"@narchy A2rbor" was performed at the Performance Network in
Ann Arbor, Michigan on August 21, 1993. It consisted of eighteen songs sung
at the piano (seventeen originals plus a medley of Fats Waller's "Reefer
Man" and our old highschool fight song "Push On Pioneers"),
spoken word and computer graphic projections. The songs were laced together
with commentary that contextualized them as explorations of "the uniquely
Ann Arbor aesthetic" embodied in its artists of my generation, though
many were written when I was living in California or New Hampshire.
The stage was set with an eight-foot hanging painted grape arbor, the town's namesake and centerpiece of the Ann Arbor City Seal I remember from my youth (now replaced with a spreading tree). Six small potted plants were arranged onstage, serving as an aide-memoire for musing upon, as well as to organize and introduce the topics that the songs were meant to illustrate. A "reflecting pool" delineated with painted rocks the screen on which projected imagery appeared. An Apple Macintosh IIci computer was connected to a Dukane LCD panel and overhead projector. Cycling HyperCard stacks of bitmapped imagery, their timing and dissolves programmed in HyperTalk, were launched with a single mouse click, while another invisible onscreen button on each stack returned to a main menu. A continuously cycling "pond" stack to which the screen would always return was intended but not built in time for the performance. Some of the imagery projected was scanned photography (especially historic local news photos), some cartoons or drawings, some ephemera like school corridor passes or absence slips. Some had text or featured combinations of rich, resonant local images peculiarly juxtaposed.
Chrysanthe Mosher opened the performance by reading an introductory text. She later read again--halfway through the two-hour performance--a selection that she had chosen about a teenage girl's sexual initiation from FUN, my novel of midwestern youth and rock n' roll. For this she was accompanied by Ben Miller on solo saxophone. I also read from FUN a selection about a garage band's debut at the school Science Fair, for which Ben provided improvisation upon an effects-enhanced guitar
. I'd never performed or played with Ben before, though bitmapped images of his bands and those of his brother Laurence appeared as onscreen buttons in my 1992 multimedia kiosk Collaborationation: Garage Bands, Community Murals and Cyberspace.
My longtime musical confidante Jimm Juback accompanied all the songs on electric guitar, with the exception of "Pixel Love" which featured Mark McNally. Jim Rees and Orin Buck taped the event for broadcast on Ann Arbor Public Access Television; Jim and I had produced a broadcast of my twenty-minute rock opera "Twilight of the Gymnasty" on it in 1974.
"@narchy A2rbor" follows an earlier HyperCard-driven performance piece on American history "Christopher Cumulonimbus", performed at the Philadelphia's University of the Arts in 1991 and then at the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1992. I chose to work with my old hometown's themes and imagery as this visit to Michigan was in part timed for us to attend my Ann Arbor Pioneer High School Class of 1973 twentieth reunion banquet the night before the performance.
That traditional celebration of those early '70s got me pondering that which was unique and had stuck with my generation growing up in Ann Arbor, in a liberal era with its grand flowering counterculture, our sensibilities exposed to powerful utopian forces at an early age.
Meanwhile the seemingly appropriate technology of low-res computer-assembled, computer-driven imagery, projected as a backdrop to accompany live performers, lets its visuals provide a layer of contrapuntal commentary upon the live musical and vocal content, one that follows its own pre-programmed timing. In this medium I was able to reflect anecdotally, visually and musically upon specific issues of politics, race relations, sexuality and romance, art, pranks, technology, drugs and drug laws, parents, literacy, numeracy and education; a range worthy of Ann Arbor's rich balance for growing up between the Apollonian discipline of the arbor and a certain Dionysian anarchy of the times.
--September 6, 1993