Monday, September 26, 2005

Musicircus @ MCA

I performed at the Chicago Composer Forum's production of John Cage’s Musicircus at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It was a nearly constant loud cacophony and after I left (I was there for five hours) the sonic overload paired with the visual overload of the Dan Flavin fluorescents that are currently on display at the MCA, left me feeling physically ill. Nonetheless, I enjoyed trying to fit my work into the event and feel it was a brave act by the MCA staff to mount such an event.

The basic idea is that as many performers as possible are brought together to perform simultaneously. Chance is the driving aesthetic and I believe many choices about location and time were decided by the organizers through some kind of chance process.

I think it is easy to leap to the conclusion that the point of these kinds of actions is a loud noise or that any structure is bad in the midst of this kind of event. Realistically there are always logistical, legal and other constrains which the event bumps up against and help give the event an identity.

I see the chance aesthetic running along a couple spectrums of quality. One being a line of volume from relative silence to relative loudness. The other being a spectrum of organization from relative structure to relative happenstance. I don’t believe Cage was much for shapeless improvisation himself. I believe the kinds of cacophonous events that might arise are understood as a freed from the intentionality of the maker, a freedom achieved through intensive structure.

I occasionally use chance techniques in my work but am in no way a purist. I feel like you can always listen for the happenstance as an audience member if you like. I am more interested in it as a way to strategically short out the brain and open up closed structures. Sometime it feels more honest to inject some randomness and it creates useful problems to solve.

The Musicircus at the MCA struck me as most interesting when I found performances that offered structure to the overall sound of the event, contrasted the event with a silent act, or presented something in a pop aesthetic that would normally bore me (like the cover of that song “Red Red Wine” I heard at one point).

Some of my favorite moments in the event:

-Anthony Cobb’s performance of licking a small pane of glass was striking. I believe he continued the action for the whole show. It was quiet in volume but loud in affect. He held the square-ish piece of glass between his hands in front of his face and licked which at first created a slow drip of drool that slid to the floor but on later viewing, he seemed to have dried out. He had placed himself in one of Dan Flavin’s hallways which created this square-ish visual box around him when you viewed him from outside the hallway…the square of Anthony’s hands framing the glass square echoed in this square space was very loud.

-I though the interactive get-your-picture-draw-by-Salvador Dali was funny and I liked having the audience wandering around in the little swirly mustaches they were given.

-Thea Miklowski and Justin Goh were apparently covering their clothing in wax and then leaving these shapes around outside the back of the MCA. I only saw the shapes from a window but liked the sculptural addition to the overall event.

-There was a fun and goofy band, Environmental Encroachment, which seemed at home within the noise of the overall event and offered a Mardi Gras vibe and simple rhythms that soothed my ears at one point.

There were also some pieces that looked cool but were totally smothered by the overall event. The one that stood out was a pair of record players that played quiet ocean noises and the audience could move the needles around. I could barely hear it...I tried and then quickly passed it by several times.

There were also some moments that were probably the most pure Musicircus moments that were striking…I totally couldn’t hear this one earnest pair of readers who were without microphones and totally silenced by the overall noise of the event, but a small audience had collected around them on the floor and were trying to hear them with equal effort. This huge but failed two-way straining to connect between audience and performer was fascinating to me.

The event was very disconcerting to many people. One friend described himself feeling as if he had just been involved in some kind of CIA experiment. I, for one, came into the show with some notions about what my piece was about and what I would do but in the end had very little idea of how it read in this environment.

I suppose I don’t see a clear reason in the context of this moment why the audience should be put through quite so much volume and noise. I wouldn’t have stayed and suffered it as long as I did if I wasn’t performing. And I suppose the overwhelming amount of loud, drum heavy, noise bands in the show was the more boring part of it all for me. A bunch of little Cages running around seems kind of redundant when the event itself works to provide the randomness, but I guess this is the point were my ego and desires bump up against the structure and were something starts to happen.

Cage as a figure is sort of a ruler without power and his aesthetic is a kind of ruler without an agreeable measurement.


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