I always thought that gay drunk hobo Harry Partch (also a noted composer, inventor of new instruments and purveyor of mythological spectacle) should have had as big an influence on contemporary classical music as say, Stravinsky. Kraig Grady seems to think so too, but rather than campaign for a change in the contemporary musical landscape, Grady simply invented his own. As liaison for the Isle of Anaphoria, a sort of ideal Indonesian atoll apparently populated by an anarcho-syndicalist collective of artists, theater people, experimental musicians and ethnomusicologists, Grady has overseen the dissemination of Anaphorian culture in the L.A. area for just over a decade. This has entailed a broad range of activities including performances and recordings of Anaphoria’s droning or percussive traditional music, the voluminous and endlessly fascinating Web site at www.anaphoria.com, and, most recently, a series of shadow plays reenacting Anaphorian mythology.
As a fan of both microtonal music (where instead of 12 tones in an octave you have 24, or 96, or 666 or, if I understand correctly in this case, 12 slightly different tones) and imaginative narrative umbrellas that collect wide-ranging art practices à la the Museum of Jurassic Technology, I was well-prepared to enjoy Frenzy at the Royal Threshold at the Norton Simon October 24. The music was amazing, particularly the deep ringing notes of the enormous xylophonelike Mt. Mesa instruments — only the most impressive of the homemade instruments used in the performance. It was hard to believe that the complex music — emerging from behind the backlit scrim — was live, partly improvised, without electronic amplification, and performed by the same people handling the puppets backstage. The visuals were almost as impressive, ranging from cut-out puppets similar to the familiar ancient Indonesian variety to swirling optical effects suited to psychedelic light shows of the ’60s. The narrative — a sweet mishmash of the kinds of Hindu love stories Joseph Campbell was always spewing — was a little fuzzy in spots, but the fact that much of the dialogue was ad-libbed gave the performance a thrilling improvisational edge.
Afterward, the performers emerged from behind the screen lugging puppets, some instruments and even one of the patched-together light boxes. Frenzy finally won me over by the fact that it was so strongly reminiscent of the kind of theater that I encountered in public school in the 1970s — grant-funded multicultural puppetry performed by DIY hippies that was far stranger than it seemed at the time. It’s a form that deserves reviving, and the Shadow Theater of Anaphoria has nailed it — right down to the informal Q&A. The oddest thing is that they only do these performances occasionally and seldom repeat material. The next one’s set for the Pacific Asia Museum in May. Mark your calendars now.
Lynn Aldrich | Carl Berg Gallery, 6018 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles Through November 8
Dennis Hollingsworth | Chac Mool Gallery, 8920 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood | Through November 15