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Bhima Swarga: Ikue Mori and Matthew Welch with Gamelan Dharma Swara

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Last Saturday, Matthew Welch, Ikue Mori and the Gamelan Dharma Swara collaborated at John Zorn’s privately curated venue, The Stone, to present a live video performance with traditional Balinese gamelan music.  The concert was part of a five-day Avant-Gong Mini Festival taking place at the Stone from July 1-6. 


Mori is well known for co-founding the seminal no wave outfit, DNA, as well as her collaborations with Kim Gordon, Jim O’Rourke, DJ Olive, John Zorn and Mike Patton.  For this performance, Mori animated characters from traditional paintings and during the performance added effects and manipulated the video.

Matthew Welch is known for combining the bagpipe with modern jazz.  In this performance, Welch combined the tradition sound of Gamelan music with his trademark bagpipes.  Welch’s musical performance was quite moving.  The combination of the traditional gamelan music with Welch’s sparse pipes worked perfectly.  It is rare that a blend of East and West creates compelling mesh without treading into ‘Bollywood beats’ or ‘sitar rock’ territory.  His performance encouraged me to check out his 2005 Tzadik debut, “Dream Tigers,” which goes way beyond the expected combination of bagpipes with modern jazz. 

However, Mori’s video performance was disappointing.  The problem with Mori’s visual work is common among artists working with Jitter (Cycling 74’s add-on to MAX/MSP).  Unconfident about using the animated images alone, she crowded the digital canvas with a series of rapid, ever-changing canned Jitter effects.  It was evident that most of her effects were filters that come pre-packaged with the software.  Mori’s constant use of chroma-keying, negative imaging and video scrubbing transformed an original animation into a jarring and overbearing visual attack.  The performance would have been more effective in darkness.

It made me question live video’s place in performance art.  On the one hand it can simply provide eye candy for clubbers zoning out to acid-house, functioning simply as a slave to accompany live music. Or live video can provide a much more meaningful experience. I am certain that the video is powerful enough to stand alone, but two things need to happen that didn’t happen in this performance.  First, the video artist needs to utilize a wider variety of visual possibilities that Jitter offers, as opposed to relying on overused Jitter effects.  Second, the visual component has to be better integrated with the music.  This does not mean that the visual artist has to edit on beat like a music video, but there does have to be some visceral connection between the two.  Despite my misgivings about this particular performance, I am optimistic about the future of this type of collaboration. 

Last Updated on Friday, 07 July 2006 00:08  


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