OPPENHEIM AND COLE PLUGGED IN: MULTI-MEDIA SLIGHTLY BETTER IDEA BRINGS THE SURREAL TO THOMPSON’S POINT
This weekend’s event serves as both a performance work and an album release, and is the latest offering from an artist who first vaulted into the downtown New York art scene in 1970s and ’80s, in the performance work of her father, and in 1980 — at the age of 10 — with the child-band album Transportation. Her new album follows the 2009 re-release of Transportation; after initial brainstorming with film composer Paul Brill, Oppenheim realized her ambitious, idiosyncratic project in collaboration with Cole, who also plays keyboards in the live piece.
Accompanied by the cool synth-pop of musicians Cole, Dan Capaldi, Sean Bolduc and Evan Casas, along with vocalist Katherine Matzell Frederick — all of them dressed in all-white casual and sneakers, à la a Japanese pop band — Oppenheim narrates an associative, oblique and echoing stream-of-consciousness. As she does, she repeats a series of stylized poses mirrored, to her left and right, in video stills of a white-gowned blonde lounging in a spacious sunlit studio. Other video images are more whimsically surreal — a window-pane on a window-pane; four Magritte-esque quadrants framing a pair of scissors, a clock, a rabbit, a tape recorder.
Like memory and obsession, Oppenheim’s poetic, enigmatic narration is rife with loops and leaps, repetition and omission. “What I will do is I will walk quietly and slowly toward you,” she pronounces, scrupulously clean of inflection, and repeats, over the beats and bass lines of the band behind her. In words and delivery, she seems at once earnest and wry, at once embracing, deconstructing, and sending up the conventions of love story and lyric. “Did you forget that you meant to fight harder,” she speaks, then, dully, “La, la, la, la, la.”
The narrative soon constellates into more stirring specifics of setting and story, a well-paced rise in stakes well-matched by the staging. “What were you doing in my neighborhood, in the Brooklyn branch of the New York Public Library, in that special section,” she speaks, and then vocalist Frederick takes up the line as driving pop-rock, a smoke machine starts up, and Oppenheim — on the sofa, eyes closed — intones, “It felt nice anyway.”
As a performer, Oppenheim has an unflinching hazel-eyed gaze, piercingly clear articulation and a statuesque poise perfectly suited to the choreography’s clean-edged, Asian-inflected stylization. As she circles again and again over a phrase — “even with a fleet, even with a fleet of lovers” — her head rolls up and around again and again; her hands again and again form a platform, a controlled wave. The overall effect is hypnotic and interestingly ambiguous in tone, sometimes aching, sometimes quietly arch or even tinged in knowingly deadpan camp, as when full-on lounge-jazz vocals repeat Oppenheim’s line, “Did you just roll out of a dream?”
There is certainly nothing else like A Slightly Better Idea on deck this fall, and the production boasts a couple experiential surprises. Though the enigmatic nature of the show might initially resist full immersion, its oddness, the sometimes bracing beauty of its poetry, and the intelligence of its conception, pacing and performance make A Slightly Better Idea a curious one worth exploring.
A Slightly Better Idea | Created by Chandra Oppenheim and composed and performed by Chandra Oppenheim and Noah Cole | Presented by Rain Boots Records | Hosted by Open Bench Project | At 1 Thompson’s Point | Friday and Saturday, Oct. 23 and 24 | Visit aslightlybetteridea.com, or brownpapertickets.com, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.More News