Schick Machine is an ambitious music theater production commissioned by Stanford Lively Arts and Meyer Sound Labs. First performed in Stanford’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium in March of 2009, the full-evening work was the result of close collaboration among composer Paul Dresher, writer and director Rinde Eckert, percussion virtuoso Steven Schick, instrument inventor Daniel Schmidt, mechanical sound artist Matt Heckert, and lighting and visual designer Tom Ontiveros. The objective was to present performances on newly invented musical instruments within the setting of a theatrical narrative.
The protagonist of the narrative is Lázló Klangfarben, whose part is played (in multiple senses of the word) by Schick. A narrator explains that the name is a pseudonym; and the last name is the German word for “sound color.” Klangfarben is an inventor whose mental state is probably about five bottles short of a six-pack. His skills as an inventor have locked him securely in the objective world of Immanuel Kant’s “pure reason.” Indeed, he is so securely locked that he can no longer remember his real name. The plot behind Eckert’s narrative involves Klangfarben recovering and making peace with his true identify, a process that involves memories of his wife, his mother, and his grandfather.
In many respects this is basically a quest narrative of the sort that Vladimir Propp analyzed in his book Morphology of the Folktale, whose core ideas would find their way into Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and George Lucas’ original conception of the narrative behind his Star Wars movies. Every quest involves a journey that can be physical, metaphorical, or both. In this case the journey amounts to one from the perfect determinism of Klangfarben’s objective world into the far less determined subjective world in which his true identity resides. In the performance of Schick Machine, that journey takes place in a space in which Klangfarben encounters both tiny noise-making objects and the huge invented instruments and sound sculptures created by Schmidt and Heckert:
Steven Schick as Lázló Klangfarben in his environment of invented instruments and sound sculptures (courtesy of Z Space)
Those latter have been given poetic names, such as the Peacock (which is a deconstructed pipe organ), the Hurdy Grande, the Tumbler, and the Field of Flowers. However, while most quest folktales end with the “hero” achieving his goal, Eckert has chosen to be more ambiguous about where Klangfarben has arrived at the conclusion of his journey.
Next month the Paul Dresher Ensemble will present a four-performance run of Schick Machine. Performances will be at 8 p.m. on Friday, September 23, and Saturday, September 24, and at 3 p.m. on Saturday, September 24, and Sunday, September 25. They will take place on the Main Stage at Z Space, whose open design will be conducive to constructing the elaborate environment in which Klangfarben’s quest takes place. Adult tickets for the evening performances will be $25 and $20 for the matinee performances. The senior rate will be $20 for the evening performances and $15 for the matinees. The student rate is $12.50 in the evening and $10 at the matinees. Tickets for all performances may be purchased through hyperlinks on an OvationTix event page. Assistance in ordering tickets may be obtained by calling OvationTix customer service at the toll-free number 866-811-4111. Customer service hours (Pacific Time) are from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.