Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
OZET Lands at The Brick
Here’s what we know so far…
In 1929, after securing approval from the Eurasian Confederated Socialist States (ECSS), 700 “pioneers” were relocated to passing Comet P41. Leading up to the deployment of the First Generation, the comet was prepared through missions that shaped the landscape for human use. The enterprise was the brainchild of Ukrainian engineer Sergei Veksler who imagines Comet P41 as a settlement for “enemies of the people.” The comet will never encounter the sphere of planet Earth again. It is expected, within 360 years of passing Earth, to be a “completely autonomous oblast.”*
Since they first began unearthing the history of Comet P41 (the OZET) in 2007, collaborators Aaron Meicht and Scott Blumenthal have been cultivating and exploring the past, present, and future of the comet and the community that has populated it, otherwise known as the Collective Sphere of OZET. Each of their transmissions, whether it be a live performance, a short film, an album, or a DIY video tutorial on making potato pancakes, expands upon the story of OZET. These transmissions have amassed over the years and will be presented as A Scale Unfamiliar: OZET Songs at The Brick (Williamsburg, Brooklyn) from April 1-5.
I first experienced the eccentric, musically savvy, and complex world of OZET through the vodka-fueled communal performance event Common Hall Village 20 at The Incubator Arts Project at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery (former home of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater) in 2012. Seated at picnic tables, surrounded by musicians and performers, audiences immediately became immersed in the world. This was followed by Katorga in 2014—sadly the final production of Incubator Arts’ impressive and all too brief life—which was comparatively sleek, austere, and meditative, but still magically madcap and bonkers.
Upon first witnessing this work in 2012 I was immediately disoriented by the specificity of the world. As if walking in on the middle of the narrative, I kept asking myself, “Am I missing something?” Not that I didn’t feel cared for, but that, by design, it didn’t matter which part of the story I entered—the audience is a welcome addition at any point in the ever-expanding world of the OZET.
Last summer Meicht, Blumenthal, and Daniel Baker (a frequent OZET collaborator) presented “original research on the (Augmented) Periodic Infinity Organ,” a TED Talk inspired demonstration at The Brick as part of Title:Point’s crucial Interrobang Festival. The earnest presentation detailed the musicology of the various generations on the OZET, along with abstractions, academic musings, and a sing-along. It was another addition to the ongoing transmissions of the collective.
Performing OZET, witnessing OZET—this very writing about OZET—is also being on the OZET, expanding its life and mythology.
Composer, trumpet player, and co-founder Meicht cites Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen and Stockhausen's Licht cycle as inspiration for working on a single project over many years. “Each of these guys worked 25 years on these works,” Meicht wrote in an email. “It made me think about doing one project for a long time.”
The OZET project is on the scale of Voyager 1, launched in 1977 and now extending its mission through interstellar space. While gathering material for this article, Meicht and Blumenthal shared extensive background documents, including spreadsheets and archives (their website OZET.us provides a peek into this). It is an ongoing story, and they don’t yet know how it will conclude, if it ever does.
Here’s what we know so far…
In the first generations of the OZET, communities and culture find their footing through collective farming; they innovate in energy use and means of sustenance. Years pass, away from Earth; children are born, populations form into villages, villages coalesce into cities, new communal identities arise, as do tensions. The generations promise not to repeat the failures of the previous generation; the familial and the political unite, leading to restrictions, enforcements, allowances, the belief in progression. The music is good.
Reynold’s Cafe on 180th and Broadway in Manhattan served as ground zero for OZET from 2007–2015. Reynold’s is legendary amongst uptowners. A most respectable place where the cockroaches were the size of small plates, folks often served themselves from behind the bar, and a drama was always unfolding, either in a corner or on the countertop. The regular bartenders, Pete and Jimmy, well into their ’70s, would hold the place together, some nights more successfully than others. This is an environment which has nearly disappeared from the city’s tapestry. It was ripe for world-building within the tumult of humanity.
“Losing Reynold’s,” Blumenthal writes, “was a little bit like losing the Ontological (Incubator) space.” These institutions both shuttered one after the other, Incubator in 2014 and Reynold’s in 2015.
This is why the landing at The Brick feels like a coming home. With Theresa Buchheister—who was such an instrumental voice for and supporter of the Incubator—at the helm as artistic director, a collective like OZET might have a space to go as far, and get as weird, as they want. These have been Buchheister’s values as a theater maker and producer for two decades, but they have come into high relief as she has, with the support of various cohorts (Title:Point, Vital Joint, The Exponential Festival), fostered an entire community. Now that the community has a physical space, with a robust history of presenting experimental theater, there is the opportunity for a downtown performance scene to blossom in a way that hasn’t happened in nearly a decade.
It’s incredibly heartening to see a lineage emerging and a prospective intergenerational dialogue occurring though The Brick’s programming. After presenting work at the Interrobang Festival last summer, I remember Meicht exuberant to be in the same room with younger artists, initiating another kind of transmission where the work being presented was in dialogue with each other, across disciplines and generations.
Here’s what we know so far…
In the generations that expand beyond our timeframe, corruption spreads rampant, imprisonment and punishment are the arms of enforcement. Folk music emerges and flourishes. Protests emerge from the prisons. A prison colony is launched at a distance to the comet, connected by a massive chain. Mushrooms serve as a symbol for redemption. Crops fail over multiple generations. Population declines rapidly. In the void, a gift economy rises—music becomes tethered to the act of giving and receiving.
All public acts are political; this is a value that Meicht and Blumenthal carry through their ongoing collaboration. Although they resist the body of OZET as a topical or issue-oriented performance, it is undeniably about what it means to be in society.
“The purpose is not to make a statement,” Blumenthal says, “but to express in our own way. [The works] are not didactic, have no specific agenda or question we want the audience to leave with. The circumstances under which we work, we don't get to refine over time—we build them, put them out in front of people, and move on. They are raw expressions of the moment.”
Meicht follows up on these thoughts, “There is an ambiguity at the end of all the pieces; there's not this moral conclusion. We've always done that on purpose. Scott and I may not see the same conclusion reached, that's part of what's made it really cool, is that the works do live in a way where we have a lot of questions about being human.”
A Scale Unfamiliar: OZET Songs is a return to the collective’s evening-length works and also an introduction to new audiences. The impetus behind the songbook is to bring the music and story of OZET to audiences in an undaunting format. And, as Meicht perfectly frames the outing, “Can we just get on stage as a kick-ass band and play these songs?” Joining Meicht, Blumenthal, and Baker are a handful of notable contemporary musicians including Kate Gentile on percussion, Devin Hoff on bass guitar, and Taylor Levine on electric guitar.
“We’ve been living in this fantasy, that maybe isn’t a fantasy, for so long,” Blumenthal says. “And so many people have been a part of it.” Just as they are bringing in a “kick-ass band” for The Brick run, OZET has historically attracted seriously talented collaborators, across disciplines, including stage director Liesl Tommy, who slung vodka in Common Hall Village 20, and character actor Stuart Rudin, who appeared in the short film Katorga: Section 6 (2016).
The run at The Brick in April promises to bring in new pioneers to this fantasy, that may not be a fantasy after all.
Here’s what we know thus far…
OZET disappears into a celestial ice cluster from the origins of the solar system, bound for no particular destination, and life continues. We don’t know what happens next.
*This is a distilled history of the OZET colony as reported by this Rail reporter in his coverage of the comet landing and subsequent colonization.
A Scale Unfamiliar: OZET Songs will be presented at The Brick in Williamsburg from April 1-5, for tickets and more information please visit bricktheater.com and OZET.us. http://ozet.us/