-like sensation back into play.
What “Voyaging” did for Gentry experimenting with his voice, “Returning” did for percussive expression – this piece played a greater emphasis on sampled drum beats and other peculiarities, with a notable one being the element of birds chirping.
This didn’t mean that the vocals weren’t making a comeback – Gentry heartfully hummed and cooed his way through “Returning,” even in the spots where low, sustained notes and the occasional appearances of high notes reigned supreme.
One of the more fascinating elements of the piece was the incorporation of jumbled transmission-like sound effects, creating a sound that emulated a radio seeking frequency. It created an “abandoned-in-space” sensation that compared heavily to the one presented in “Wandering,” but now with a light beat underneath it.
Everything in “Returning” was presented in percussive layers, with new elements constantly being added to the piece. The light beat became louder and more complex, with the eventual addition of stutters and elements of a trap beat one could rap over if they tried.
After 33 minutes, Gentry finished his set.
“I want this to be a full-length album. ... an evening performance,” Gentry said of what his hopes and upcoming plans are for this project. “I want to create something that forms a line between a ritual and a musical.”
The next Midday Performance will be on Feb. 25, 2019 in the Heineman Ecumenical Center at 1:30 p.m., featuring the Nashoba Valley Chamber Ensemble.