OK, so I'm late to the party: the Intermedia Festival opened last night while I was hobnobbing with journalists more professional than myself, and I slept in through this morning's concerts.
So we start from Concert 5 — though I'll hasten to mention that Rita Kohn will soon file her review of Dance Kaleidoscope's performance last night, which I'm told was impressively athletic and somehow incorporated calligraphy. And, of course, there's plenty more to see: consult the schedule for the remainder of events, including tomorrow afternoon's closing concert featuring Pamela Z.
Fuse Ensemble, in collaboration with Workingman Collective, performed a six-movement piece, "Usina Mekanica," which was surprisingly mirthless despite the prominent incorporation of wind-up toys, clips from "The Wizard of Oz" and animation for flying pigs. The highlight was the closing movement, "Music for Improvised Violin and Kinetic Table," which entered "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" territory when that kinetic table kind of came to life, each table leg independently wobbling and the tabletop listing to one side and then the other in a mechanical feat that I can't quite explain at this point — particularly because I can't find either documentation or video for illustration.
And before getting to that showstopper, the ensemble (cello, piano, violin, flute, clarinet, vibes and percussion) performed a concerto for wind-up toys (filmed by multiple cameras, choreographed by a jumpsuited leader) which evoked Errol Morris's "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control" both in fast-paced editing and vaguely ominous minimalist score, as well as a duet for toy pianos that was a bit charming and a tedious flash-animated video that depicted a pig flying across the pages of a Victorian dictionary while prelates equipped with umbrella and megaphone rained down the page like, well, in the video for "It's Raining Men."
Not everything Fuse put on was successful, to my mind, but I was vaguely entranced by that table, which was conducted/controlled by that jumpsuited leader with just the right mix of surprise and consternation — as if the table was truly out of control.
I was less entranced by the two pieces by Double-Edge Dance, perhaps because I find choppy and glitchy vocalizations a la Laurie Anderson to be a bit hokey and overdone, and also because I found I couldn't get beyond the overwrought program notes for their second piece, "Strung," which noted that "there is no traditional undelying musical phraseology that the dance is chained to" but rather that the piece was predicated on "meaning states." But "Laden," their first feature, featured rather interesting use of flouncy, transparent rags, not to mention the body bag from which the solo performer emerged, cocoon-style, after arriving on stage. The sum impression the performer gave was that of a bloody street urchin, perhaps going through a truly difficult childbirth as she removed the bundle of red cloth from her lap. Emotionally impressive at least, though I was underwhelmed by the score.
And between those appearances by Double-Edge Dance, Christopher Burns brought out his laptop for a piece on the cutting edge of new music in its incorporation of motion capture, animation and sound/music. With motion capture, electronic music returns to its roots while moving into the future — the artist controls pitch and volume with his hands, like a thereminist, while also having the additional capacity to trigger visuals and integrate with a computer supplying its own inputs, or becoming autonomous, HAL-style, and creating its own content within a certain set of perameters.
What does all that mean performance-wise? Burns stood before his laptop — and the Mac's built-in camera, I think — and moved his hands slightly to trigger various animations, little boxes reminiscent of Tetris blocks, pseudo-fireworks probably seen on a screen saver or two, solid blocks of various hue that filled up the sceen at a rate of about 30 blocks width and 20 blocks height. A light in front of him projected his shadow on the video screen behind him, so that we could see that, when his hand moved a bit, the animations matched his movement on the screen.
Neither the music nor the animations were particularly astounding, but I find it exciting to watch this interaction between man and machine — and if any of what I'm writing about sounds unfamiliar, I'd be behoove you to make a trip downtown this weekend to check out the rest of the proceedings, which will include both experiments in new music and dance like those put on by the Fuse Ensemble and Double-Edge Dance, as well as technical explorations like those by Burns.
A quick note on the installations in the Central Library, which were altogether less interesting than the concert itself, partly because its tough to stand too long in the atrium while watching a video, and also because of what looks like laziness on the part of one exhibitor. The Floating Lab Collective wandered around New York City in oversized, Yes Men-style outlandish suits, encouraging people to yell at the economy through the giant megaphones propped on their shoulders. The Collective's installation at the Central Library encourages people to give the economy a call to yell and stuff — so that their rants might be included in some kind of sound collage they'll work up eventually.
And I don't have details on the other exhibits at this moment, but a piece that integrates a video snapshot of each visitor, close-circuit camera style, into a piece of Spanish Catholic art seemed ultra-kitschy, while one collective only encouraged visitors to download an iPhone app via hand-written signs taped to an empty table. Pity those without an iPhone — and also kind of a lame way to encourage people to try out their program. Other video art seemed compelling but not particularly appropriate for a space in which one can't sit down to watch, and the one video that showed a living room in the middle of a busy NYC street seemed a little tired, given that Mayor Bloomberg has already plopped a patio in the middle of Times Square.
I'm off to see if I can get into IUPUI's virtual reality "cave," which I'm told is running some worthwhile exhibits, as well as check out the next show.