Sunday, October 05, 2008

Sweet Zombie Jesus, That Was Horrible, II

(To paraphrase Chekhov) “If there’s an accordion on stage when the curtain rises, it must be fired by the third act.”

I did college radio for six or seven years or so: the avant garde holds no particular terrors for me. Being in college radio, we went through the whole thing of musical one-upmanship: “Hey, I can listen to weirder shit than you can.” A couple of my best pals introduced me to all sorts of Difficult Music in those days.

cf. Laurie Anderson’s Language is a Virus, which certainly bears on this:
“Good evening. Welcome to “Difficult Listening Hour”: the spot on your the dial for that relentless and impenetrable sound of. Difficult. Music. So sit bolt upright in that straight-backed chair; button that top button; and get set for some Difficult Music."

(one version of this is at

This is actually pertinent - Laurie Anderson played The Egg here in Albany a week or two ago - and even SHE could not fill that 1200-seat hall.

This weekend was the grand opening of a new performance hall up at RPI. So I went, to check it out. What’s notable is that one of the highlights of the weekend was a concert of avant garde music - or rather, music that had once been avant garde, oh, fully a third of a century ago, back when I was doing college radio.

First, Cecil Taylor (...sans Unit...) came out and fought with a grand piano for half an hour or so. Much like this:

(His bio at Allmusic notes: “Suffice it to say that Cecil Taylor's music is not for everyone.“)

Then Pauline Oliveros came up the stairs to the stage from out of the audience, sat down, picked up her accordion, and let the bellows of her accordion breathe a bit, to force us to hear it. The performance was a lot like this one from last year:

People were leaving in the midst of her first number.

What’s interesting is that this was a high-prestige gig at the opening weekend of RPI’s new EMPAC. Nice building, nice hall.

(It's kind of comical that a purpose-built hall in the 21st century STILL has videography only as an afterthought: FOR THE OPENING GIG, they had five cameras BLOCKING THE AISLES. Somebody please explain to me why they didn't build niches for cameras to live, out of the way of the paying customers.)

Anyway: on a college campus of 6,000 students, a free concert could not fill the new 1200-seat house. The hall was scarcely half full. And people started leaving after 15 minutes or so. Whatever the artistic merits of the musical avant garde, it’s hard to convincingly assert that this metropolitan area can actually support such a venue. (Half-full? The premiere weekend?? For a free gig???)

(Now, me, I'm pretty inured to what Laurie Anderson calls "Difficult Listening Music". But, hilariously, I dragged along my long-suffering teenaged daughter. She’s still in shock.)

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