Wednesday, November 16, 2016

New Amsterdam Releases a Recording of Living Earth’s Venture into Avant-Garde Theater

This Friday New Amsterdam Records will release its second album of performances by The Living Earth Show (TLES), the wildly innovative duo of guitarist Travis Andrews and percussionist Andy Meyerson, both graduates of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. For those who cannot wait, is, as usual, processing pre-orders for this new release. The title of the recording is Dance Music. While it is literally accurate, it may run the risk of misinterpretation; so a bit of background is in order.

All of the tracks on this album are compositions that were created for Do Be, a full-evening theater piece that was given its world premiere this past August after having been under development for about three years. That development involved a close collaboration that brought TLES together with choreographer Robert Dekkers, Artistic Director of Post:Ballet, and costume and scenic designer Christian Squires. (Yes, costumes were provided for Andrews and Meyerson, along with a fair amount of stage direction.) Post:Ballet is a company of nine dancers that Dekkers founded.

Structurally, Do Be consisted of five dances, each using music by a different composer created under a commission by TLES. The program was framed by “Pasturing,” which consisted of two parts performed at the beginning and conclusion, respectively, with music provided by Jacob Cooper. The other dances, in order of appearance, were “Family Sing-A-Long and Game Night” with music by Nicole Lizée, “Tassel” with music by Anna Meredith, “The Bell, The Ball, The Bow-Tie, & The Boot” with music by Jonathan Pfeffer, and “Double Happiness” with music by Christopher Cerrone. Dance Music provides an almost-complete account of the music for Do Be; only the first part of “Pasturing” is omitted.

I feel very fortunate to have been at the world premiere of Do Be. I have been trying to follow TLES performances going back almost to their first public concert, but my schedule had prevented me from attending any of the preview shows of individual sections from the complete work. The result is that I came to that premiere prepared for just about anything and could not have been more impressed. There was no end of outrageousness shared equally across bizarre costumes, classical ballet reconceived as an alien invasion, and the deadpan seriousness of Lizée’s loopy mockery of a “family sing-a-long.” Nevertheless, the evening never felt that anything was going on for too long or that any of the creative contributors had let things get out of control.

Nevertheless, the real joy in observing Do Be came from just how effective all the contributors had been in assembling a coherent whole. This put me at a disadvantage while listening only to the contributed compositions on Dance Music. Confined only to the auditory medium, one can definitely appreciate just how much diversity cuts across the entire album, lending each piece its own stamp of originality. However, it is impossible for me to listen to any of the tracks without recalling the broader context in which these performances were embedded. There are definitely elements of wit that can be appreciated on their own, and there are others in which the attentive listener can become absorbed in the sheer originality of the sonorities. What matters is that, while each of the five compositions on the album was written as a contribution to “total theater,” none of them can be counted as background music; and, as a result, there is a risk that some listeners may find that the experience of being limited to sonorities is an impoverished one.

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