The Sounds of Silence Moving performance on October 20 at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre was a spectacular display of free improvised music and dance. Wadada Leo Smith and Motoko Honda both used extended techniques on their instruments to express a wide variety of inspired musical ideas. Often departing from conventional rhythms and harmony, but always retaining an acute musical sensitivity, they provided the perfect score for Oguri’s dramatic butoh improvisations.
The resulting performance was a virtuoso deconstruction of virtuosity. Presented as “inviting a transcendental reflection on space, time and life,” the performance featured three masters of their respective arts collaborating in an emotional improvisatory denial of narrative in music and dance. From jazz musician Wadada Leo Smith’s opening salvo of trumpet notes, impossibly disjointed and almost assaultive in its recital of the range of sounds produced by the instrument in the hands of a master, the audience received a stream of music that was, to borrow from Wallace Stevens, “without human meaning, without human feeling, a foreign song.”
Joined by pianist, Motoko Honda, the two musicians improvised a fusion of sounds with consummate skill that somehow managed to never permit a melody to cohere. Just as a pattern would begin to emerge, it would be abandoned before rising to melody or motif. The result was an auditory scrubbing of the meaning-making categorical mechanisms of the mind.
Accomplished in both classical and contemporary piano works, Motoko Honda’s virtuoso technique paired with her intensely imaginative mind generated a constantly shifting sonic landscape of striking beauty over which every nuance of Leo Smith’s otherworldly trumpet tone and soul stirring phrasing resonated powerfully though the room.
Ms. Honda played the piano by striking the keys, plucking and hammering the strings, and selectively altering the sounds of the strings by adding objects to them. It was startling to see a pianist stand and reach into the belly of the grand and still continue to make music. There was a quality of fairy tale or fable about it, with the small delicate woman taking full charge of the giant, wooden musical beast.
Behind the two musicians, butoh master Oguri appeared and came slowly to the center, every muscle down to the smallest toe exquisitely controlled. Butoh is a form of dance that came out of postwar Japan aimed at expressing intense emotion outside the framework of traditional Eastern and Western dance. Oguri’s movements deconstructed the meaning of human gesture in much the same way that the musicians pushed their instruments to the boundaries of what was possible. The only limitations on his movements were the limitations imposed by the connections of his joints. After the concert, my mind kept returning to the children’s song, “The hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone/ The thigh bone’s connected to the knee bone...” Watching him, the natural sequence and semiotics of gesture was rendered meaningless, the great language of the body silenced.
The interaction between Wadada, Motoko and Oguri was never plain and straightforward but rather subtle and unpredictable. Balance seemed more important than synchronicity, as if the three elements of sound, silence and movement were connected by an invisible elastic string. Each performer seemed acutely aware of their role in the dynamics of the show without loosing their individual expressive freedom.
The Sounds of Silence Moving
Barnsdall Gallery Theatre
4800 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
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