Monday, January 12, 2015

My Voice Has An Echo In It: Rock in a Box

 "Two remarkable eyes. We stared into each other's eyes without moving."
There's something incredibly liberating about durational installation work. Rather than the tight focus required of a play or a musical, it allows for flexible engagement. Sometimes three hours of fractured focus on something evolving and evocative is a lot more heart racing than 90 minutes of intense focus on something you're not on board with.  Temporary Distortion's durational piece My Voice Has An Echo In It allows for just this kind of ebb and flow.

Inside a large box with two-way mirrors all around it sit the performers. Headphones are arranged on the outside of the box. The main room is filled with ambient sound but there's music coming from the box that can only be heard through the headphones. The lights rise and fall in the box and there are video screens inside that, like the performers, get reflected infinitely as mirror bounces off mirror.  Often the images are of the band playing within the box at some other time (Video design is by Scott Fetterman).

The band (Kenneth Collins, Scott Fetterman, Jenna Kyle, John Sully) rocks out. Sometimes the music is lyrical and at other times electronic (composition, musical direction, and sound design are by Sully). There's a self-consciousness to performing in this fashion--whether there is an audience or not they don't know. But the performative nature of their movements remains regardless.

Kenneth Collins (designer, director, and text) plays the bass. When the lights go up in the box he puts on mirrored sunglasses. When the lights go down he takes them off. Every time he puts his headphones on or takes them off he looks in the mirror and adjusts his fauxhawk like a rock star. 
There's an elegant precision to his movement as he picks up objects and replaces them with the same deliberate care.  The sunglasses go back into the same place in the same way, every time. He seemed to fall into a trance with one song where he just barely strummed the bass, with a decidedly sexual flourish.

There's an incredible intimacy to the piece as you're staring into the faces and eyes of the performers who can't see you. I've never been so physically close to a musician as they are in their space of creation (short of my interactive experience with a vocalist during HUG). 

But even with such closeness there is a structured distance. As Collins reads text into a microphone it  makes him sound miles away--no matter that he's only inches from my face. I strain to hear him. Snippets of words carry through the distortion, music, and tone. I squeeze my headphones to my head in the hopes of capturing more. And I enjoy the layers.

Because as much as I am pressed up against the glass looking and trying to see everything, the performance is escaping me.  It is not revealing all to me no matter my leaning or straining.  There's distortion in the sound but also through the mirrors reflecting each other and bending lines.  All of this obfuscation creates a tension and I like it. 

Unlike some other durational work I've seen the band here rotates. They don't perform every song. They step out of the box.  At one point I turned around and Kenneth Collins was behind me watching me watch them. The peep-show privacy I felt, turns out, is temporary. The rules of the piece are not fixed. It made me self-conscious but ultimately felt more just.

The performers are not art objects. They are observed when in the box but still maintain some control. The flexibility goes both ways for audience and performers. It's not an endurance test. It's not meant to be. The music rises and falls and is more absorbing in some movements and less absorbing sometimes too.

And I gave in. During a long drum solo I stopped watching and just listened as the drums made less and less sense. They became total abstraction. Like metal being sculpted rather than music being made. When the full band rocked out I got absorbed in the beat. When it was a quiet piano ballad I forgot I was at an installation and it felt like a great song on the radio. Stepping back from the box and seeing it from afar, without being able to hear it, it felt shiny and bright--a glittering box of musicians and instruments filled with possibility.

I received a complimentary ticket to attend.

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