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Violinist throws away classical instrument, invites students to join in playing fences

Photo by Halie Johnson

Conceptual performance art is, at times, more engaging in its conception than in its actual execution. It becomes especially obscure when taken out of context and handed to varying artists and the audience for interpretation. This paradigm was at work in violinist Jon Rose's performance at Mills on Feb. 11, which included a number of Mills graduate and undergraduate students.

Rose began the show with a one-man-band segment. He displayed an impressive ability to control and manipulate recorded samples, interspersed with live violin and the reverberations of a metal pole. The piece was a medley of strange recordings that Rose could change in pitch and tempo with an arm movement – he had wired his wrists and biceps, which were attached to a modulator – and the use of four foot pedals.

The sounds he created were similar to a wide range of noises, such as a swarm of mosquitoes or the chomp of a horse's jaw or computer-produced gibberish, and generally sounded like the soundtrack to a horror movie.

As part of a project started in 2002 called "The Great Fences of Australia," Rose's set included a barbed-wire fence on stage at the Mills Concert Hall which was connected to an amplifier.

After his solo performance, the audience was shown a video recording of Rose playing a fence with two violin bows in Australia.

The climax of the show was when music students came on stage to play the fence with a variety of objects. According to Steini Gunnersson, a MA music composition student, each student selected the "instrument" of choice to use on the fence. The objects included sticks, buckets, bows, studded belts, drum brushes, metal cables and Styrofoam.

Rose's current obsession, featured in the film, is a collaborative work with Hollis Taylor. He and Taylor have traveled around 35,000 kilometers playing and recording the sounds of Australia's fences, according to Rose's Web site "Along with audio and video material, the lives and histories of the peoples who build, look after or use the fences has also been documented," the site explains.

The monotonous whining of two violin bows being dragged back and forth, paired with the image of Rose standing on a sand dune in Australia producing this sound, struck some audience members as comical.

Rose and Hollis have gained notoriety for "The Great Fences of Australia" because the recordings have been featured in film festivals and exhibited in museums worldwide. According to Rose's Web site following the instillation of "Great Fences" at the Brussels Museum of Musical Instruments the definition of a "musical instrument" was radically extended.