“Life is like the Sea it always takes something away from you.”
– Robert Frank
I was invited to the Park Avenue Armory to see Heiner Goebbels’s play Everything that happened and would happen, inspired by, amongst others, John Cage and Gertrude Stein. My initial reaction was “Wow. A multimedia/interdisciplinary work I’m really enjoying.” And I did for about half an hour. The following pomessay resulted while the play was in progress:
given something taken away / the shape a curvilinear spector / the spectrum that arises unchanged outside of something that obviously looks like a comprehensive vocabulary / & the times are a gloomy tapestry filling & emptying the room / music that heats the blood / the flow of wild nations / notions / tense broken mythologies / flow hard like the fabric flows / folding/unfolding / solids / light / liquids / filling our necks & chests / merging into breaking days & nights / centuries overlapping with sameness / the pretense of growth / presenting certain markers over & over again / ethnography / zoology / space / sweets / sugar cubes / light / darkness / one inside the other / the other / as the other / yesterday’s papers/ today’s news / the layers of years / cloth / body / narration / the slow walk of touch & go / of build & take down / cover revealing another cover / revealing another cover / another layer upon another layer of the same layer / boulder / ever bolder / traces of humanity / truces of humanity / “picnics on the battlefield”/ truth covering up truths / layers upon layers of death / smoke screens & smoking guns / minimal within the true sense of sound / maximal within the explosion of sound / textual / as flowing water that isn’t there / as in present swallows the past / as in who said he said she said what said / what’s said left unsaid / always the same thing said / to turn / spin / approach / walk around / about / an extraction of what is real / symbol/cymbal as sculpture / elemental sundial / diluted darkness in light / ethnographic spectacles at the Paris exposition / life as it continually reeks of colonialism / connects / kanaks / witty New Caledonia / Zulu wars / intermingling / giving false identities to real people / the loss of curiosity upending civilization / fair play / bearing witness / & for apology / & / foreplay / & / aftermath / anthropology versus history so therefore history no longer exists::::::our struggle with the weight of war / the WALL we’ve built only to tear down ////rebuild / destroy >
So, I’m doing fine but suddenly less than halfway through this two+ hour nothing I get bored silly with all the redundancies. All the references to World War I and World War II. I get tired with this survey of our misanthropic history as human beings. All the hypocrisy. All the updates of our sick violent society put forth on the screen, many from only a few days before the production. My enthusiasm dissolves. I depart from loving the spaciousness of the piece to feeling claustrophobic and disappointed—not by the messages, but by the lack of them. By the sheer weight of responsibility put on the viewer and by Goebbels’s lack of responsibility as to what he is trying to impart to us, if anything, and what he wants us to take away from all this which I found out later is nothing—or whatever we want to.
I have to admit that everything Goebbels puts forth through dialogue and action are things I profess to have known. He does admit however, in the pre-performance talk available on YouTube, that he is “not asking for understanding…I don’t use anything on stage for symbolic function.”
Well you could have fooled me. The cramming in of images. Current events versus past actions. The clichéd, but well-used, shifts and materials left me scratching my whiskers in frustration thinking “Okay, give me the lowdown.” And when it came, there he was, the main narrator of all this tragi-comic mess, sitting silent, back towards the audience, on one of those pedestals that could have surely sustained Ozymandias until he shattered to pieces, in the midst of this field of apocalyptic devastation, and all I could say was: What is this pile of rhetoric? What is this pace at which history moves or doesn’t move? What is this reduction of the human psyche to piss-war and dysfunction, and why all these varied but repetitive tasks in order to reform a single forest—only to burn it down again? This is our current condition and has always been our current condition. This has always been World War III so why rub it in? The war to end all wars foresaw the end of the world and then the end of the world happened again and again and again. And then I understood and concurred that everything that happened would happen again. And again. And again. But again (am I being redundant?) to use Goebbels’s words, “I never occupy a meaning…I surround it…I’m not interested in how to make sense of it.” Well all I can say, Herr Goebbels, is that your assessment makes little sense, although I do like the idea of no element being more important than another, and that by changing the structure one can change the performance. Very, umm, advanced thinking indeed, though I didn’t see enough of that in this post-post something-or-other mashup.
