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Hosted by the Raleigh Area Flute Association at Raleigh's Meredith College, flute duo In Sterio presented a concert, workshop, and masterclass exploring new flute techniques developed in the past century featuring tone colors, extended techniques like beatboxing, and thinking more creatively about what music is. In Sterio consists of flutists Erica Peel and Shivhan Dohse, who met in 2007 after studying under Jill Felber. Their eclectic compositional style "draw[s] inspiration from rock, jazz, classical, Latin, funk, folk, world, and electro styles," combining to become a form of music accessible to many different audiences. They have toured nationally as performers, lecturers, and artists-in-residence at every educational level and are both Miyazawa Artists, representing flutemaker Miyazawa, Inc.
The program began with a concert in which the women of In Sterio gave the flutists, members, and other curious guests a taste of their best work, drawing heavily from their newest CD/DVD release Awake. The DVD features short works inspired by Peel's father, painter Jerry Peel, and videos of the artwork literally coming to life, animated to synchronize with the music. Peel and Dohse played while several of the videos streamed on a screen behind them, Peel controlling the backing tracks behind the two flutists with a foot pedal. Although timing such complex rhythms, fast melodies, and advanced flute techniques like beatboxing while playing, flutter-tonguing, and singing while playing can be difficult to synchronize with an ensemble (and especially a pre-recorded ensemble that cannot adjust to any mistakes), these two ladies played without any timing issues. Their performance was polished and charged with their effusive energy.
Selections from the new DVD included the title track "Awake," "Purple Tide at Dawn" (in which the flutists imitated the sounds of the ocean by breathing across the instruments without playing notes), the flute-and-piccolo feature "Blue Crinkled Moon," "Glow of Gotham" (which was a much more intense and hard-rock inspired piece), "Solitude," "Red Planets," "Serenity," "Playtime," "Synchronicity," "Tharkabhushanam" (named for a generous donor through In Sterio's online Kickstarter project to fund this DVD), and "Flamenco Flames."
The other works performed came from their first CD or were arrangements of other works. "Toxic," the '90's pop song made famous by Britney Spears, served as a rowdy opening number that showed off the variety of sounds the flute can make. It was also immediately apparent that the two women know how to blend with each other, regardless of whether they played at different pitches or volumes or were making strange sounds. They also played a pop/jazz style song called "Frank" and a Latin/dance style of the traditional Moroccan folk song "Chaabi," in which they connected with each other and with the audience by having memorized their music, which made the performers seem equally at ease. The jazzy "Get Bent," which featured almost exclusively slides between notes, and Dohse's arrangement of three traditional Irish folk tunes both shared rapid passages that harkened back to a more classical style of flute playing, but these were accompanied by syncopation and just enough funk to make them seem modern. The Latin-style jazz tune "A Night in Ibiza," a fun, classic Spanish dance tune, fell a little flat as the program was packed full of songs that started to sound very similar after an hour.
The height of the concert for the flutists in the audience was In Sterio's arrangement of Ian Clarke's famous solo "The Great Train Race," now heard as a duo. Peel began the duet without her head joint, blowing and making consonant sounds through the tube of the flute alone while Dohse played notes, overblowing to make them sound like a steam train coming to life. When the train got moving, the notes came flying! Rapid tonguing, flashing fingers, and expertly executed multiphonics – blowing harder than necessary so two notes come out at the same time – added the layer of virtuosity that flutists come to expect when they hear professionals in concert.
After a short break, all flutists in the audience were encouraged to play in a participatory workshop in which Peel and Dohse discussed breathing, tone production, and sound itself. The goal was to experiment with new techniques of creating sound and to utilize creative chamber settings to allow for heightened listening and reacting to each other's musical statements. Among other exercises, flutists played "Happy Birthday To You" with different emotions, experimenting with the nuances of sound to convey diverse interpretations of the same melody. To conclude the event, two young Raleigh Area Flute Association members performed in a masterclass setting for Peel and Dohse, where they were critiqued on tone colors, technique, and expression.
The two charismatic young women of In Sterio breathed life into the flute world at this performance, showing not only what it is like to tour professionally but also how wide a variety of sounds the flute can produce, from bright and cheerful to petulant and angry to quirky and playful. Their coaching was accessible and lively; it was a pleasure to witness. This performance challenged what it means to be a flutist and seemed to strike a chord not only with the younger members of the flute population (who have seen and enjoyed artists like Greg Pattillo, the "beatboxing flutist" online) but also with older flutists who are looking for new ways to extend their playing.
The Raleigh Area Flute Association's next event will be the annual review and contest for registered members on November 10. For more information, click here.