BERKELEY, Calif. — Critics have compared the San Francisco-based Santomieri-Farhadian Duo’s experimental musical compositions to everyone from modernist Anton Webern to rock icon Frank Zappa. This exciting pair — Thea Farhadian on (electronic) violin and Dean Santomieri on guitar/ electronics — have been collaborating for close to a decade now, creating some of the most compelling work on the music scene. Their latest work, “A New Sense of Place,” is a series of multichannel duets forming a remarkable 50 minute-long nine-track sound installation at the new BART Plaza in downtown Berkeley.
The two were among the 10 artists selected for a first round of programming commissioned by the Berkeley Civic Arts Commission. Their new collaboration will play continuously from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily until February 15. In this particular piece, their two instruments are spatially isolated on a busy street, in an eight-channel overhead array on twenty-foot-high state-of-the-art Meyer speakers that are permanently installed for ongoing sound artist projects.
What can passers-by and BART riders expect? “Colorful textures, catchy rhythms, and iridescent micro tonalities,” according to the duo. Their amazing sound is achieved through an almost entirely improvisational process which they term a “musical conversation,” in which the two respond to each other intuitively based upon the pitch, energy, and artistic direction.
“We play without chord charts or notated music,” she continues, “but we devise structures that combine our individual styles in myriad ways.
“The first piece of the installation begins with solo guitar altered with digital effects; the acoustic violin enters in a Middle Eastern mode, and the music transforms from there. Together we create our music on the spot, in the moment.” This inherent playfulness has hints of Dada and free-form modernist experimentation.
Installations in general form a particularly interesting genre, as they place three-dimensional objects or creations into spaces hitherto empty — creating alternate realities and aesthetics. This may be doubly interesting in the case of sound installations like “A New Sense of Place” whose title alludes to the changes in perception that music can create in listeners. We are so used to daily sounds that come at us from personal devices, speakers, outside sources, ambient sound that the concept of a sound installation which purposefully tries to guide us through a curated listening experience is even richer than the standard art installation that we are more used to.