Anyone who has sung around a campfire can attest to the power of music (and darkness) to elicit feelings of closeness. Philadelphia composer and sound designer Michael Kiley seems to be going for something similar in his immersive, a cappella music/movement piece CLOSE MUSIC FOR BODIES. The difference and the problem is that we Fringe-goers have not spent the entire summer battling mosquitoes together and Kiley’s music is not as familiar and catchy as that old camp favorite.
CLOSE MUSIC begins as traditionally as this show ever gets, with the eight performers assembled on a front “stage” singing about how singing works physically and the audience listening while facing them sitting on the floor. But soon we are being guided into various formations to listen to songs about a kid being adopted, a dad being sent away to war and a woman having a baby (and maybe losing it in childbirth, I’m guessing from how this segment ended in a chorus of moans). Many songs had no discernible story — for example when singer Martha Stuckey chants about “point of origin” while writhing on the floor.
Kiley and his singer-dancers work hard to use the Christ Church Neighborhood House’s converted basketball court performance space to achieve their artistic ends, turning lights on and off, and pushing audience members hither and yon to enable us to experience particular soundscapes and sightlines. (Though the performers’ pushiness doesn’t extend to encouraging anyone to sing until the last 10 minutes — odd for a show about singing.)
CLOSE MUSIC FOR BODIES does showcase some wonderful voices and create some striking and fun visuals as in the moment when three performers began jumping up and down in the free-throw circle and yelling “Hot!” and “Bacon!” like fat in a frying pan. Too often, though, it’s like being a stranger at a party trying to figure out what’s happening and why.