Saturday, June 14, 2008

Art/Performance: Fluxconcert 20080613

This is a review of the second formal FLUXCONCERT . Unlike the first FLUXCONCERT, the second showcases a completely fresh composition, in 13 movements, prelude, and postlude, courtesy of rising local star Ethan Wagner. Wagner reveals a surprisingly deep understanding of the Fluxus mentality, while managing to regularly subvert the genre with actual pieces of music that sound appealing. In Movement 8 (Nonsense Sounds), for example, Wagner writes: "Compose for the following sounds: Paper clip in a styrofoam cup; straightened paper clip against an upside-down wine glass; tearing paper (one sheet only)." It is a challenge to imagine, simply by reading the instructions, the beauty of these three subtle sounds together, and it is by each performer's own skill that the patterns of noise intermingle in a pleasing, rather than cacophonous, way. That the paper used is a yellowed page of sheet music is a sly wink to Wagner's classical training, which he has not, it must be said, at all eschewed, even in this production. For example, Movement 11 (Music Lesson) demands that one "Try to teach an audience member how to play something incredibly difficult on an instrument that requires a bit of skill." Rather than opting for something populist, like Stairway to Heaven on the acoustic guitar, Wagner places a novice pianist at the keyboard and demands that she play Rachmaninoff, to rather whimsical effects. A musical teacher himself, he parodies his trade with panache.

An underlying insistence on violence pervades the show (at the end of the aforementioned Movement 8, the wine glass is crushed inside a "sturdy bag," in Movement 13, Crunching Things, a person simultaneously breaks "a sack of thirteen light bulbs, a clock, a box of Premium saltine crackers, [and a stack of] cassette tapes," using a Bible, a mallet, his bottom, and his feet, respectively), as well as a coyness about technology (in the fascinating Movement 4, Sequenced Ticking, a performer uses a microphone and a laptop to manipulate the ticking of four individual alarm clocks over a specified time period to make a kind of digital sound scape; in a number of other pieces (Prelude; Movement 10, In Memoriam Tony Clune; and Postlude) the audience is asked to participate by either actively or passively inciting their mobile phones to sing and squawk). While it is impossible not to read these two tendencies as hat-tips to the current state of affairs in the modern world, the show's best pieces maintain music's traditional role: the creation of sonic beauty. It is a piece such as Movement 3, Caricature no. 3 (Fragments on a theme.), or Movement 6, No. 6 ("Melody for trumpet and guitar.) (both original, straight-forward compositions that your grandmother would be comfortable calling "music") that actually warms and softens the audience so that it can bear the detached, wry humor of the more Fluxus-oriented movements.

A special nod goes to organizer Perry Garvin, who not only alerted me to the existence of FLUXCONCERT, but also performed, with great gusto, "a patriotic song with deep conviction" for Movement 9, Devotion. Because the composer and organizer received mixed feedback with regard to their handing out, at the show's beginning, the score (the complete instructions for each piece), I will take this moment to cast my vote as heartily in favor. The instructions are written in a beautifully succinct language, constantly on the verge of wit, but bone dry and bone bare (consistent with Fluxus instructions of yore), and serve as not only a reference, but an elucidation, of the performance. A show without the structure they provide would devolve into mere entertainment, rather than art.

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