Parker, Abrams, Block & Woods at Elastic Arts

Elastic Arts is one of those odd little Chicago venues where you walk up a flight of stairs and find yourself in an unassuming room, surrounded by people who have gathered for what seems more like a casual party than a concert. But when it’s time for the music, everyone sits down and quietly listens. And the music itself is often experimental and exploratory. On Friday, Jan. 31, Elastic hosted the first night of what it calls the “Elastro Winter 2014 series of electro-acoustic collaborations.”

The headliners were two great Chicago musicians who dwell on the fringes of jazz, rock and experimentation:  Jeff Parker and  Joshua Abrams. Parker is best known as a guitarist, and Abrams is best known as a bassist, and they played those instruments during this set — but both also played keyboards or electronic devices, creating a droning hum that floated through their delicate improvisations.

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The evening had begun with acoustic music by guitarist Ben Remsen (I walked in toward the end of his set), followed by a truly peculiar performance by Olivia Block and Peter J. Woods. As they began, pieces of lumber were leaning against the walls on either side of the stage. Their music — if that’s what it was — consisted of moving those pieces of wood to the middle of the stage and piling them up and then taking apart the pile and hauling the wood back to the edge of the stage. Block and Woods had contact microphones set up at various places on the stage, amplifying the creaky sounds of those boards being dragged and dropped. The whole thing felt more like a piece of performance art than music — or what most people think of as music, anyway. Whatever it was, it was strangely mesmerizing.

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