Arts Review Festival

Don’t Be Afraid to Use Your Voice

The real first day of T:BA is the second one. A launch party and some gallery shows are good and revealing, but the curation is not exposed until Portland’s theaters are brimming with activity. In my How-To Guide for T:BA, I neglect to mention a strategy for getting between theaters and what to expect from venues. In my first year, back in 2007, I didn’t understand how theater seating worked. My parents not a once took me to the Ballet or any off-Broadway thing. So I want to stress this for everyone: buy your tickets in advance; pass-holders should arrive early. So far, I have seen at-capacity attendance. Tim Hecker sold out days ago.

Early on, I attended Jennifer West’s talk on the subject of her installation at Fashion Tech, Flashlight Filmstrip Projections. Down one flight of stairs, you can view INFINITY INCREASER, by Lisa Radon, and Uncounted Futures, by Emily Roysdon. There are no comments for that, from me, at this point, because I am going to digest all the visual work in a later article.

The two feature performances of the night stretched traditional singing styles in to experimental areas. Samita Sinha sings from a background of Indian Classical in Cipher. Tanya Tagaq is a throat singer with an immediate heritage to the Inuk Eskimo and provides live film score to Nanook of the North. Both are strong and lively women seeking the outer edge of their discipline.

I was seated in the back of Winningstad Theater, center, and from this view two ropes string across and overhead, narrowing toward a triangle on the floor that points oppositely. The stage is littered with mysterious things, two of which hang from rope extending out of view. When Sinha enters, it seems that she is at the top tier of the courtyard style theater, out of view, but her voice drifts down and expands in the room as if emanating from your own mind.

When Samita manifests on stage, she continues along that line. But now we watch her. These random things all have a relationship to her sound and her actions. The hanging items turn out to be speakers, looping tabla samples by DJ Dave Sharma. These are switched on and left running with moderate changes for most of the performance. The beat is lilting and almost incomplete. It is very simple. A synthesizer track will enter, providing bass or ambience, then it will go away.

Sinha’s behavior and voice expresses raw emotion and pure mood. But I was not entirely convinced of its authenticity. Audience members sometimes chuckled. I will admit that it was hard for me to take Cipher seriously. I felt like I was seeing through her well-meaning ego versus exploring subjectivity vicariously through a vulnerable artist. The end gained power with a clever lighting effect and this minimal music. Leading up to that, it felt meandering and self-conscious.

Tanya Tagaq, however, allowed herself to become possessed and perhaps invisible. Not a moment of wandering, each section came off very intentional. Some of the vocabulary was rehashed, some of the moods and rhythms came back around, but that did not impede the track of the art negatively. In other words, they might have the capacity to explore further, but they stuck with what worked and, well it worked. Drums by Jean Martin and electronic violin from Jesse Zubot over a pre-framed score by Derek Charke left just enough sonic room for Tagaq’s pulsating vocals.

Tanya introduced the band and explained the film a little before starting. Her personality seems light and free, definitely with a sense of humor. Her grandmother was born in an igloo, demonstrating her close ties to the indigeneous throat singing technique. Traditionally, singers work acappella and in pairs, so two women singing at one another’s mouth. Divorced from that, she works the rhythms and timbers in to a dense sonic environment and it truly becomes and instrument to itself.

As things get moving, she embodies emotion and a variety of persona without any sense of theatrics. She moves provocatively but it cycles, its not about steps really. She transcends your expectations and becomes a throat singing diva—she is dressed glamorously versus traditionally. Her eyes are tightly shut and voice glued to the microphone. Jumping, crouching, kneeling, she seems to forget there is an audience altogether but maintains connection. She could embody a demon or a loving mother from one moment to the next.

I admit that it is easier to understand and engage with the material she presented, but the bottom line for me was that it felt more authentic. Comparison between these two is fruitless, I mean that its apples versus oranges. Tomorrow, I will attend a talk with both of them at PICA and will supply any insights that I can gain from it.

Last night’s WORKS was not as robust. Dropping Gems wasn’t doing it for me. Although the Portland-based electronic music network provided a nice backdrop for people to relax casually and talk over, it didn’t engage the hundreds of people there. Satellite rooms were cozy and activated but the main stage felt vacuous. I’m listening to their Soundcloud feed right now. It’s perfect for me now, but I’m sitting in my home office, alone.

It is okay if electronic music does not inspire everyone to dance. But nothing about the environment matched. Floor blankets and pillows would have worked. A visual arts component; curating projections would have better aligned to PICA’s mission of cross-disciplinary presentation. At the end of the day, the onus is on the talent to produce something special. Dropping Gems dropped the ball.

Today, I am taking the day off from T:BA but will be in attendance for Artist Repertory Theater’s first opening night production of their new season.

Sean Ongley

By Sean Ongley

Co-Founder of THRU Media. A background in non-profit, music, and radio preceded my ambitions here. Now, I aspire to produce new media and publish independent journalism at this site and beyond.

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