Page One

Beautiful music from unconventional sources

By Erika Kelly, Special to the Daily Planet
Friday October 05, 2001

Rumitones, Stamenphones and Orbitones have no place alongside violins, trombones and tympanis in a traditional orchestra or band. Yet these experimental instruments, the creative offspring of sound sculptor Ela Lamblin, play their own strains of beautiful music. 

With a cello bow, Lamblin can elicit seven octaves of haunting musical tones from the strings of the Stamenphone. Lamblin and his wife and collaborator, choreographer Leah Mann, incorporate the instruments into performances that include dance, music and theater. For instance, “Siddhartha” features the Stamenphone, Mann and Lamblin suspended from the ceiling in an aerial dance. 

Lamblin and Mann will show off their unique brand of performance art at Oakland’s Open Arts Circle Friday and Saturday nights. The show, entitled “Rattle,” is billed as “whimsical movement theater to rattle your senses.” The two Seattle artists will share the stage with two longtime friends and choreographers. Oakland-based artist Cherie Carson will perform two pieces, including “Kiting,” an aerial bungee dance. Dana Marschalk of Moving in the Spirit Dance, which she founded with Mann, will also perform.  

Lamblin traces his musical odyssey to his childhood in the mountains of Southern Oregon, where he was home-schooled by his artist-teacher parents. His father told him that while he wouldn’t buy him any toys, he would help him build whatever he wanted. Though Lamblin admits that his father’s ban on store-bought toys didn’t last long, the seed of creativity was planted. 

Even today, his instruments and performances are playful and fanciful. The Pandemonium, a large metal sculpture that resembles a crude sailboat with a bare mast, is rocked back and forth by three dancers dressed like clowns. Ocean drums recreate the sounds of rolling waves, while a pump organ stands in for a boat motor. 

Yet these quirky creations do more than make joyful noise; they create soaring pieces of music worthy of any traditional instrument. That marriage between whimsy and serious art creates a happy surprise for audiences, Lamblin said. 

“A lot of these contraptions are very whimsical and funny looking; and a lot of them are even absurd,” Lamblin observed. “So, to be moved on this amazing musical level, it kind of catches people off guard. We owe a lot of our success to that; the ability to really surprise people.” 

Like the Stamenphone, many of Lamblin’s creations are inspired by nature. His giant Rumitone resembles a flower that is just beginning to open. According to Lamblin’s unique etymology, a Rumitone is a spinning percussion instrument. As it turns, he can play the different parts with mallets, bows, or his own breath. The giant Rumitone has a metal platform at its center big enough for two dancers. As it spins, the metal tubes that were once standing upright open outward like flower petals to reveal Mann and Lamblin like bumblebees in the middle. 

Their residency in the Bay Area is sponsored by the East Bay Community Foundation, which brought the pair down from Seattle to teach and perform. Earlier this week, Lamblin shared his expertise with students at the Crucible in southwest Berkeley. 

Lelavision, Mann and Lamblin’s performance troupe, has gained a following in Europe, where they have performed in Scotland’s popular Fringe Festival, among other venues. 

“The basis of fun and whimsy just leads itself to this approachable and enjoyable art that is certainly appealing and appropriate for people of all ages and backgrounds, not matter what country they’re from or what language they speak.”