The curious nomad’s wanderings are frequently rewarded: Exotic trumpet flowers bloom behind deserted streets, in darkness. The trick—and luck—is finding them.
Jacob Robinette’s Dreams & Intoxications
May 12, 2011
Composer and video artist Jacob Robinette’s Dreams & Intoxications, a mystical evening’s collage of video, music, and dance performance presented at the 16 Beaver space, required finding—a traversing of Wall Street’s after-hours emptiness—the skirted concrete barriers, suited moneymen at dinner with beglittered dames and Maseratis, a dormant Hermès waiting for tomorrow’s gilded pigeons, the ghostly Exchange itself. Then a non-descript Manhattan alley, up four flights, and into another world—of sound, and sinew, and seduction.
Dreams & Intoxications featured a conceptual preview of new work by Robinette; musical performances by two of trumpeter Jordan McLean’s ensembles, the Piano Music & Song Trio (PMT), and, in debut, Occasional Noise & Vibration Associated (ONVA); and dance performances by Princess Lockeroo and others.
The evening began with the preproduction loop of surreal, incoherent scenes from Dreams, Robinette’s film in development (a Hitchcock melodrama merged with Godard’s avant-garde) about a fictional Wall Street firm, accompanied by a dancer’s emotive movements.
Pianist Derin Oge of McLean’s PMT ensemble next performed a solo of McLean’s “The Power in X.” Oge was then joined by PMT colleagues McLean and cellist Anneke Schaul-Yoder (also of the Mimesis Ensemble), and the trio played another McLean composition, “The All-Inclusive Aura,” described as written for “deep listening.” PMT’s sound reflects McLean’s 12-tone and eclectic interests: The group’s first two albums include tracks of Samuel Barber, Charles Ives, and Siberian folk music.
Joined by harpist Ellena Phillips and Dary John Mizelle on trombone, the trio turned quintet to play a suite of Robinette’s compositions—an allegorical farce of Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy. The first piece, in a major key, sounded computer-generated, with McLean channeling William Chamberlain’s artificial-intelligence program Racter, challenging the musicians to modulate synthetic constructs, and abruptly ended.
The evening’s second expressive movement was a performance by earth-goddess dancer Dages Keates, whose too-brief sensuous organic movements and swaying limbs evoked 19th century nymphic statuary, and seemed to conjure up in séance the prototypical 20th century modern dance pioneers Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis. Keates personified a schism of dream world and abandon, awakening and Nietzschean aphorism, letting out her flowing, wavy hair to the accompaniment of Phillips’s lyric harp, circling round a column, and finally floating past the audience to, perhaps, an unveiled garden rendezvous with Pan.
Next, the ensemble accompanied danseuse Princess Lockeroo (a k a Samara Cohen), who writhed in a contortive combination of Egyptian bas-relief geometry, Michael Jackson-esque TV dancing, and whip-crack snake-charm hypnotism. The team delighted the audience despite its overtight piano backbone, sterile solo-synchronization, and derivative commercial DNA, its net effect frantic and anti-erotic.
Dancers Javier Dzul and Robin Taylor next delighted the audience with a highly choreographed interlocking pas de deux, intimately interacting, forging ideographic forms in three dimensions. This couple, who mostly performed gesturally and gymnastically, seemed magnetically attached even when separated. PMT’s musical accompaniment was fluidly invisible, an unseen motional third partner, water for the dancers’ dives and strokes, the combination altogether satisfying.
The evening’s highlight was a percussion and brass performance by McLean’s appropriately named Occasional Noise & Vibration Associated, consisting of McLean, Mizelle, and Brian Chase of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. This improvisation began with subtlety, as the audience was regrouping from an intermission, with Mizelle apparently doing not much of anything other than tentatively “testing” a few of the instruments arrayed across the space, including a radiating gong, a bell, a bamboo flute, a tranche of horns, McLean’s trumpet, and additional beatables. Once in the groove, Mizelle was joined by McLean and Chase. A piercing horn played into the piano produced a resonating echo; Chase massaged a snare drumskin as conga. McLean tamed his trumpet with a homemade two-can mute as the trio’s improvised sounds evolved from a rhythmic percussive noise to “imitation” music and beyond. A single piano note, repeated, conveyed in semaphore a sound that had to be, but wasn’t—except for our eyes’ evidence—possible to be made by a human: Nevil Shute’s wind-beaten, bereft signal from On the Beach. This was a different kind of trance music, the kind that you had to be in a trance to make, and would become entranced to hear. As the piece wound to its end, the gong became a bell and the by now copper-muted trumpet exhaled slow and plaintive notes, a Coleman nocturne, mellow.
ONVA closed the evening with Mizelle on piano, as McLean and Chase played a cat’s continuo. Mizelle’s tumbling fingers on keys 80–88 revealed the psychic physical intelligence of a lifetime’s master musicianship, and an ear whose nuance awed.
The improvisational nature of the evening was both its strength and weakness. In some ways, the dreams and intoxications felt like scraps and sketches from a work in progress, a session of sessions among friends, a potpourri of consecutive delights that could, with more space, have run simultaneously in adjacent rings. Even if Dreams was uneven overall, ONVA’s masterful chaotic noise ensured all else would be forgiven. Back on the street, the magic lingered, talisman against the sleeping beast.