OPERATIC OR NOT, a review of THINGNY IS BACK, the third night of fidget’s 4th Annual Fall Experimental Music Festival

Adam Vidiksis’s legs are completely still like a concert violinist’s. He barely bends except to lean over the snare as he burrows the tip of a single drumstick into it. Using a regular drumhead made flexible by removal of the muffler, he demonstrates its malleability, bending the snare down into itself with one stick and rapping across the concave surface with the other to produce a sound like rain. Echoes process through his computer as roars, purrs or hisses.

thingNY

thingNY

In HYPERDYNE, Vidiksis ekes seemingly every possible sound out of his drum’s various surfaces. Despite the drama of his composition, set to a classical beat free of jazzy syncopation, it’s the downright playfulness and cleverness of his invention which has me cracking smiles again and again. It’s a dance between drum, drumsticks and computer, each of which get their solos and their tandem bits.

Computerization and playfulness were the unofficial themes of the third and final night of <fidget>’s Fourth Annual Experimental Music Festival. The headliner was thingNY, in from New York City. In fact, when I reserved my ticket it was only set to be thingNY performing, but the directors/curators of <fidget>’s programming (Megan Bridge and Peter Price) brought in two local acts pretty much at the last minute.

After Vidiksis, local composer/performer/rogue foley artist Joo Won Park performed four short compositions. Park opened with his Kalimba, also called a “thumb piano,” a kind of tiny xylophone strapped to a handy wooden shell. Stroking the tiny tines releases unexpectedly resonant notes, and like Vidiksis on his snare, Park exploits the sonorousness of the entire instrument, drumming and scratching on the wooden shell to add percussion to melody.

Joo Won Park

Joo Won Park

In the following compositions Park used a vast number of instruments as varied as combs, coins, a contact microphone, a no-input mixer, a melodica (which he was oddly able to make sound like a whooshing ocean), and SuperCollider, software which he says operates like customizable guitar pedals. I understood nearly none of the above terms during the show and was rather thinking of A) the fun of watching Park’s hands dashing between so many tiny objects, like a harpist’s fingers, if every string on the harp was a different size and shape, and B) how he is able to choreograph these distinctly urban and everyday noises into something like musical jungle sounds.

At the end of the brief intermission, thingNY gave no heads up that their piece was about to begin. The performers, who were scattered all around the space in unifying white shirts, opened up umbrellas and began to whisper at the crowd.

Calling themselves an experimental music ensemble, thingNY has been workshopping THIS TAKES PLACE CLOSE BY with the Incubator Arts Project, once an off-shoot of Richard Foreman’s legendary Ontological-Hysteric Theater, now an Obie-winning project under its own aegis. The influence of Incubator Arts has stretched thingNY toward theatricality, the result being the haunting, gorgeous, and disturbingly timely series of operatic scenes presented at <fidget>.

THIS TAKES PLACE CLOSE BY digs into helplessness, uncertainty and fear via natural disasters, blending in the absurdity (read: humor) of watching them from a distant place. Darkness is a theme, and so is separation; the first scene features the performers pacing about the room under open umbrellas, at times joining in a phrase or two but mainly whispering to small clumps of the audience at a time, effectively dividing the audience against itself.

Jeff Young and Paul Pinto of thingNY.

Jeff Young and Paul Pinto of thingNY.

thingNY bends “operatic”: much of the music not what you’d think of as “operatic,” except perhaps one dark and intimate scene, in which company member Gelsey Bell sings a haunting and grating melody, while lying crushed between several other company members/pieces of fallen timber, as Andrew Livingston plays an underworldy jazz riff on his cello.

A frozen water bottle drips into a miked bowl, letting out echoey drops at uncontrollable intervals. One is done in a child’s pool with a broken umbrella, while another is a composition of cell phones echoing one-another’s attempts at connections: “I can’t hear you – can you hear me?” Throughout all this weirdness, thingNY understands that none of us quite know how to speak about current disasters: that’s why they try to talk about them in so many bizarre ways. November 10, 2013, thefidget.org.

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About the author

Julius Ferraro is a freelance writer and performer in Philadelphia. He believes in the power of theater and art and all that stuff. He has an email here and a blog here. His twitter is @JuliusFresh.