A Very Moving Symphony with Strings and Bells

Originally printed in THE VILLAGER – December, 2018

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Angela Babin and other members of the “Tilted Axes” performance group jammed on electric guitars on “Cold Moon Consort” in Sasaki Garden at N.Y.U.’s Washington Square Village, between Bleecker and W. Third Sts. and Mercer St. and LaGuardia Place, before making their way to “The Cube” at Astor Place. Photos by Bob Krasner (L to R: Sean Satin, Angela Babin, Chad Ossman)

BY BOB KRASNER | If you feel the need to simplify composer Patrick Grant’s long-running “Tilted Axes” project, you could call it a marching band for electric guitars. But given the complexity of the compositions and the dedication of the musicians, that description falls way short.

The latest performance of Grant’s “Music for Mobile Electric Guitars” was realized by 24 musicians, including Grant, on the winter solstice, in the Sasaki Garden at Washington Square Village, “The Alamo” at Astor Place a.k.a. “The Cube” and the streets between.

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Tilted Axes: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars – Cold Moon Consort (Patrick Grant center with, L to R, Chad Ossman, Michael Fisher, Sam Weisberg, Sean Satin, Dan Cooper, Howie Kenty).

The event was commissioned by Faculty Housing Happenings at New York University — where Grant is a professor — as part of “Make Music New York.” The confab featured music evenly divided between older pieces, structured improvisations and premieres written specifically for Friday night.

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Getting ready to move out from Sasaki Garden. (L to R: John Halo, Howie Kenty, Dylan Sparrow)

One of the new pieces, “Tiltinnabulation,” was written to include another Make Music group, “Bell By Bell.” According to Tom Peyton, the leader of that multigenerational group of bell ringers, they were notified that their path might cross with “Tilted Axes” and they were given the choice of avoiding each other or playing together.

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“Tilted Axes” performers playing their “axes” (blues lingo for guitars) while crossing Broadway on their way to “The Alamo” at Astor Place. (L to R: Gene Ardor, John Lovaas, Aileen Bunch, Jason Napier, Angela Babin)

Happily, they chose to do two numbers together at “The Cube” and the result was a perfect combo of chiming guitars and bells. Guitarist Angela Babin, a “Tilted Axes” veteran, called the collaboration “fabulous!”

“It was like a ‘West Side Story’ gang meet-up, with music and camaraderie and solstice celebration love,” she said.

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Composer Patrick Grant at “The Alamo” with his “Tilted Axes” performance group.

Carrying an electric guitar and an amp through the streets while playing somewhat complex music is a daunting task, but the participants found it more than worthwhile.

“The universal joy of the people we encountered on our parade route caused me to transcend the discomfort I felt at not being fully in command of the music, the weight on my back and shoulders,” David Demnitz said.

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Tilted Axes: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars – Cold Moon Consort (front row seated L to R: Howie Kenty, Sarah Metivier Schadt, Jocelyn Gonzales, Jason Napier, Chad Ossman, Harry Scott, Sean Satin; middle row seated L to R: Sky Matthews, John Lovaas, Leslie Stevens, Patrick Grant, Robert Morton, Gene Ardor, Kevin Pfeiffer; back row standing L to R: Caitlin Cawley, Dan Cooper, Aileen Bunch, Sam Weisberg, Dylan Sparrow, Michael Fisher, John Halo, Angela Babin, David Demnitz, Reinaldo Perez, Jeremy Nesse, Jon Clancy)

Sam Weisberg voiced a similar sentiment, noting, “It’s a rush like no other. It was so worth the chronic right-shoulder pain!”

Grant made it through the balmy evening with a case of laryngitis that forced him to hoarsely whisper directions to bassist Sarah Metivier Schadt, who amply conveyed his instructions to the crew.

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“Tilted Axes cuts musical pathways through the urban landscape, turning neighborhoods into their own sonic narratives. Since its inception, Grant has produced a number of Tilted Axes processions in various cities upon three continents.”

“There are many unforeseen elements that we could never have predicted,” Grant reflected. “We’re thinking on our feet, we’re performing live, we’re adjusting to the public in real time. Being there, mobile, right up against the public, brings out musical choices that we’d never come up with in rehearsal. There’s nothing like it.”

Onlookers concurred.

“The public went nuts, in a good way!” Grant enthused. “We couldn’t be happier.”

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