In Concert: Laura Ortman with Marcus Fischer
By Laurel McLaughlin

TBA19 Co-Artistic Director Erin Boberg Doughton welcomed the ample audience gathered in Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall to this opportunity to see musician, composer, and artist Laura Ortman (White Mountain Apache) and Portland-based musician and multimedia artist Marcus Fischer. When asked to perform for TBA19, Boberg Doughton recalled, Ortman was given the opportunity to work with a collaborator and immediately chose Fischer.

Laura Ortman play violin in front of yellow and red lights at TBA:19 Festival
Photo by Sarah Marguier

I had seen works by Ortman and Fischer on view at the Whitney Biennial—Ortman with My Soul Remainer, 2017, a 5-minute video from her album of the same name, featuring Apache violin improvisations in the Southwest terrain with dancer Jock Soto (Diné), and Fischer, with a monumental sound sculpture, Untitled (Words of Concern), 2017, that recorded artists’ reactions to the inauguration of Donald Trump, layering their words on a monumental reel from floor to ceiling. Both artists are known for their collaborative approaches, and indeed Ortman would be joined by long-time collaborator, composer and installation artist, Raven Chacon (Navajo), for the next TBA performance, but, as with all improvisational collaboration, I wondered beforehand about this seemingly simple idea of being in concert—supposedly aligned.

Marcus Fischer at TBA:19
Photo by Sarah Marguier

Together, the two walked on stage in darkness, approaching two separate sets. Ortman’s had a rug, armchair, looping pedals, microphone, loudspeaker, violin, bow, and wooden flute, and a variety of amps. Fischer’s had a synthesizer table, drum set, electric guitar, a spinning reel, and microphone. Wielding tuning forks, they began to “tune” the amps, bringing them into a gravely harmony against a neon pink, orange, and yellow background. With Ortman’s whispers and the grating of her bow against the electric violin, Fischer seemed to respond, echoing her with the strumming of his guitar strings against drumsticks. This echoing exchange continued, layering a kind of fabric between the two. Permeating beyond an alignment or echo, their concert ebbed and flowed in directions beyond two-dimensional metaphors. At times, a lyrical interlude from Ortman would cut across and through the undulating tapestry with that Fischer maintained throughout. In other moments, the two would speak in polyphony—Ortman over a loudspeaker and Fischer vibrating the edges of a spinning cymbal, looping back on one another. Having just relished Thomas Tallis’s 16th-century, 40-part choral work, Spem in Aliem in Ligia Lewis’s work Water Will (in Melody) an hour before, I couldn’t help but return to that bodily feeling of a wash of sound—one that displaces the artifice of concert and audience. One that, like the performers’ negotiations on stage and contrapuntal interaction, manifests within the vibrations seeping into my ears, despite my rational thought or not. One that when it ended, when the amps hummed as the only audible noise on stage, I was not left with the deafening silence of my own thoughts (thank goodness). It was one that two, and that was many, in countless directions, through limitless directions, and heard, felt, and experienced differently by every person in the room.

Laura Ortman and Marcus Fischer at PICA's TBA Festival, playing in front of red lights on stage
Photo by Sarah Marguier