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last night i joined niknak at the kickoff concert of SICPP, the summer institute for contemporary performance practice at new england conservatory. in a tiny, very live williams theatre, there was a sizeable crowd, ranging from the paunchy pale ‘misunderstood’ musicians, to the quiet contemplative japanese composers, to the more-geeky-than-expected hipsters, to some ordinary folks looking for a cultural moment. an ever-charming professor stephen drury (those leather pants!) came out and introduced the sicpp lineup, apologized for lack of a/c, and then proceeded to sit and play morton feldman’s palais de mari.
the opening sequence established the entire tone of the piece, which unfurled as a seemingly endless series of whisper-quiet tritone couplet motifs. every breath, every chair squeak, every pull and budge and fidget in the crowd became instantly magnified in contrast to the ethereal simplicity of the piano. i remained completely still, intensely aware of every perceptible essence of my being. i sat, thinking the guy to my left was inhaling too loudly, telepathically chastising the woman who was dedicated to unzipping her bag. slow breaths, face forward, waiting for the silences, moments emanating through music.
the song was so strange and so delicate, with a precarious sense of balance and a melodic persistence. i concluded that the piece matched exactly the sensation of floating on your back in a quiet, expansive body of water. the sun lighting your cheeks, your mind lulled by eternal lapping and piqued by the swimmingness of one’s own thoughts. it’s that half-state between consciousness and hypnosis, floating in nature and escaping oneself. interspersed between the repetitive legato lilts were a few halting stops. and. gos… this corresponded to the moments when you’re afloat lost in thought, and you unexpectedly bump your head on a sandy bank, or feel a crab skitter on your toe, or get a mouthful of brine. those small interruptions that distract one’s flow, yet you soon meld back into a dreamy watery state. finally, finally, you float and dream and wonder and coalesce until you have fallen asleep inside a cocoon of silence.
describing the next performance, featuring the notoriously notorious charlemagne palestine, would take another post and a half. maybe, if i’m feeling especially gratuitous, i shall disclose all. however, for now, i’ll just divert you to the interview with him in the last issue of the dig. however, i will say that the cognac played a key role in the performance. in short, it was intense. i left thinking that this was probably one of the most brilliantly vile (with emphasis on the vile) performances i’ve ever witnessed. i’ll give you this: when i closed my eyes it was some of the most awesome sound i’ve ever experienced. and i found the stuffed animals (especially the tufted, wide-eyed owl) kinda cute. but the sweat and the screaming sort of made my skin crawl.
again, it was intense.