I was recently diagnosed as bipolar, so I couldn’t tell whether it was my mood swings and racing thoughts or those of the Xenakis opera Oresteia that so agitated me. Based on the Aeschylus trilogy of the same name, Xenakis’s work was filled with murder, revenge, and more murder, ending in the introduction of trial by jury in Greece. The adaptation partially focused on what Xenakis was led to believe was Japanese Noh theater, though certain elements came more from Kabuki. (Sorry, Iannis). The music and dance were superbly executed, relying heavily, like Harry Partch’s Furies, on percussion instruments. The chorus was great, especially the angry furies’ almost vicious attack on the audience when their evil powers were being replaced by good. The big-bearded lead vocalist, doubling throughout as emotionless male and female voice, left me cold, though his role was the most difficult of the evening. The video was lousy. Everybody wore black except for the children’s chorus, which wore white at the climax as it ushered in the new era by running through the audience passing out little silver flags. Between looking up to see the subtitles, looking back to see the conductor on a TV screen, and looking sideways to see whoever happened to be on the ramp that extended into the audience, I got confused and irritated. This would’ve worked better for me if it had taken place in a much bigger space than the Miller Theater, or with me sitting in the balcony on meds rather than in the third row.
Speaking of plot twists and male/female vocals, Arias with a Twist, Joey Arias’s one (wo)man show at Here, was beyond the edge, with unbelievable puppets by Basil Twist. The show took us from alien space probes to snake-filled jungles to the jungles of New York, with Arias covering everything from the Beatles to Billie Holiday. No wonder it’s been extended for three months. A+
Le Poisson Rouge, at the site of the old Village Gate, is playing host to one of the most eclectic programs any club has yet to offer outside of maybe the musician-curated Stone and the now-defunct Tonic. Its mission, according to its musician owners, is to “revive the symbiotic relationship between art and revelry,” and if that means getting drunk while listening to Philip Glass then it serves its purpose well. I’ve seen some great gigs there, including Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians (which filled the space), and John Zorn with Lou Reed, Marc Ribot, Mike Patton, and Milford Graves. Graves really seemed to enjoy his role as drummer with the band. Art D’Lugoff, the owner of the original Gate, was at a reception for the club recently and told me he will be bringing back the Salsa Meets Jazz events that he held there years ago. Also at the reception were a bunch of youngsters from a group called Face the Music, who played a piece by Michael Gordon called Yo Shakepeare. (I saw them last year do Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes). “This,” as their conductor pointed out “proves that classical music is not dead.” Le Poisson is a bit chi-chi, but it’s a welcome new presence in the declining Manhattan music scene.
Thomas Buckner’s Interpretations led off its twentieth season at its new home (Roulette) with a great triple-bill of the Myra Melford Quartet, Henry Threadgill’s Zooid, and the Talujon Percussion Quartet. Melford’s piece was inspired by Uruguayan poet Eduardo Galeano’s work. Threadgill played two originals, and the Talujon played part of Steve Reich’s Drumming. The highlight was Zooid and Talujon doing a somewhat Varèsian piece commissioned for Threadgill.
Most poignant musical moment of the month: from the screening of Czech director Vojtech Jasny’s 1960 film I Survived Certain Death, when, in the concentration camp, the famous Jewish baritone is ordered by an SS officer to climb up a hill and sing. Upon reaching the top he belts out “Ave Maria,” and the SS guy promptly proceeds to blow the hill and the baritone to smithereens.
Most bizarre and joyful musical moment: Ryan Sawyer’s solo drum and vocal set at Deitch Gallery, with Suzanne Ragaleski accompanying him on trapeze.
Baba Israel’s Boom Bap Meditations, at the Hip Hop Theater Festival, was a deep, poignant, and at times humorous lesson in humanity that we can all learn from.
Finally, there’s the new issue of Vanitas magazine centering around the popular song, replete with a section on the Beatles featuring poems by the likes of Anne Waldman. You’ll also find odes to Syd Barrett, Kurt Cobain, the Ronettes, Lucinda Williams, and the Wichita Lineman.
So now I have a fashionable “disease,” and was offered a designer drug to help resolve my conflicts. I decided not to take it despite the fact that it might help provide me with some sorely needed sleep. I’ve opted instead to stay unfocused, try to make piece—oops, peace—with my inner furies, and to teach us all to LISTEN more deeply.
Thoughts on Drawing, 1970By Robert Motherwell
FEB 2023 | Critics Page
I happen to like the line drawings of very small children, better, in fact, than the work of anyone except masters. The closest thing to it, when children use pencils (colored or not), is the quill strokes of Rembrandt, the more spontaneous and less spelled out drawings by Picasso for Guernica, and a few stick drawings on paper by Pollock.
Sympathetic joyBy Tsering Wangmo Dhompa
APRIL 2023 | Critics Page
Ive been collecting words from a book to give legs to thoughts nesting in pages. Shes harvesting rainwater to make bread. Without training the mind first, joy too will be in danger of turning sour to jealousy.
Eddie Martinez: Inside ThoughtsBy Barbara A. MacAdam
FEB 2021 | ArtSeen
Meaty and heady, Eddie Martinezs densely packed paintings, rich with associations and imageryall in the form of quotidian objects, sports paraphernalia, kitchen and dining items, art-history fragmentsrefuse to commit to a specific time or style.
from A Cat at the End of the WorldBy Robert Periić and Vesna Maric
NOV 2022 | Fiction
Its hard to find historical fiction that accurately captures the worldview and mindset of the people depictedand exceedingly rare to encounter characters whose lives and thoughts feel expansive, rather than subtractive, in the remote past. Croatian writer Robert Periićs latest novel, A Cat at the End of the World, transports the reader to ancient Syracuse, and then to a colonial outpost in the Adriatic. The protagonist Kalia, servant to a wealthy family and object of torment by the scion Pigras, is accompanied by a cat named Miu and shown the first glimmer of care by a woman named Menda. In this excerpt, Periić shows how a cat's ungovernability can undo a hierarchy.