Avant-garde composer Jaap Blonk performed in the Center for the Arts (CFA) Hall this Thursday to an audience of mostly Middletown residents. Though I had briefly researched Blonk beforehand to find that he was a Dutch self-taught sound and stage performer, I entered the performance without much of an idea of what I was about to see.
The show consisted of a series of short performances, each ranging from one to fifteen minutes in duration. Every performance possessed a unique flavor. The first one made me feel like I was sitting in on a Jim Carrey vocal warm-up routine. For this performance, Blonk made streams of sounds with his voice and mouth that often involved the contortion of his whole face.
In another routine, Blonk projected a “map” of the letter “R.” He explained that “R” is his favorite letter in the alphabet because it is so dynamic. He then verbalized the map by stringing along each sound of “R” in a sequence. The result sounded like Blonk was imitating various car muffler sounds one after the other. During another performance, Blonk repeated the phrase “I am that I am” over and over in a way that made me feel like I was in a spaceship during the apocalypse.
I found myself intrigued as I experienced many of these performances, but I also wished for more of a storyline. This would have kept me more engaged, rather than feeling like I was making a conscious effort to be entertained. Probably my favorite number began with a projection of a black screen with Blonk stuttering phrases like, “Well, what I’m trying to say is, what I want, what I need to tell you is.” The screen slowly began filling in with dots of colors, mostly red, white, blue, and tan, until the audience could clearly see the image of George Bush making a speech. This piece was my favorite because it told a story; there was a message to be received, and it was received with a laugh.
In addition to more storylines, I would have liked to see more variations in theme. There was one number, for example, where Blonk read a poem called “Glass Glass,” a poem that has the word “glass” written over and over with missing letters, as Blonk explained in the introduction to this performance. His reading had the same aggressive, low-tone, and super-enunciated diction that he used in many of his other presentations. The rhythm he used was catchy and made me want to hear the poem in another style, maybe in a rap or even just with different inflections and tonalities.
As I was leaving and reflecting on the show, I overheard a group of people in front of me doing the same. Some of them really loved pieces that I had somewhat overlooked, which made me respect the nature of the performance more than I did before. In its abstractness, its lack of storyline, and its general dearth of guidance for the viewer, it allowed each audience member to have a different takeaway. Though the style may not have been for everyone, it definitely found a way to appeal to the imaginations of all who attended.