Mobius, Boston's artist-run center for experimental work in all media is hidden on Congress Street, on the wrong side of South Station. It offers some of the most interesting, daring, creative - in short, most important work in the Boston area. Its not always successful - if it were, it wouldn't be experimental; it would be OLD. One of their recent excursions to the theater HINTERLANDS was THE EDGE OF MEANING: A 20 YEAR EXPLORATION OF A LINGUISTIC FRONTIER, a performance of nine solo recitation pieces by Mobius member Larry Johnson. And a strange little linguistic outing it was.
The opening piece begins in Old English; the sounds becoming increasingly familiar, and are finally projected toward a new, flat vowelness - Future American. Another presents a striking linguistic metaphor for fascism. Interesting, both. Yet another presents a sort of acrostic essay in which the successive words begin with the consecutive letters of the DNA code of gene B of the virus phiX174. Rather too ARBITRARY for my tastes, or too much in the mind of the artist. Letters are not sounds.
In the most interesting - or do I mean accessible? - pieces, Johnson repeats a phrase, substituting one sound for all instances of another, cumulatively, so that the number of sounds altered increases with each repetition. Somehow, the sound of the phrase degenerates to a drone, much like the singing of those traveling Tibetan monks. Johnson then reverses the process, modifying sounds and adding consonants, each repetition using more recognizable phonemes, until he arrives a second meaningful phrase. Johnson writes: There comes a point in the text where it is barely understandable, and shortly afterwards loses all meaning. Between these two points is the edge of meaning. Note that we pass the same point on the return trip. Another piece reverses the process, moving from drone to phrase to drone. Most intriguing. Its all a study in the quality of REDUNDANCY.
Directors notes are crucial to work like this.Unfortunately, Johnson fails
to clarify either the nature or the process of the piece - they only add
obscurities. They contain fascinating suggestions of associations between
thought or senses or emotion with sound, but I suspect you have to read
Johnson's library to make sense of them. And while audiences need to be
GUIDED through new forms, we shouldn't need a half-term seminar. Much of this
THE EDGE is JETSAM, making for an intriguing but unsatisfactory performance.
But in its essence, it raises our consciousness of language and shapes a new
spoken art. Note how Larry points us in that direction: the audience sat mute
after the first few pieces, and then began to applaud each one. Here was
Mobius contribution in microcosm - the educating of an audience to a new
At The Mobius Arts Center, 354 Congress Street, Boston
February 23, 24
with Tom Plsek on the trombone