Last weekend, Tyler and I went to see the Oakland-based electroacoustic duo Myrmyr at Enemy, a tiny secret-type venue on the third floor of a building right near the buzzing intersection of Damen, North & Milwaukee in Wicker Park. I’d seen a photo of Myrmyr, along with a recommendation from Peter Margasak, in the Reader that day.
Their photo made me instantly excited. I can haz women composers and string players?
Arriving at Enemy was sort of like arriving at a meeting of Fight Club. Three flights of abandoned, industrial stairs; a tiny plaque reading ENEMY in neon green; a heavy metal door. “After you,” my brave husband said.
If traditional classical venues intimidate with their enormous stages, gilded seats, and bizarre audience rituals, then hipster experimental venues threaten with their lack of signage, noncompliance with fire code, and possibility of physical danger. AND both communities might be accused of snobbery. Take Enemy’s web page: “We are generally not interested in rock shows, even if you can bring in 200 of your bros from the suburbs.” Fertile common ground!
Enemy is a pretty bare-bones venue — it’s BYOB; there were about thirty metal chairs set up in neat rows, and some couches behind. The first opening act, a solo electric guitarist called Holy Family, muttered to himself as he set up: “I’m not used to playing shows where people have chairs.”
I liked his music. Using live looping techniques, layer by layer, he created a beautiful wall of sound that you could groove to, sort of like a Steve Reich texture. And although all that machinery (loops, pedals, amps — I know, I’m old-fashioned) sometimes makes it hard to know what’s happening, his performance had a human element.
The same couldn’t be said of the next opener, Foisy/Jendon/Weis, a trio of electric guitar, synth and drums. (Although the show was running an hour behind, these guys took their time, chatting and drinking before they started playing – maybe waiting for friends to show up.) The synth and drums were so overpowering that the electric guitarist, fiddling too often with thousands of dollars in equipment, might as well not have been onstage. Their piece was too long; a few audience members could be observed sleeping. Again, fertile common ground!
And then, Myrmyr got ready to go. Two attractive, efficient women of Scandinavian heritage. They had a small carpet prepared with all of their looping pedals, multi-tracks, handbells color-coded by pitch, small harps, flutes, etc. Agnes, the cellist, put on her headset and starting singing. She tuned her crazy cool electric cello. They moved quickly and, in about ten minutes, had prepared a musical smorgasbord which revealed, without playing a note, that these ladies are in a different league than their openers. As I later learned, both women are composers trained at Mills College and have a multitude of solo and collaborative projects in the works.
Their music is beautiful; their live show is a tribute to (the perils and rewards of) multitasking. Play cello, press pedal, loop. Sing, press pedal four times, loop. Ring bell, loop. Ring bell, loop. Play small harp. Sing again.
Although my classically trained ear occasionally wanted something to be better executed and better in tune, I enjoyed every minute of watching them. Doesn’t this say something about balancing our priorities as performers? It was a jangly, raw, imaginative and fun experience — and the audience LOVED it. People around me were grinning from ear to ear. They loved the performers, the instruments, the spectacle of it all.
Note to string players: people just freakin’ love the violin and the cello. So don’t be scared. Put it out there. Put it out there at a venue packed with bearded guys. It’ll go over big.
Cross-posted at the Chicago Q Ensemble blog.