Review: Curated by Meredith Monk – Phil Kline’s NOT OK, with Jim Jarmusch

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When: Wednesday April 5, 2017 at 8pm
Where: Roulette

The name of New York composer Phil Kline is synonymous with the global cult Unsilent Night – the annual one night in December public artwork, which invites members of the public to collaborate in a street performance combining boomboxes and shared soundtracks.

The sum of the parts of Kline is one part rock musician, (having co-founded the band Del-Byzanteens with filmmaker and composer/musician Jim Jarmusch), one part performance artist, and one part classical music composer. Kline is an artist who crosses multiple boundaries bringing his diverse immersions in literature, theater, and the visual arts to progress meanings and sound worlds of what we call avant-garde music. At a concert at Brooklyn’s regarded venue Roulette showcasing Kline’s concert and multi-media works (2005–2017), the Meredith Monk curated evening brought two sets of Kline’s signature streams of creativity.  The first set detailed text-inspired vocal music and piano music and the second delivered a filmic soundscape.

Kline’s program notes informed the audience of the decisions behind the dense poetic and prosaic text choices inspiring his vocal set. The excerpts included pieces from his opera in progress on Nikola Tesla, to film scripts featuring Joan Crawford. Kline’s vocal writing hovers on the precipice of recitative and cabaret song. The vocal lines hinge on sparse chord-based accompaniments with limited harmonic journeys. The accompaniments principally piano based, also offered augmentation opportunities from the viola and marimba for three songs.

The transparent quality of the writing places more pressure on the vocalist to deliver the text and the dramatic arc. Mezzo–soprano Jacqueline Horner – Kwiatek was not ideally cast. Horner-Kwiatek’s light voice, while bell-like in tone, shies from vibrato, especially in her higher tessitura. Kline’s compositional approach, the grimy intentionality of his chosen texts combined with the requisite characterization of the imposing Joan Crawford, would, perhaps, be better served by a cabaret singer, rock singer or a singing actress. Think Ute Lemper, meets Regina Spektor, meets Bjork.

After the text based focus of the first half, Kline’s signature boom boxes pinned the base of a soundscape + silent film montage in an improvisational and industrial musical setting focusing on Kline and Jim Jarmsuch on guitars, with David Cossin on drum-kit.  Each artist contributed to a carpet of distortions, playbacks, effects, avant-garde techniques and cross feeds inspired by and in collaboration with an edited, black and white edited footage of Thomas Edison’s shots of New York.  This was a threshold experience that demonstrated through the application of music articulated how the color gray can be experienced and felt.

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About Author

Xenia Hanusiak is a cultural journalist and critic, essayist, poet, writer for stage, and festival curator whose work is published and performed across the globe. Informed by her practice as an opera singer and scholar, Xenia has given the world and country premieres of some of the most influential composers of our time including Kaija Saariaho, John Harbison, Elena Kats-Chernin and Zhang Xiaofu for some of the world’s leading festivals including the Next Wave Festival, (New York), Kennedy Center (Washington), Singapore Arts Festival, Gruppo Aperto Musica Oggi (Florence) and Beijing Music Festival. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing & Literature and, is a visiting scholar at Columbia University (New York), Peking University and Kookmin University (Korea). Her works for the stage include: the play Ward B; Un_labelled (Elena Kats-Chernin, Young Peoples’ Chorus of New York City); the libretto A thousand doors, a thousand windows (Melbourne International Arts Festival, Singapore Arts Festival); Earth Songs (Homart Theatre) and the dramatic monologue, The MsTaken Identity (Adelaide Festival of Arts/Australian String Quartet). Recent journalism publications include contributions on Laurie Anderson, Marina Abramovic, Anri Sala, Philippe Parreno, singers Dawn Upshaw, Kiri Te Kanawa, Leonard Cohen, composers Tan Dun, Nikko Mulhy, Lisa Gerrard and writers Clarice Lispector and Rita Dove.

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