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Comedy and Horror and Awkward Parties: Performance Art From People Inside Electronics

September 10, 2019

People Inside Electronics

“I can’t remember the last time I bought a watch,” violist Linnea Powell admits. We in the audience have been laughing through the whole piece so far, but here, her performance partner, flutist Rachel Beetz, breaks. Tears of suppressed laughter started flashing in the corners of her eyes. It took Beetz many minutes to recover her cool. Beeps and boops cued the two to start and stop speaking, or to hold some odd posture, all determined by flash cards. Over occasional loops of Barber of Seville, they talked about pointless childhood stories, sweat, ill-behaved dogs, naps, and discomfort with sharing these things with a roomful of strangers.

Tim Parkinson’s Time With People seemed like a loving, mocking remix of awkward parties in which everyone is nice, but not enough people have anything in common. Its title encapsulates the gist of Friday’s concert at the Throop Unitarian Universalist Church: the people divided between Aperture Duo and Autoduplicity, and the time spent on excellent musical performance art. In an extreme way, the concert privileged the performance experience over the piece of music.

Aperture Duo, Powell and violinist Adrianne Pope, displayed incredible rapport performing selections from Georges Aperghis’s Retrouvailles (Reunion). They both excel at poker face. Through robotic hugging rituals and the wonderful percussion of a sake bottle and tumbler on a table, they balanced the complex sound experience with the complex social experience of watching quotidian situations and their meanings divorced and re-married. This kind of precision in the face of absurdity is honed in only the best of contemporary classical performers. I could see them expanding into the realm of UCSD’s [THE].

Comedy worked wonders. It can be hard enough to hear common sound as music but adding symbolic movement and acting to the mix just screams “pretentious disaster.” All but one of the pieces was comedic and the jokes allowed a state of relaxed receptivity to the layers of action and sound. If you can laugh at it, hearing and seeing become a less serious occupation.

And the least serious of occupations graced the stage last night: memes. Akin to the YouTube genre of “harmonizer videos,” Todd Moellenberg’s Speech Suite, a premiere, featured eloquently scrambled phrases such as “liar, lair, pants on fire” matched meticulously with pitches (and in that case, dubbed over a video of a senator questioning Michael Cohen). Autoduplicity, Beetz, and cellist Jennifer Bewerse, seemed most comfortable in this piece — less acting involved, but oh my god the instrumental chops. From the first notes played, it was shocking to hear Bewerse and Beetz burn up tight rhythms along with computer-generated speech. Up to that point, it had been easy to forget that these players had this thing called “classical training.”

The finale was different. Mayke Nas and Wouter Snoei’s I Delayed People’s Flights by Walking Slowly in Narrow Hallways, read like a poltergeist haunting. Four large chalkboards stood at the back of the stage, all hooked up with contact mics that processed the writing and erasing rhythms of the four performers into dull, pots-and-pans percussion. That, however, was not obvious to the audience, making the coordinated rhythmic writing, and how it all lined up with the complex percussion track, seem otherworldly.

Tracks of layered whispers hung over the piece like unseen spirits. Sentences would appear between the four boards, all guilt-filled confessions mutating into one another, I USED OBJECTS THOUGHTLESSLY into I CALLED OBJECTS DEAD into I CALLED GOD DEAD. Each performer would modify only one board at a time, as if controlled by a higher force, speaking through the chalkboards. There was no hint of remorse.

In a hailstorm of chalk and noise, all four started scribbling their own confessions all over their boards, filling them entirely. Then, the magic trick. Using the oil from their fingers, they wrote one last composite message, unreadable until they all erased the boards. It read, “I ASKED FOR IT.” 

Tamzin Elliott is a composer and writer based in Los Angeles, and a doctoral student at University of Southern California.