Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fringe: Big Beat/Back Flow

Photo/Makoto Takeuchi

In the late 1970s, Walter Thompson wanted to find a way to conduct what were essentially jam sessions, and invented a language that would allow him to spontaneously compose a piece, drawing on the energies of any artist around him, be they dancers, musicians, actors, and so on. This technique, known as soundpainting, is the spine of Big Beat/Back Flow, but the visceral effect is like watching Pollock do theater. Evan Mazunik, a James Lipton-like soundpainter, eventually manages to build a lyrical jazz structure out of the chaos (kudos to Eric John Eigner's steady percussion), and that's impressive--to a degree--but the evening is meant for those who get their kicks freebasing to jam bands and Brian Eno. On the whole, the sound of Josh Sinton laughing through his saxophone or Ryan Kotler squeaking two bass bows together is slightly more entertaining and musical than nails on a chalkboard. There's a method to the madness--behold the elegant beauty of chaos--but that doesn't make it any less mad. On a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being "More like backwash than back flow" and 5 being "A picture's worth a thousand notes," Big Beat/Back Flow gets a 1.5.

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