This is Brooklyn College’s third Lily Pond concert. Its eclectic program showcases self-composed work from five Conservatory students: Max Alper, Dave Koenig, Ilona Portroy, Jacob Sachs-Mishalanie, and Nathan Bellott—who united to give the college a chance to hear their vocal and improv skills—for free.
“Ssssssst tok-tok,” Alper intones into the mic, followed by a pre-recorded sound test of a monophonic humming track emanating from the speakers. Students around the pond curiously look up. Alper then performs a kind of breathy beatbox in accompaniment with the hypnotic chanting that seeps out of the speakers. “This goes out to all the ladies out there who like avant-garde music,” Alper says, and then pauses. “You’re stuck with me, Lily Pond, for the next hour.” With that, the concert begins.
Alper, Koenig, Bellott, and Sachs-Mishalanie are unceremoniously joined by the concert’s first performer, vocalist Ilona Portroy, who takes the corner of the Lily Pond/makeshift stage by storm with her acapella performance of her self-written solo “Gone.”
Portroy’s voice is achingly beautiful and a small crowd begins to develop around her, some students taking their cell phones out to record her singing. Portroy goes on to perform a cover of Adele’s “When We Were Young,” raw and dripping with uncluttered emotion. “Her voice is very beautiful,” Jathna Vargas, Brooklyn College student, observes. Although Portroy’s set was originally supposed to be accompanied by the piano, it malfunctioned, a technical flaw overwhelmed by Portroy’s exceptional ability to adapt to her circumstances and captivate an audience.
When saxophonist Bellott and vocal performer Sachs-Mishalanie took the stage, the two merge very different sounds to create a melody that circles and softly refrains. Bellott’s sax sound is deeper and darker than your average riffer, while Sachs-Mishalanie’s vocal contributions enhance the almost eerily soothing sound of their harmony. Their piece, a technical feat completed by a prerecorded melodic beat, is at once subversive and mesmeric.
Birds chirp from the speakers punctuated by a melodic chanting as Alper whistles into the mic. He croons monosyllables soothingly, and the beat coming from the speakers joins in after a couple of seconds. The culminating sound is like some immersive and multi-layered cake track. As Alper carries out a musical conversation with the speakers, the audience eavesdrops appreciatively.
“Hey, what’s up, I’m Dave, about to make some sounds,” Koenig nonchalantly asserts while the speakers whir, whistle, and hum in anticipation. Koenig’s sounds are rhythmic bursts of noise as he uses the mic as a kind of harmonica mouthpiece. The escalating noise is chaotic and neatly organized at once. The speakers beat, bump, and scrape while Koenig heightens the tension with his vocal interventions. There is one brief interval of static, a final vibration, and a BANG.