It is now Thursday night, September 20th and T:BA feels like that dream that you keep relating to, day in and out. After a few days of long sleep, the body comes back to its routine only to grapple with the oncoming fall season. Overcast in Portland comes in slowly with most afternoons burning off with bright sun and warm light; t-shirts and skirts find their way in again. The festival really ushers out the summer festival season.
But in truth, T:BA is not over yet and I am not ending my experience without really taking in the visual program. This coming Sunday marks the end of Claudia Meza’s Water. Other than that, everything closes on the 29th of the month.
The final day of T:BA began for me with Andrew Dickson’s T:BA Life Coach. I had previously predicted that I would be going through some sort of crisis-inspiration-transformation-deconstruction by the end of the festival. The reason for that is basically sustained exposure to performance and challenging creativity without doing much of my own. It is a sacrificial time each year, but it is educational and I spend the remaining year learning by action versus reporting.
In a hotel seminar room, with coffee and orange juice, we filled to capacity with me seated on the floor due to ten minutes of tardiness, I get this cult vibe. But it’s a safe place and if there is any cult, the following is not for Dickson so much as this festival. He speaks with the very tone that his colorful sweater implies. He refers to it as part of his preparation, explaining that it sooths us. Self-referential is contemporary, isn’t it? As a group, he asks us to look at one another and talk. Interestingly enough I happened to be sitting next to his neighbor. She was unfamiliar with T:BA and didn’t know what he did for a living other than Life Coach, but his face appeared in the paper and so he invited her. Her searching eyes struck me for a life more enriched and exciting than she experiences from day to day; that learning both about Dickson’s fame and this festival all together impressed her.
Then we got on to the life dilemma of a woman artist and teacher who is now past the bulk of her life, has raised her children, is now a bachelorette seeking that legacy project to carry her life out to sea with. Dickson’s approach for guidance seemed a little rushed to be in keeping with the schedule, but it is interesting to watch a person go through their life publicly, a thought process they are constantly reliving, arriving at a new place none the less. I bid her good luck.
She really impressed me with something unspoken though. She traveled and while in that state of traveling and living without agenda, she found herself unable to contemplate what she was doing, beyond “now it’s time to make tea … now it’s time to sleep” and those basic in-the-moment things, she was lost. But she moved right on from that point as quickly as she arrived. How Zen, you know, but how quickly is that filled up? Why this assumption that we need to “do something” beyond these basics? Is it possible to simply lie in the grass? Well my friend, these were the perfect things to contemplate while hearing improvised music from Japan.
Voices and Echoes from Japan was really behind-the-eyelids music. Opening was Akio Suzuki. I quite enjoyed him. His cans tethered by spring were most compelling when he developed a rhythmic texture. I suppose I was challenged to “do something” with that, because I could hear it with a lot more interaction. To be in the moment is to admit that we are gathered in a theater to watch an individual elderly man play with various experimental instruments that produce percussive sounds, hardly harmonic and just about never melodic. My several days passed memory is disruptive… I think he used vocal to produce melodic material.
Anyway, I liked him a lot more than Otomo Yoshide and Gozo Yoshimasu. Honestly, I’m over it: artists going through great lengths technically to produce essentially annoying experiences. I am a lover of music and I’ve studied the school of avant-garde, I have made noise and played for audiences that expect a great deal of annoying sounds but enjoyed my psychedelic but essentially non-threatening sounds. But I’m not here to put the kibosh on that; I’m here to play. So if I have nothing nice to say, I’ll just say that this audience showed a great deal of support and offered a healthy applause.
Laurie Anderson is so much better known than I understand. Firstly, many of my friends attended Dirtday! but didn’t attend the festival. And the music she has written over the years I am sure has made its way to my ears, but I haven’t found myself aware of her name. That said, she is in great alignment with my own interest as an artist: storyteller-composer-funny. That about sums up her act other than the visual aspect of staging it. The floor is littered with batter-powered candles that flicker so unnaturally that it is honestly more interesting to look at than real candles. For the purposes of this performance, that seems about right. On the left, a leather arm chair. On the right, a podium. In the center-left, a stand-alone rectangular white screen. The background, a white screen. Throughout the performance, lighting and projections change the tone and color, shifting with breaks between or during stories and jokes or anecdotes.
With a ninety-minute performance, she takes us through a handful of stories and a number of clever observations. The evening is narrated by solo violin and a slough of electronics tied by laptop. The constant churning of texture laying the bed for story was soothing in many ways. It has that casino effect. It was about that time that she showed us video of her deceased dog and I was somewhat anxious to get out the door and call it a festival. It’s charming and all, but it’s just been a long eleven days. That goes to show how the reviewer is biased right out the gate: they are exhausted by exposure and the laymen have a fresher point of view.
Curtain call and I’m out the door. I grabbed my bag from coat check – still just a dollar – and scooted on home for a long night’s rest. This week has been jammed with catch up. It’s amazing the blinders I put on to maintain this immersion. My final entry has yet to come. I will actually run through my original word document one last time, adding, removing, editing, and providing more insight where insight is had. Then I will format it for a zine and print out a physical copy and pdf. Please keep a look out for that. But my next post will be a review of the visual program.