BL Lacerta stands noticeably still. Photo credit: Scott Metcalf

New Music Doesn't Hurt

They look predictable: four young men in conservative suits, each holding a familiar musical instrument-flute, cello, clarinet, and trombone. It could be any classical quartet. But upon closer look, it appears that one man is wearing a sash as a belt. And there is no mouthpiece in the clarinet-the musician is buzzing his lips into it. This, then, can only be the phenomenon known as BL Lacerta.

It began in 1976 at North Texas State University as a group of classically-trained musician friends looking for ways to explore and enjoy music outside the university setting. It has evolved into one of Texas' most eclectic music groups, billing itself as a "new music improvisation quartet."

The group took their name from the constellation Lacerta (the lizard) and BL, a sound signal appearing in that constallation. The lizard is an appropriate totem for the group--it stops to listen, then moves fast. The musicians listen to each other, to the audience, and to sounds from the street. They have been known to take their .cue from a listener's cough or a short in the microphone.

Because the entire concert is improvised, they come prepared for anything with a variety of instruments and noninstruments. Former Lacerta-member Leslie Gay, who plays the tuba, gave an especially effective performance with an instrument that consisted of a hose with a mouthpiece on one end and a funnel on the other. As he blew into it, he whirled the hose over his head. It gave a "doppler effect," changing the pitch the way a train passing by changes pitch. Bob Price, the clarinetist plays a series of rattles made by his wife. He also "plays" a box that he says is made for handicapped people who can't use their hands. The buttons on the box trigger doorbells and buzzers and Price plays it with his feet. They also do the unusual with the usual instruments-for example, putting a bassoon reed in a brass instrument.

Bizarre as their description may be, their music has found favor with audiences and reviewers alike. As The New York Times reported, "Unlike the steady diet of abrasive shrieks and squawks offered by lesser experimental musicians, the members of BL Lacerta carefully fashion genuine melodies, some of them highly complex."

The occasion of that review was Lacerta's New York debut in Carnegie Recital Hall. That concert and their selection as a C. Michael Paul Atlantic Richfield Resident Chamber Ensemble (one of ten groups in the U. S. and the only one in the Southwest) established their legitimacy in Dallas, where BL Lacerta is now based. The ARCO selection brought a grant, administered by Chamber Music America, with the Dallas Arts Magnet High School serving as sponsor and residency base.

Last season the group performed a ten concert season at the Bathhouse Cultural Center on White Rock Lake with guest artists such as dancer Cathy Ward from the Eric Hawkins Dance Company and composer David Behrman. Their spring performance in Austin with the Deborah Hay Dance Company allowed them to work with composer and accordianist Pauline Oliveras. Bob Price, who also serves as the Lacerta business manager, says a pattern emerged. Oliveras, Hay, Jerry Hunt and other artists they were working with had all worked with John Cage, considered the" godfather" of new music when it emerged in the '50s. Cage was scheduled to be Lacerta's guest artist at their February concert which, like the rest of their '84-85 season, will be in the new Dallas Museum of Art. When Cage's astrologer advised him not to travel this spring. BL Lacerta again improvised. That concert will be billed as "BL Lacerta Without John Cage."

Texas Council on the Arts Magazine
February 1985