Concert Review: Gabriel Baskin’s Senior Recital

By Max Newman

On April 15th, I attended Gabriel Baskin’s brilliant and emotionally cathartic senior recital in the TIMARA department. Intimate and sensually engaging, Baskin’s 45-minute piece My Finger was a celebration of beautiful idiosyncrasy. 

The recital took place in a TIMARA basement studio at the Oberlin Conservatory, with all of the lights turned off to create intense but incomplete darkness. The program, presented over two days, was played on a repeated loop through two large speakers near the ceiling. This filled the room with sound, and created an aurally intimate experience. It was a unique recital, fitting for such a unique piece of music. 

This work was not so much divided into sections or distinct movements as it was a flowing, constantly shifting piece. Moments of intense, grating metallic clicks and bangs faded seamlessly into a dreamy synth melody, then into a loping, shapeless clav riff and then back into a mechanical cacophony. These moments were musically and emotionally separate, but stitched together with such skill that it was hard to notice these shifts as they happened. Yet, with the lack of visual stimuli in the darkness, the atmosphere was deeply palpable.

Musically, there were a lot of distinct themes and tropes throughout the piece. Metallic clicks and bursts, at times a frenetic centerpiece and at other times background ambience, were routinely present throughout My Finger. Long, enveloping synth breaks were also common, drifting between sun-drenched major tones to more unsettling minor key sections. The clav melodies previously mentioned served as jarring but sonically intriguing transition points in the piece, with plucked tones shimmering artificially yet ominously. There were also booming bass tones at various points; indeed, the range in frequencies was both attention grabbing and sonically superb, adding to the recital’s intense feel.

Perhaps most notably were the incredibly distorted, robotic sounding vocal samples throughout My Finger. These snippets, which at times resembled (and were possibly sampled from) Daffy Duck, Mickey Mouse, and other cartoon characters, were usually unintelligible, but this seemed to be intentional. Baskin used the human voice as an instrument, pitching it up, down, and chopping it up to unrecognizable points. 

In fact, the only time when the words here were clear for a long spell of the work were at its end. A long period of quiet bird sounds and muffled breathing was periodically broken up by a nasal, comedic voice proclaiming, “Do you see that?” and “Do you have to go?”. Then, after an off-kilter and hypnotic piano loop repeated for about 3 minutes, awash with fragmented vocal samples, one last voice broke through the noise: “It is time,” it declared, marking the end of the piece. It was a powerful ending to an atmospherically weighty arrangement.

If Gabriel Baskin set out to break boundaries, My Finger certainly achieved his goal. This was a celebration of mind-bending noise that entertained from its start to its very end.

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