Avant Garde For Thee
If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, then there’s probably no easy way to write about dancing choreographed to music composed about architecture. Except, perhaps, by making comparisons to movies.
On Thursday evening, the ROM held its The Night of the Avant Garde gala to celebrate the completion of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal with the North American premiere of Music Space Reflection by British contemporary composer Simon Bainbridge, a piece jointly commissioned by the ROM and Manchester’s Imperial War Museum North to pay to tribute to the work of Daniel Libeskind. Performed by twenty-four members of Toronto’s CONTACT contemporary music ensemble, distributed equally among four platforms throughout the atrium and amplified by two dozen precisely-arranged speakers, the experience was a bath in shimmering dissonance, like standing in the middle of the sessions in which the BBC Orchestra and London Sinfonietta recorded Jonny Greenwood‘s There Will Be Blood score. (Also acceptable as an analogy: the minimalist portions of John Williams’s CE3K music, if one of the instruments was a shofar.) As Bainbridge conducted from a podium in the centre, and the trombonists achieved an innovative effect by playing into snare drums, Libeskind (left) wandered through the space—as everyone was encouraged to do but most were too timid to dare—proudly beaming, as if to say, “Yes, yes, this is exactly what I had in mind. I am awesome.”
Six tall and frighteningly skinny models, clad in fashions by local designer Ula Zukowska, paraded emotionlessly through the court all evening long but posed themselves in front of the elevators to perform something of a vaguely robotic dance during the first part of the piece. The food servers, too, were elaborately garbed and made up, with neon bands painted across their eyes (Blade Runner‘s Pris meets Boy George) some bowing or contorting in order to extend the avant-gardeness of the food — one item of which, a “crab bon bon,” was served in a sauce that tasted like if a coconut was thrown in the air and never came down — to the very act of presenting it. Complemented by the psychedelic and occasionally Naqoyqatsi-ish lighting and projections on the walls and ceiling, the gala’s ambitious conceit brought to mind a more charmingly passive-aggressive version of the sort of fête found in the Joel Schumacher Batmans.
Following the performance of the twenty-five-minute work, a DJ took over, spinning startlingly well-selected tunes that not only reinforced the theme of the evening but served as sly comments, from Crystal Castles to Kraftwerk to an orchestral version of the same Kraftwerk song to the A Clockwork Orange version of “Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary,” before closing the evening with the American Beauty theme. While no vellocet, the “libations” (a word that never ceases to make us giggle) included the ROMtini and something called a Psychedelic, both of which were yummy enough but did not blow our minds as much as the Avant Garde, a martini which tasted like a glass of liquefied black pepper; while virtually undrinkable, it lived up to its name by very much expanding our conception of the possibilities of an entire state of matter.
Being a big fan of Leah Sandals’s treatises on museum accessibility, we considered our acceptance of the invitation to attend this gala to be almost an avant garde gesture in itself, an attempt to take ourselves outside of our comfort zone by seeing with our own eyes William Thorsell‘s conception of what a public museum should be. As the event was a $200-a-ticket fundraiser, it cannot at all be argued that such lavishness is responsible for the sharp increase of admission prices in the past year, but it was still sobering, on our way out, to notice the sign advising that ROM admission is only free for one hour a week, on Wednesdays from 4:30-5:30.
And if you ever wondered what an orchid tastes like, no they weren’t serving them, but getting in the spirit of the evening we tried (a petal of) one, anyway. It was leafy.
Photos by Jonathan Goldsbie.