A review of the California EAR Unit
Fri, 30 May 1997 13:20:23 -0700

Ran across this in today's LA Times, thought I'd pass it along:
(You can read the LA Times Calendar section on line at

Friday, May 30, 1997

Music Review
At Season Finale, EAR Unit Salutes Dada
By MARK SWED, Times Music Critic

Dada didn't last long. It started in Zurich as an absurdist
response to World War I, then flickered briefly after the war
in Paris, Berlin and New York. But it cast its shadow, its mad
celebration of the absurd, over our century.
That shadow still looms, and the California EAR Unit planted
itself under it Wednesday night. For the final concert of its season at
the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it related historic Dada
performance to our times, going so far as to commission a new
piece from a former member of the Mothers of Invention, rock 'n'
roll's answer to Dada in the '60s.
Dada performance included revolutionary works by the likes of
Kurt Schwitters, who created whole sonatas derived from the
virtuosic recitations of syllables and phonemes. But Dadaists also
had a penchant for silly costumes and lobbing tomatoes at the
The EAR Unit eschewed the tomatoes, but one performer,
Charles Lane, dressed as a rapper in ski cap and shades and
reciting Schwitters "Doof," did squirt a water pistol at the first rows
of the Leo S. Bing Theater. Arthur Jarvinen and Gaylord Mowrey
donned reproductions of Hugo Ball's robotic costumes for "Gadji
beri bimba,"a work astonishing in its rhythms and vocal sound
effects. Lane also returned in foppish tails for a hilarious rendition
Schwitters' "Niesscherzo" (Sneezing Scherzo).
Still, it is not easy to re-create Dada times without seeming
quaint, and the EAR Unit's solution was to employ the Dadaist
principle of simultaneity, the attempt to mirror its visual collages
a theater of wildly unrelated actions performed simultaneously. So
Schwitters shared the stage with an excerpt from John Cage's
indeterminate "Song Books," which asks for theatrical actions and
which Amy Knoles interpreted as rummaging through old shoes.
And Cage shared the stage with Annea Lockwood's
wonderfully Dadaesque 1974 piece, "Spirit-Catchers," in which
four women speaking extemporaneously about an important
experience become one, thanks to a sound-mixer who continually
moves the live microphone.
Three such circuses set the tone for three recent works. The
most affecting was Eve Beglarian's "Landscaping for Privacy," in
which the composer read a sexually frank but haunting poem by
Linda Norton over an insinuating accompaniment of piano and
percussion (and an occasional wind). Not much Dada here, but
unrelated rhythms did underscore the poem's sense of alienation that
idyllic surroundings seem to invoke in urban New Yorkers.
The former Mother, Don Preston, was, however, far more
tenuously Dadaist, despite the pretensions of his new piece, "Bride
Stripped Bare." He used as a percussion instrument a sheet of glass
painted to resemble Marcel Duchamp's famous large glass, "The
Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even." But otherwise
Preston, who joined the EAR Unit as pianist for his piece, offered
little more than the kind of rambles Frank Zappa was known for in
his more serious instrumental pieces--a little jazz, a little funk, a
early 20th century classical gestures. Preston, however, was without
the Zappa personality.
The final work was a new arrangement that Jarvinen made of
"Songs of Drella," a cycle of songs by former Velvet Underground
members John Cale and Lou Reed in tribute to Andy Warhol.
These turned out to be dutiful transcriptions from rock
instrumentation to piano, electric keyboard, violin, cello and
percussion, with Jarvinen doing a decent job of mimicking Reed's
singing voice.
The actual connection between Warhol, the Velvet Underground
and Dada was more theory than practice, but the EAR Unit had a
brilliant stroke at the end. It faded in an LP recording made in 1965
of Aram Saroyan reading his poem "crickets," the poet repeating
the word until its sound becomes the sound of crickets. Who knows
why that should have seemed so terribly poignant? Dada is not the
kind of thing that ever held up very well to explanation.

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