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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: February 18, 2019

Drawing a line between music and art at MECA

Written by: Bob Keyes

ACME plays Steve Reich Quartets including WTC 9/11 at Le Poisson Rouge, September 2012.
Photo by Mark Shelby Perry

The first time the American Contemporary Music Ensemble performed the piece “Strumming Music,” composer and musician Charlemagne Palestine was stranded in Brussels because of a terrorist attack. He couldn’t attend the debut performance in spring 2016 at The Kitchen, one of New York’s influential and innovate art spaces.

Clarice Jensen, the ensemble’s artistic director, did what artists often do best: She improvised.

“I made sort of a graphic score of the piece that we could all read from, based on the recording he had made,” she said.

Cellist Clarice Jensen.
Photo by Mark Shelby Perry

A graphic score achieves the same function as a traditional music score, but uses symbols, text and sometimes images to communicate with the musicians. In this case, Jensen used traditional notations to indicate pitches, and otherwise notated the score with horizontal lines to indicate duration and tempo, which ebbs and flows throughout, and a series of arcs to indicate dynamic range.

That approach allows musicians to interpret the music loosely and make their own rules, as they explore the shifting moods of the piece based on the physical energy of the space where they’re performing, their own states of mind, collectively and individually, and the engagement of the audience.

With Jensen leading the ensemble on cello, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble will perform “Strumming Music” as the centerpiece of its 7:30 p.m. Thursday program at the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art. Portland Ovations is presenting the concert in partnership with the ICA at MECA.

The concert setting is intentional. On view in the ICA is the exhibition “Drawing Now,” which includes a time-based drawing by the artist Kevin Townsend, as well as dozens of other drawings. Jensen watched a video of Townsend and looked at photographs of the art and installation while putting the musical program together.

She also looked at the dimensions of the gallery and the wall coverings, so she could anticipate the dynamics of the room. The ensemble works closely with its sound engineer, Dan Bora, to “figure out the maximum capability of a room” and create a musical experience that matches the space. The musicians will adapt the music and their performance to the dynamic range of a room, based on its inherent architectural qualities and quirks as well the overall ambiance created by the art, Jensen said.

The big gallery space “is super ideal,” she said. “It looks like a big drywall room with a lot of sound booming around in there,” she said.

In addition to “Strumming Music,” the program includes music by Jensen, Philip Glass and Morton Feldman.

Joining Jensen for this concert from the ensemble’s pool of musicians are Ben Russell and Ravenna Lipchik, violins; Caleb Burhans, viola; Peter Dugan, piano; and Chihiro Shibayama, percussion.

For her solo work, Jensen tries to create programs that feel more like experiences than recitals. That same principle applies here. She was pleased when Portland Ovations Executive Director Aimee Petrin shared her desire to put on not a staged concert, but “an immersive and environmental experience” for the audience. “It’s refreshing to work with Aimee and be so open to these new ideas and new approaches to music,” Jensen said.

The exhibition “Drawing Now” features the work of artists who are members of the Drawing Collective, an international collective that includes a handful of members from Maine. There will be a gallery tour of the art prior to the concert, at 6:30 p.m.

American Contemporary Music Ensemble, “Strumming Music”

WHERE: Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art, 522 Congress St., Portland
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday; gallery tour of “Drawing Now” exhibition begins at 6:30 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $43, $40 for seniors, $18 for students
INFO: (207) 842-0800,,

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