“Variazioni su un Oggetto di Scena/Mr. Quill Let There Be Light/Louganis” by Luciano Chessa

Friday, 28 June 2013
10:00 pm
Pigott Theater

Blog Response by Yasmine Jahanmir

Photos by Jamie Lyons9210386981_99d32bbdfb_o

The bare stage was dark except for a pool of light focused on a center stage  grand piano. A stage hand placed what may or may not have been sheet music onto the piano and exited the stage. After a moment, with the ceremony of a concert pianist, Luciano Chessa  entered the performance space and faced the audience to present himself. Then just at the moment where this familiar symphonic scene would have him sit at the piano, he seemed to be struck by a thought, left the stage and re-entered with a large stuffed toy cow, returned to the moment in the conventional symphonic script and sat at the piano with the cow on his lap. But with another disruption in the flow of this event, Chessa manipulated the stuffed cow’s clumsy limbs over the keys of the piano. The rotund paws of the stuffed beast sloppily pounded the keys producing a cacophony of noise.  Yet, perhaps it was the sincere connection between the animate and inanimate or the joyful absurdity of memories that the childhood toy recalled, or perhaps it was the sheer exhaustion of having heard words all day, but after about thirty seconds, my ears began to hear differently and suddenly I began hearing, or perhaps imagining, a melody within the cascade of notes.  This melody which may or may not have existed became a calming meditation in the otherwise chaotic aural present of the moment. This scene opened “Variazoni,” the first part of Chessa’s larger performance entitled “Tre.” Like the larger piece, “Variazioni” dealt with themes of transmission and the painful or chaotic errors noise that arise in any type of communication. While I fear this performance trace may fall into pitfalls of cross-disciplinary analysis, as experimental music and noise are not my area of expertise,  I hope that, in the spirit of this piece, that my misreadings will at least prove productive.

Part I continued with a repetition of the stuffed toy motif as we were treated to piano recitals of a sweet brown bear and lithe old-fashioned doll. Although the melody seemed to become more and more discernible as the form of the toy changed the capacity of the musical instrument, but each relationship became sweeter and more melancholic which made me long for the happier, albeit more chaotic,  moment of the clumsy cow. This affirmed Chessa’s claim that the toys’ performances “was presented in reversed order and without their theme,” so that any imagined telos was obfuscated through an affective circularity.

9213166162_a6109e8990The second movement, or “Mr. Quill, let there be light (2013), for bullhorn,” brought a darker quality to overarching theme of the failure of communication. Chessa stood on a completely dark stage speaking into a bullhorn while one of his performance helpers circled him with a flashlight, alternating between blinding Chessa and blinding the audience. The program suggests that his spoken text a letter of rejection from a journal that stated “the reader found your submission to be overly fragmented and elliptical.” However, due to the loud feedback of the bullhorn, we could only hear bits and pieces of his text and  the auditory and visual overstimulation only compounded this fragmented effect by distracting us even further from the text that we could hear. This striking refusal of Chessa to deny the audience full access of sound and sight deliciously threatens the usual goal of direct transmission in performance practices.

The third and final piece of this triptych of sound was entitled “Louganis” and accompanied by a quote from Louganis in the program: “I stretch my body towards the water, feel the water rushing through my body and then…silence. It’s a peace that only divers know.” For this piece, Chessa sat on plush chair, took off his vest and tie and then turned the TV on. On the screen were scenes of water surfaces from lakes and pools, sometimes reflecting the hint of something above. Chessa then started strumming the inside strings of the piano. And just like watching diving, in which you are amazed at what they do but don’t know how they do it, Chessa seemed to place something inside the piano that created a euphonic white noise. He would sporadically return to the piano to play a one-handed simple melody that was so drowned in noise was hardly discernible; it was like hearing from  underwater. Abruptly all the noise ended and Chessa returned to the chair to watch the water video in silent peace. In perhaps what was the most transparent message of this piece, the silence was Louganis “diver’s peace.”  But what Louganis doesn’t mention about underwater peace is that it is temporary and fleeting. After a few seconds, the peace is replaced by concerns of breath and ear pressure. However, as Chessa continued to sit there in silence, he expanded this ephemeral peace into a beautifully impossible duration, allowing the audience to revel in the sensuous experience of silence.

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