That’s Bonfire Madigan Shive behind the flames, at left, possibly living up to her name by handing out sparklers after her performance, which capped the Friday night (July 24) bill at the Outsound New Music Summit. It was an impromptu post-4th celebration, with the musicians whooping it up among the silhouetted light barrels that were the evening’s art installation (more about that later).
This was the InterMedia night in the Summit schedule, and the only night I could attend. I really wish I could have seen more, including the “Touch the Gear” mini-expo, but at least I got treated to some unique performances.
The place was packed, by the way, thanks to Madigan’s appearance, billed as a one-time, 36-minute piece. And you could tell who was there just for her set: the goth piercings, the dyed hair, the anarchist ripped-jeans look.
Jess Rowland and The Dreamland Puppet Theater: An opera performed by marionettes, with prerecorded music and singing, and live piano accompaniment by Rowland. Surreal, especially with the prerecorded electronics sounds adding an eerie sheen even over the pleasant melodies. The sung lines followed dissonant paths and were recorded by untrained vocalists, possibly the puppeteers. Arch and serious music.
The story, though, was packed with random fun. Falou, the worst poet in the world, joins Amelia Earhart in her kingdom of the air. But Earhart turns out to have a dark side, and prodded by J. Edgar Hoover, she turns on Falou and banishes him. I probably shouldn’t give away the ending … let’s just say Falou has an epiphany and a transformation — some real dramatic pull there — but it also involves Britney Spears and Saskatchewan.
Rowland wrote the opera with the puppet theater in mind, and the DIY sets added some charm to go with the overall sense of humor. Still, there’s some quite serious stuff in there about the nature of art and freedom. The audience didn’t know quite what to make of it at first; you don’t want to laugh at what seems silly but might be quite serious, right? But when a glittery Michael Jackson comes down from the sky after someone mentions “god” … yeah, that pretty much sets the tone. Rowland apparently explores similar moods in The Trouble with the Soda Machine, which is based on e-mails from her work. I gotta hear that.
Kathleen Quillian & Gilbert Guerrero: They’re visual artists, and they provided the installations outside the Community Music Center for the performance: translucent barrels of light with scenes silhouetted to the outside world, and subtle electronics sounds (the roaring, staticky kind) emanating from within.
Their performance, “Hypnodetonation,” involved taking snippets of films and selecting one instant to play on repeat. So on the screen, you saw that instant — a handful of frames — repeated over and over, accompanied by a barely discernable fragment of dialogue or music. Then they’d shift to the next fragment, adding its sound to the previous one. Then another. What built up, over time, was a writhing wall of sounds. Guerrero was picking the clips, and Quillian seemed to be doing the edit of the overall sound, fading out the older clips so the newer ones could take over. That produced a sense of slow migration in the piece. I liked it, but it went on awfully long.
Bonfire Madigan Shive: Then came Bonfire Madigan, with the 36-minute “Portrait of the Artist as a Transliminal Criminal.” We were told it was divided into 12-minute thirds representing past, future, and present, but the divisions weren’t easy to discern. Oh, heck, I had no idea where the divisions were. But there was a very nice, bold instrumental theme that dominated the beginning and came back at the end, so maybe that was a clue.
After playing around with that main theme for some time, Madigan added a few songs of conventional length. Good stuff — she’s got a gruff delivery that goes well with tough cello slashings, and she contrasts that with passages of airy, gossamer melody. She has the theatricality of Tori Amos but doesn’t aim for that kind of delicacy; Madigan is more capable of punching to the gut.
Going with the “Intermedia” theme, Madigan had video running through the performance. Mostly this was a blurry image of the stage itself, for that mirror-within-a-mirror effect, but the final segment of the piece had Madigan playing the aforementioned cello theme as accompaniment to the silent short film “Transliminal Criminal,” some stills of which can be found on her Web site.
The film itself featured images of Madigan running through fields, jumping gleefully around the world’s biggest Prozac pill, and paddling a land-stranded rowboat. More about atmosphere than storyline, obviously.
Madigan weathered some technical difficulties, particularly towards the end, but overall put on a dramatic and visually arresting show, what with the spare stage, lighting washes (yellow as seen in the photo, blue later on), and the overall ambitious nature of the piece. The Madiganites sitting next to me were blown away, gabbing excitedly after it ended. And then Madigan herself blew off some steam handing out sparklers.
Yes, I’m more than a week late in posting this, but it was a good, adventurous show worth writing about. Hopefully it lays the groundwork for further ambitious directions out of the New Music Summit.