I recently received a package from the prolific Canadian poet Stephen C. Bett. I knew nothing about him but it was obvious by what he sent that he was just that. Among the books was SOUND OFF: a book of jazz (Thistledown Press, 2013). I was astounded by the range of voices in the work as well as the musicians he covered, many of whom, like Ketil Bjørnstad and Mathias Eick, I have never encountered. From the poems of two others of that ilk. Tord Gustavsen and Tigran Hamasyan in that order:
“Does anyone play with more…unadorned beauty? Unaffected sensitivity? Transcendent clarity? / …one simply pays attention…caught in the throat / exquisite / ahhh / utterly / rapt.” Just that “ahhh” toward the end immediately pulls one in, making the reader a witness to the sound and therefore an automatic listener somewhere inside the mind/ear. On Hamasyan: “…pacey & lyrical / on & off / the beat…’Da kid’s got punching talent (if he can lose the swing).
And I’m pretty sure I know what swing he’s referring to. The book is divided into four delightful sections, Sides 1-4, with the subheadings, “opens us up,” “bring it…,” “not zen,” and “live alone” each with a variety of known and lesser known musicians (many from Europe) in each section. From Zorn (“Zip it / don’t unzip”) to Miles, to John Abercrombie to The Bad Plus (“…so bad they’re good …they could jazz anyone anywhere…”). Too many to name. Many I could never imagine reading poems about. Most a page long and easy to breeze through, like a good quick solo, this breezy 115-pager pays tribute (at times a bit nasty-like) to nearly 70 musicians with humor, humility, and at times an elegant simplicity. These little gems are like poem-reviews. Seek it out and pleasantly blow your mind.
This summer had lots of great starters, like the Vision Festival’s tribute to Andrew Cyrille with its free jazz, star-studded cast. And a week of gigs by the likes of Mette Rasmussen and Urs Liemgruber. The Sun Ra Arkestra at Union Pool celebrating Marshall Allen’s 95th birthday after doing nearly 50 concerts worldwide. Milford Graves at a Blank Forms event. Henry Flynt at ISSUE Project Room with Ever Lovin’ Game On, his weird Flyntian take on Indian classical violin. Joe Lovano’s Trio Tapestry with Marilyn Crispell and an astounding drummer I had never before heard of, Carmen Castaldi, at the Village Vanguard. Pick up their ECM CD of the same name. I could go on forever.
Two series worth checking out: Abasement is an ongoing series curated by Joe Frivaldi and Rob Mayson that takes place every second Monday of the month and concentrates on the weird and or extreme in improvised, out, avant-folk, and the likes. It just celebrated its milestone 50th concert with the likes of Ikue Mori and Yuka Honda. Ka Baird, who will be featured in my September Outtakes, just did a great gig there as well as one at Joe’s Pub.
The other is a recent semi-nomadic series founded by Eric Stern, an avid listener who felt he needed to give back something to the music he loves so dearly (improv and free jazz) by sponsoring what he calls Eric’s House of Improv. It’s been taking place at 244 Rehearsal Studios, presenting such folks as Urs and Mette, Lotte Anker, Simon Nabatov, and Craig Taborn. It is booked through October and will present Steve Swell, Ken Vandermark, Matthew Shipp, and more. I strongly advise you support these concerts. Eric puts these on at his own expense, offering the audience free wine and food as well as a comfortable space to listen in. A space where artist and audience get treated well on all levels. Rare indeed.
David Toop was in my June Rail column, and he will be gigging at ISSUE Project Room in duo with pianist Tania Cardine Chen come September as part of The Brooklyn Book Fair. Catch this brilliant mind if you can.