Monday, March 03, 2008

Borges, Kihlstedt, Quarterly, Over, Under, Sideways, Down

The new Quarterly Conversation is up with the usual reviews, essays and so forth, though most interesting to me was this piece dealing with overrated and underrated books:

I like that one reviewer called the Bible dull and another called the Collected Fiction of Borges—which is held in equal regard as an untouchable, unquestionable text— overrated and lacking a rounded character. Now I love Borges, but his work is pretty much universally lauded, often I fear without proper investigation, so it’s funny to see someone come out on the opposite camp, even if I disagree.

Speaking of Borges, mi bella and I went to the MCA on Friday to see Carla Kihlstedt’s Necessary Monsters, which was fucking amazing. The performance—part concert, part play, but nothing like the Miss Saigon sort of thing that makes my blood boil and convinces me that theater is fucking horrible—was the sort of thing that makes me excited about art all over again.

The skinny:

The libretto, written by Rafael Oses, was inspired by Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings, which ranks high on the list of imaginative literature (I’m loathe to use the term “speculative literature” as it has a bad connotation). As the reviewer of the Quarterly Conversation aptly points out, Borges was not concerned with characters as much as ideas. This book (though I’ve only read pieces of it) contains plenty. More interesting is the way in which the work of Borges gets digested and re-imagined.

Kihlstedt wrote the music that comprises the bulk of the performance. Anyone familiar with her from that incredibly odd and beautiful bit of futurism inspired Sleepytime Gorilla Museum will come expecting damn near anything. And that is what was served up at the MCA. Much of Kihlstedt’s compositions rely on complex Gypsy inspired rhythms, heavy use of strings, dizzying percussion, rapid tempo shifts, building melodies, quasi-operatic vocals, you know, what many would sheepishly label “avant-garde.” In short: my kind of music. In the accompanying literature handed out before the show, Kihlstedt states that she sees divisions in types of musical expression to be increasingly irrelevant. I agree.

The songs were book-ended with narration by fellow Sleepytime Gorilla Museum member, percussionist and orator Matthias Bossi. I was truck by the ease with which Kihlstedt, Bossi and other musicians acted on stage. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum is famous for very theatrical live performances (and puppet shows), but I didn’t expect the players to double as actors.

There were cameras rolling the entire time, and I’m hoping that a DVD is released. I’d really enjoy a CD of the music as well. Kihlstedt and Co. bring a level of excitement to contemporary music that is desperately needed. It was great to see them invigorate theater as well.