Recurring Decimals…..

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Still life with commentator and ‘Black’ humour

with one comment

We attended two programs over the weekend – both involved some commentary on the current state of politics (in the US), although the approaches were quite different. Friday evening, we went to a program entitled ‘Still life with Commentators’, involving a multimedia presentation by the trio of Vijay Iyer, Mike Ludd and Ibrahim Quarishi. Saturday night was a laugh riot with famous comedian Lewis Black. Here are some thoughts on each event.

Still Life with Commentator: Vijay Iyer, Mike Ladd and Ibrahim Quarishi.

We were not really sure of what to expect from this performance. The description was vague but it promised a mixture of music, video and narration to examine how media affects and warps our view of daily happenings around the world. From the program brochure:

Still Life With Commentator is a cross-media oratorio about our virtual surroundings: the
information landscape of modern news, and the consumer technologies that connect us to
it. Through an examination of the effects of these technologies on our intimate selves, we
attempt to confront today’s unspeakable mass hunger for more tragedy. In Still Life, post-
9/11 surveillance culture is prismatically refracted into multiple distinct narratives of
displacement and desire. We aim to make these invisible narratives visible, using poetic
texts, electroacoustic music, live video, digital interactivity, and surveillance itself as the
expressive media.

A bit dense perhaps but I was looking forward to the experimental performance. Before I go into it, just a note to say that I was quite surprised with the event being premiered in North Carolina, a state that ……umm – let’s just say a state that prefers its Nascars and barbeques much more than the occasional opera. The event would have been more at home in New York, San Francisco or Paris. I guess it speaks of the cultural openness of Chapel Hill and the research triangle area.

Getting back to the actual show, the set-up included a stage with several ascending levels and still pictures, fragmented into 4×4 frames, being continuously projected on a screen at the back, reminiscent of a Warhol art. Live musicians including Vijay Iyer on the piano along with a cellist and a guitarist sat behind the stage. With the music and the pictures in the background, the performers, including among others, Mike Ladd and vocalist Pamela Z came on stage and dramatically acted out the narrative. To give you a sense of what was going on, some excerpts from the libretto (by Mike Ladd):

Our blog is a grassy dale
A bowl full of flowers
of every color, lillies in shade
Birds-of-Paradise flocking orchids

I can’t quit coffee and organic decaf
is like carob for chocolate. I have banned
the television from the kitchen

The airstrikes rarely
make the news, I could read it
online but I already know

The first was from a piece called Cyber-Bucolia and the second from a section called Blog Mom.

There were also some light sensors on stage that provided feedback into a computer to produce sounds paralleling the performer’s movements, as well flashing strobe lights from time to time, that were supposed to heighten our perception of the show’s message.

My feelings about the show are mixed. The music, composed by Iyer, was quite good. But I could not understand the purpose of all the acting. A major problem that probably tempered my enthusiasm for the performance was that much of the oration was not enunciated clearly – I had to keep going back to the written program to find out what was being said – not easy in a dark theatre. For the few pieces that were comprehensible, I was able to appreciate the sensory synergy produced by the audio (music and narration) and the visuals (live acting, light patterns and still picture projection). But on the whole, I thought I was not being engaged enough.

Now, I will admit that I am not a highbrow intellectual. I do not always get modern art, particularly ones such as this one or this one. But (and even if I say so myself) I am no philistine. I do appreciate high quality films, books, music and even modern surrealist or impressionist art, or someone like Andy Warhol. However, I am not sure of what deeper meaning we can sense out of a paunchy, red-underwear clad Asian man shadow boxing (with a spot light on him) while a lady chants barely comprehensible lines in a very high pitched voice. I gathered that the group’s idea was to wake us to the fact of how the media (including the blogosphere) manipulates us in our viewpoint. And they attempt to do so in an ironical manner by bombarding us with audio-visual stimuli. But, either through a failure of my own aesthetic sense or their communication, I did not feel the message resonating with me at the end of the show.

PS – I had previously read about musician Vijay Iyer, from this post on Amardeep Singh’s web-site. Iyer, like M Night Shyamalan is one of those exception proves the rule, second generation Indian that did not become a doctor or an engineer. Do check out his web-site, it has some cool music. And like I said, the music in this project was quite good too.
Also, as a part of the Blue Man Group show, there is a section where they mock the information overload that we face in the modern society (includes a background music with Jefferson Airplane’s psychedelic Go Ask Alice). Of course, their performance is made out to have more mass market appeal (they even explain what they are doing while performing).

Lewis Black and Friends

This is the first time we attended a live stand-up comedy show and had a great time. The event was part of a comedy festival being held at the university and included a reading and interaction session with author Nick Hornby (About a Boy, High Fidelity), which I regrettably missed due to time clash with the Vijay Iyer program). This show started with opening acts by Rory Albanese, senior producer for “The Daily Show”, Jon Bowman, Marion Grodin and three amateur college students. Of these, I thought Jon Bowman was quite funny. He did a bit about how we use only 10% of our brain – what does the other 90% do? Well, among others, it keeps repeating a tune in our head 🙂 (it was funnier when he said it).

Finally, it was the turn of Lewis Black, whose shtick involves comedy through righteous indignation and a frustrated, angry rhetoric at current events, particularly politics. Black is a regular on The Daily Show, doing a segment called Back in Black and he has his own HBO show now. He trained his gun on topics ranging from Dick Cheney to Michael Jackson to (quite obviously!) Geroge Bush, Arnold Schwarzenneger, being politically involved in campus etc. The best moment was probably when he said ‘Dick Cheney’ and paused. Everyone started laughing out loud. He went on ‘you see where the country has come to…I don’t even need to say anything more than the name and that’s enough for a laugh’. Black also related an interesting anecdote about how he was invited to perform at the Congressional dinner and asked to neuter his material (no ‘f’ words, not even mentions of ‘shit’). He had to come up with ‘twenty minutes of knock knock jokes’.

So that was that – a highly enjoyable weekend and now back to work. 😦

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

March 27, 2006 at 11:21 am

Posted in General, Life, Music, Reviews

One Response

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    December 14, 2009 at 5:39 pm

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