A museum gallery is an apt place for some drone music. As I’ve mentioned before, Chicago has a pretty active scene for drone music, which is a catch-all term for music with sustained notes or chords. The Chicago duo White/Light has an installation all this month at the Museum of Contemporary Art: a dark room filled with cabinet speakers and a couple of old tape machines. The tapes spin around, creating humming sounds that come out through the various speakers. If you spend a little time in the room, listening closely, you’ll notice different noises coming out of the various amps.
It’s a great spot for a little meditation. You’ll think that you’ve seen and heard everything there is to experience in this room after about 90 seconds, but linger for a while and let the sound wash over you.
That’s also the best attitude to take when experiencing a live performance of drone music. At various times during the month, White/Light’s Matt Clark and Jeremy Lemos and guest musicians have been performing in this space, improvising off the room’s droning vibe. The most famous of the guest musicians, Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, played with the duo Saturday afternoon (March 20). Shelley’s thumping mallets added throbbing rhythms to the abstract guitar and keyboard sounds, giving the music a bit of the same feeling as Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.” The music built from a quiet intro into loud thump — loud enough that I saw one parent exiting the room with a young boy who was grimacing with his hands over his year. Ear plugs, folks — wear ear plugs!
Upcoming performances: March 23, 7 p.m.: Lucky Dragons. March 27, 3 p.m.: Félicia Atkinson: Saturday. March 28, 3 p.m.: White/Light.
When a book is adapted for the stage or screen, one of the hardest things to capture is the author’s voice. Without a lot of narration, the way the author tells the story tends to disappear. So why not include the actual words on the page? How about every single word? As insane as that idea might sound, it’s exactly what the New York theater company Elevator Repair Service has done with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
The group’s play, called Gatz, is hardly a straightforward adaptation of The Great Gatsby, however. Performed three times this past weekend at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the 6 1/2-hour Gatz presents the odd spectacle of an employee in a drab office who finds a copy of the novel in his desk and then proceeds to read it aloud. At first, the other employees around him seem to be aware of what he’s doing, giving him odd looks. But after a while, they all begin providing the voices for the various characters within the novel. Don’t worry about the logic of this. Of course, the actual office employees wouldn’t know all of those lines without looking at the page. At this point, Gatz is becoming a weird little world with a logic of its own.
It’s a highly conceptual piece of theater as well as a staged reading of the novel. It was a bit like hearing a book on tape mixed with performance art. The milieu of the office reminded me of Ben Katchor’s comic strips, and some humor arose from the way the office workers perform Fitzgerald’s great story. As unconventional as all of this was, it still managed to stay true to the novel. As the narrator, Scott Shephard achieved the Herculean task of reading the whole damn book. Halfway through the show, I marveled at seeing how many pages he had turned. And 45 minutes or so from the end, he set down the book and recited the rest from memory. A stillness descended on the theater for Fitzgerald’s final elegiac passage. It had been a long haul for the audience, with two intermissions and a dinner break, but my attention never lagged, and by the exhausting end of the ordeal, the long standing ovation and three curtain calls felt like the least we could do to honor the amazing performance we’d just witnessed.