With his long curls, wire-rim glasses, and red plastic shoes, Joel Bluestone looks the part of the rock star. I’m backstage with him at Mandeville Recital Hall, where Bluestone is listed as the guest percussionist for the evening’s performance of Swarmius, an electro-acoustic trio in residence at San Diego State University. But Bluestone is more connected to Swarmius than the title of guest percussionist would indicate. On loan from Portland’s Fear No Music ensemble, Bluestone and Swarmius leader Joseph Waters are more co-conspirators than anything; when last I spoke with Waters, he and Bluestone were planning an underwater performance piece. Everything — instruments, musicians, even audience members — would be submerged in a swimming pool, with breathing done through tubes or aqualungs. Bluestone mentions that he’d like to acquire a used vibraphone for the experiment. “As an electric instrument, how do you think it will perform underwater?” I ask. “We don’t know,” says Waters. “We don’t know,” echoes Bluestone.
Waters and Bluestone (with Swarmius mates Todd Rewoldt and Felix Olschofka) make some of the more compelling music in the current global electro-acoustic scene. Joe Waters performs on a laptop. His specially programmed Mac can reproduce a plethora of sounds, from angry bees to sonic booms to burbling creeks, all of which he interweaves with the more traditional violin, saxophone, and vibraphone of Swarmius in a sort-of classical-meets-many-genres chamber music that is as technically vivid as speed metal.
By blending Bach with house, hip-hop, and what he calls the “bad-ass super bass of automotive systems,” Waters hopes Swarmius will make classical music relevant for the 97 percent of listeners who couldn’t care less about it. “Though I love classical music,” he writes in the Swarmius press release, “I have always felt a lack of oxygen and an undercurrent of desperation in music schools and symphony halls.”
SWARMIUS: Neurosciences Institute, Saturday, February 2, 8 p.m. $20; $10 students/seniors. 619-303-1509.