I must admit that prior to seeing Bug Incision perform at Koi café, whenever I heard the term “purely improvised” applied to music I immediately relegated it to the category of “cacophonous noisemaking” (though I arrived at the pejorative independently, I’m sure that many crotchety old bigots have thought of the exact phrase or something similar). While I did not deny its validity as a form of expression and I certainly approved of it conceptually, my dislike was purely aesthetic: I believed that improvisation was the most beautiful when contextualized by a regular, determined framework. I would think of how dizzying and alienating it was to hear for the first time the aural textures weaved by Ornette Coleman’s “free jazz” and his (in)famous plastic alto saxophone. Thankfully I now know that I was missing the point entirely: listening and reacting to Chris Dadge (percussion) play with Rosanna Terracciano (flamenco dance), and then with Jay Crocker (strings)*, my ears, mind, and heart opened to a new world.
Even before the first performance began, my interest was piqued by Chris’ kit: it is a Frankenstein of drums, cymbals, and doohickies, augmented at times by synthesized effects. What was even more impressive was watching it evolve over the course of each performance, every newly adapted facet simply another appendage of the beautiful creature of sound Chris becomes when he plays. And seeing all of this complicated, inorganic machinery interact with Rosanna’s own instrument, namely her powerful and sensuous body, the experience became synergistically greater than its parts.
It quickly became clear that this performance was about searching, about the sending and receiving of signals, and about the mutual acknowledgment of two people. You could see it in the spectacle: Rosanna marking a space with deliberate masterful gestures before erupting into a fury of steps, and Chris steadily and constantly rediscovering, tinkering, and recreating to complete the circuit of exchange. You could hear it in the sound: Rosanna made it clear that she speaks alternating between moments of silent potential and staccato explosion, Chris answering this excitedly with insistent chatter and subtle texture. So when Jay joined Chris for the second set, his unshod foot pressing pedals while coaxing a variety of stringed instruments to both sing sonorously and pulse rhythmically, I was swooning in the audience.
I feel grateful that this was my introduction to M:ST and to this kind of art in general , and that I could awaken to such an intense awareness of presence and connection. I’m told the former is the defining quality of performative art, and I believe that the latter is the goal of all art. Thus primed, I’m ready to discover what other epiphanies the festival has in store…
*(Many thanks to Jhernelyn Parinas for helpfully pointing out that Jay Crocker had to fill in for Thom Golub at the last minute, contrary to what this post’s first version indicated: my sincere apologies to the artists as well. In my defence I can only say that I was so affected by the experience that I must have missed Claudina’s introduction! Sorry!)