Listening to Ikue Mori's "laptop music" is a curiously bodied experience, given the media she uses. Though electronic music, with some exceptions, usually distances me somehow from the more corporeal relationship I have in the "live"/read: acoustic/event, Mori's music--like Iannis Xenakis' La Legend d'Eer, Karlheinz Stockhausen's Gesang der Jünglinge (in a particularly disturbing way), and So Percussion's recent work, for instance--gets inside. It moves through the nerves and muscles, becoming strangely sexy.
Pairing her music with Maya Deren's too rarely viewed silent films from the 1940s that in turn play with perceptival notions of the body and dance is just about perfect. And it was, until the projector ended the performance midway through--just as Deren, on a beach, stroking the hair of two women playing chess, steals the bishop.
Moments of failure in performance can be so satisfying--the dancer's misstep, the musician's break, the line just missed. They make the performance more of one's own, something seen that night not seen any other. And I think it's also very much part of what makes films from the '40s and earlier particularly intriguing--the scratches on the film itself a visual metaphor for the graininess of a record player. It's beyond nostalgia or romanticizing, but rather brings the very material of performance into visual and aural focus. Yet, as my technologically inclined friend commented afterward, "it's endearing when performers make mistakes, but not when the techs do."
And, unfortunately, the disappointment of not seeing the rest of Deren's At Land tainted the next part of the performance, which added harpist Zeena Parkins, and percussionist Cyro Baptista. This had little to do with the music, but more with the incongruous video happening behind, not with, it. Especially after the gorgeous synchronicity of Mori's music and Deren's gesture, it was almost egregious to be confronted so suddenly with the overly colorful overly jumpy type of screen-saver video art that simply irritates me. Okay, the cartoonish cockroaches were kind of cute, but, really, I could have done without the visual signifier. It distracted from the *real* visual onstage: the musicians; and in its scopic distraction, also distracted from the music.
By the time pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and (be still my beating heart she gets amazing sounds out of a drum set) percussionist Susie Ibarra took the stage with Mori, I had gotten over my critical condition and could just relax into the music. A little more tonal than I expected, for sure, but still very very cool.
That said... isn't there always a "that said"?... I have to wonder about the significance of the space we were in to experiencing this music and imagery. Sitting in a more formal concert hall than usual, I found myself rendered far more passive than I generally am during performances, and this architecturally altered how I experienced the event. I know I have a chip on my shoulder about the uptown/downtown divide, and perhaps I do wax too nostalgic for a period of the downtown New York scene that I never experienced; but I kinda think even the silly video would have been more engaging in, say, John Zorn's space, The Stone. Certainly listening, unconfined by the strictures of concert hall etiquette, would have been as open, as corporeal, and, indeed, as sexy as Mori's music always should be.