Into the Widening Gyre
Collapse: A Post-Ecological Requiem – by Daniel Corral, for Timur and The Dime Museum – March 27, 2014, REDCAT
How will the end of the world play out? With a bang or a whimper? With mournful lamentation or furious dies irae? Vengeful and wrath-laden or becalmed? In paroxysms of grief or a hemorrhage of hilarity and hysteria? Well of course it will be all of these things.
It will be a spectacle. Everything already is – albeit experienced remotely by the on-line, linked-in live-streaming majority. It may encompass avalanches, tsunamis, and comparable earth movements of epic proportions; massive die-offs, and similar occasions of grief and misery. We’ve already had Fukushima, Chernobyl, etc. – as we’re reminded in a dateline that floats before us on the screen backdrop of the REDCAT stage, ticking off the dates of signal disasters in our history of flirtation with the atom and its highly reactive and radioactive particles. (Elsewhere in the show, we have a more vivid sense of reactivity and contingency, as video designer Jesse Gilbert fills the screen with storms, landscapes, highways, and constantly morphing abstract graphics, with live-camera manipulation by Sandra Powers layering over magnified images of the performers and their faces.)
It is a moment where we expect a certain escalation in the sound and fury; but we’ve come to ‘bury’ the radioactive in this section of Collapse, Daniel Corral’s “post-ecological” Requiem – to bask in the reflected ‘glow’ as eternal as any flame, given some likelihood that it will only be extinguished with the planet’s death.
The scale of quantifiers for such disaster is calmly, deliberately spoken by a woman’s voice (Genevieve Birchman) as a kind of litany, accompanied serenely on keyboard and electronics by the composer – who is also the keyboardist, electronics wiz and multi-instrumentalist of The Dime Museum.
In strides The Dime Museum’s leader, the charismatic tenor, Timur, looking pretty radioactive himself (after his first costume change) in an iridescent suit of lights – silken brocaded fabric embroidered or shot through with foils and crystals – as if to consecrate the ‘sarcophagus’ that must inevitably go up around the “Level 6” or “Level 7” nuclear disasters. The antiphonal follow-through in this “Dies Irae” is a kind of burial benediction – “in the water; in the air; in your bones.” The one thing it isn’t is dying. And if ‘it isn’t over until it’s over,’ it screams for a coda, played here as a kind of mambo – or maybe ‘bombo’ – as in “We’ve got the bomb!”
Thinking back to the wrath and fury evoked by passages of certain Haydn masses, I wondered if that “Demon Chora” recitation might have worked as well in the ‘Kyrie.’ Collapse is structured and played out as a requiem mass, along the formal liturgical lines of the Roman Catholic rite with songs (I want to say ‘arias’ because that’s what they are–essentially rock arias) corresponding almost exactly with the rites and recitations of the Latin mass. But just as Timur is not a typical operatic tenor, this is not a typical requiem. Nor for all of its theatricality is it anything like Verdi’s Requiem. It might be regarded as a rock opera (Lou Reed’s Berlin comes to mind as a point of comparison); but what it really is, is nothing less than a multi-media spectacle.
This is a rite of mourning played as dark celebration, a satanic mass for our plainly satanic self-satisfaction. Petrochemical disasters and ocean suffocating plastics may threaten entire sections of oceans (“Pacific Gyre Holiday”), but what the hell? Just another gorgeous day to relax at the beach for the rest of us. (Gilbert and Powers fill the screen here with 1960s-era beach blanket/surfer nostalgia.) Corral is flexing his music muscles here in a few different directions, veering some distance from The Dime Museum’s familiar eastern European cabaret inflected art rock turf, to a broad range of styles from hard blues rock to minimalist avant-pop to proto-punk (with toes dipped along the way in the English music hall (in the manner of the Kinks) to the suave and ironic art rock style of Roxy Music, to the Beach Boys (“Pacific Gyre”) and Broadway.
In other words, for all its structural fidelity to a form that was once a vehicle for the likes of Bach, Haydn and Mozart, this is something quite different. It’s a coherent, even cogent, but stylistically unwieldy sequence of songs. It takes a special talent to impart that cogency, that urgency. (Did I just write that? You see how exhausted I am? – I actually felt hopeful for a second.) I can’t think of many operatic tenors up to the challenges of this chameleon avatar-officiant role. (And I just saw a terrific tenor (Saimir Pirgu) tear through the last act of Lucia like a flaky croissant.) And here’s another difference between Timur and, say, Pavarotti. Timur can rock. I could easily reach back to Bryan Ferry, Morrissey, even Iggy Pop – you hear those antecedents, as much in the music as in the delivery – but Timur eludes easy comparisons. He is simply Timur; and Collapse is a vehicle ideally suited to his virtuosity and versatile musicianship, and innate theatricality.
Speaking of theatricality, the costumes for the entire band are by Bohemian Society designer, Victor Wilde, and they are superb. Timur’s are simply non-pareil spectacular – from the slightly satantic black ‘abbé Moloch’ costume (replete with liturgical stole) to the Roxy-ish ‘suit of lights’ to a tango ‘two-in-one’ half-suit and glittery bustier-petticoat (split down the middle).
Would you entrust your children to this ‘Abbé’ Moloch? We probably won’t have any choice – but with a delivery this mesmerizing, you probably “won’t even notice” they’ve abandoned you for such toxic terrain. It’s the singer, not the song.