Jesse Stewart, Improvisations for Solo Waterphone
You want to hear a waterphone in action? Jesse's your man!
But wait, what the heck is a waterphone? It's a very cool, extremely resonant instrument that looks like a cross between a footstool and a sexed-up porcupine. You can tap it, scrape it, pluck it, shake it, then fill it up with water and do it all over again!
Stewart's approach seemed a bit like "A Young Person's Guide to the Waterphone" -- trying every technique once, then moving on to the next one -- but I quickly realized that the effect was infinitely richer if I closed my eyes. With open eyes I found myself intellectualizing in an extremely mundane way ("Now he's rubbing it with something soft...now he's rubbing it the other way!"). But when I was unable to see what he was doing the sounds became rich and mysterious. They became an improvisational composition instead of a demonstration of technique.
I seriously think that Stewart should do this with his back to the audience.
Incidentally, if you've ever heard the soundtrack for "The Hunger," you may have wondered how they made all those wonderful atmospheric noises. Now I can tell you with absolute certainty that they were rubbing a violin bow across the waterphone's spikes. Tell your friends.
They're the winners of this year's "Stinky Ears" award! (unless something worse comes along, God forbid).
During the endless show -- which made me think of a warm glass of milk growing steadily more tepid beside a collection of videos by The Parachute Club -- I thought of two dozen vicious, evil, absolutely CRUEL things to say about their performance. But I want to be nice about this, because the tranSpectra people are human beings with families and feelings, and there was one exceptionally good moment (see below).
So instead of writing a snarky list of everything I thought was terrible about their show, let me briefly describe what it takes to win a Stinky Ears award. It's open season on whether or not tranSpectra were guilty of these things...you don't have to do ALL of them to win, you lucky devils.
- Interesting, complex subjects applied in a pedestrian, "yearbook poetry" way.
- The subjects must have already been "done to death" -- and done much better -- at least ten years ago, preferably twenty. Bonus points for ecology, poverty, physics, mathematics, warfare, and thinly-veiled guilt at one's own social privilege.
- Total, single-minded pretention. Nobody can crack a smile. The sopranos -- if there be sopranos -- must look stern and sing in a verrrr-eeee seeee-reeee-ussss waaaaaay.
- Sloppiness. It looks and sounds like a rehearsal. The performers appear to be amazed they're getting away with it.
- Far too long. Awkward pauses.
- No empathy with the audience.
- Over-hyped techniques which fall far short of expectations.
- Musical instruments which fail to mesh together and simply sound ill-conceived or poorly executed. Granular synthesis is a plus, as are boopy keyboards.
- Dirty ears (not necessary).
At the end, after the hernia-inducing "Deaths of Children Update," I was just rising to leave when the tranSpectra creatures announced that they were GOING TO CONTINUE. This was like being told by an executioner that more children were scheduled for death, and I must watch until the end. I couldn't take it. I left.
So yeah, all-in-all a pretty grim night, but I DO feel the need to point out that the very capable dancer was Yvonne Ng, who I instantly recognized as the freaky baby from "Silent Hill." I almost stuck around to ask her about it but I wasn't sure if it's the way she'd want to be remembered. In the featurette she talked about how difficult it was to pee.