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Do it yourself
Live blogging from the NEU NOW Festival (6)
Last night Open Batch Theatre performed Floor Plan
. They could only do one show because today they flew back for their graduation; Millie, who is doing the blog on neunow.eu, was there in time to have a short interview
is a sort of workers' Dogville. Five slaves in identical black and blue move to the instructions of a woman with a microphone from the left side, and industrial music from the other side. "Industrial" is to say that there is a row of tables covered with all kinds of tools, most of them not intended as musical instruments primarily. (The grating of a saw on a file is particularly horrible.) The slaves start out on an empty black floor, do their exercises, and then are commanded to draw the floor plan with yellow tape. There is no release (although the floor plan includes a toilet, the "save place for free expression"). They are bossed around until, at the end of the day, they fold up the tape again. "Adjust your views, roll up your sleeves, empty your pockets", they are admonished time and again. When the slaves cry protest, one of them is offered the microphone. Of course, he has nothing to say.
Floor plan caused some discussions. Some said it had a great concept. Others said it was "academic", for quite the same reason. I opt for option 1. The people from Open Batch have made a blend of sound art and theatre that is not "musical theatre" (viz. the avantgarde alternative to opera) but in which the music is not ornamental either - the sound is truly part of the performance even though segregated from it by a row of tables.
Riding a dead horse
Open Batch is a group of seven strong-willed people; and that requires a totalitarian format to get anything done. Or at least, that is how Hannah Sullivan, the group's appointed performing director presents it. Livestock, the other theatre company at the NEU NOW festival, takes a completely different view. They, too, all want to have it their way - so they do it their way, and everything is debated time and again. Where Open Batch opts for rigid form, Livestock opts for collage: each came with his or her concept, and this was the basis the started from. The result is the anarchistic Riding a dead horse.
Unfortunately, they were unable to perform, because one of their group members couldn't be there, so instead they gave a project presentation
with a screening.
Riding a dead horse
is inspired by the opening scene of Sergio Leone's Once upon a time in the west:
the fourteen minutes in which three men sit at a train station in the middle of nowhere, wait, and nothing happens. Still the dripping of water, the humming of a fly, the scraping of boots make fascinating tense watching. This was the effect that Livestock wanted to explore: So they begin, slowly, sloooowly, by dragging in a horse skull on a pole. Sometimes the scene is lit up as an actor comes or leaves through the back door. Then later on, there are sudden eruptions, frantic monologues, all leading into the same void.
I haven't seen the end and maybe prefer to stay hungry for it. Still I'd love to see it live, but touring is made more difficult by some other ideosyncracies, such as 700 kg of sea salt to make their Norwegian version of the desert, and the fact that they live in different countries. But the horse head is now becoming something of a NEU NOW mascotte, standing on a pedestal in the hallway as an idea box for the next NEU NOW festival. You can feed it with comment sheets from the hole in the back.
And she was talking about this orchestra
The floor plan and musical machinery of Floor Plan
are one example of an attitude you see often at this festival: do it yourself.
I have written before about Koji Wakayama's homemade robots, and an even more striking example is Karen Skog's self-built orchestra. Karen is a Fine Art student from Bergen National Academy of the Arts who has brought two Vilnius two musicians, an organ, a violin, a cello, and a theremin. The organ is from the flea market (and the heavy pedals make playing it a fitness exercise, her organist says) but the other instruments are newly made. Karen has no background as an instrument maker or professional musician, but she believes that everything is made by someone and therefore everything is possible. (interview
) The string instruments, in particular, are remarkable: they are unpolished rectangular wooden boxes, not smooth or concave in any way. Still, they are made after the dimensions of regular violins and cellos, and they sound like that, although they resonate less and therefore often need amplification.
She was talking about this orchestra
is grouped in visual art, for better or worse. Indeed, the instruments are eye-catchers by themselves, but they also perform three times a day. These sessions are pure improvisations: "sometimes it sounds good and sometimes not". At any rate, the sound is always distinctive: the eerie wailing of the theremin and organ, and the scratching of the strings, create a soundscape that fills the gallery. It is not music for the concert hall, and that is not what her orchestra is intended for: it shows that you can do it yourself.