Chicago

Trio Exvoco Of Stuttgart

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA Chicago)

The Trio Exvoco performance, part of a Contemporary Concerts series, has both Futurist and Dada inspiration. Displayed typographical arrangements act as scores for three singers, three slide projectors, and an electronics man with elaborate technical equipment for recording and altering sound. Dada poster and sound poems and Futurist simultaneous poems are intermingled with contemporary work that carries out similar ideas.

For example, Mauricio Kagel’s Hallelujah (1969) concentrates on pure sound, with no sustained development, no linear sequence. Voices wobble, simper, and toot, approximating “words in freedom,” which Marinetti advocated in a 1912 manifesto calling for an end to syntax. Paul de Vree’s Audiovisual Poems (1962), which are slide-projected as letter patterns, also recall Marinetti’s call for visual parallels to the sound experience. De Vree’s Vertigo Gli is divided into sections, simultaneously and individually performed from side to side and in a circle. Dieter Schnebel’s Mouthworks (1974–75), sounded with throat and lip, have a variety of visual contexts—slides of paintings, written texts, photos, and Duchampian diagrams of vocal chords. The audience can focus on what seems best for the sound or the sound may take on different associations by the play of slides, recalling Tristan Tzara’s desire for poems that would vary an artist-spectator relationship. Werner Heider’s tape montages (1969) juxtapose car noises, Mozart, talking, rock and roll, ringing telephones, and counting, much the way Kurt Schwitters orchestrated aural fragments in his poems.

But the original expressions of this kind of work were inspired by the “Dada attitude,” as when, in social anger and disgust, Marinetti wanted to destroy museums. The real Futurist and Dada performances often represented chaos, a humiliation of art, provocation for a hostile audience. Today, however, the 1920 Schwitters Sneeze-Scherzo is only lots of fun.

Nor are the Trio Exvoco performers exactly “bohemian” outsiders. Hanna Aurbacher is a well-disciplined virtuoso. Hans-Jorg Bauer is a Professor of Physics at the University of Stuttgart. Ewald Liska is a choir director, conductor, and physicist. Theophil Maier is a frequent soloist in classical oratorios and children’s theatre. They are capitalists like the rest of us on a promotional tour, performing in a museum (alas), and, perhaps coincidentally, amidst an exhibition of Antoni Tapies paintings, which could be said to formalize certain rough-textured, spontaneous elements of Schwitters’ Merzbau. The Trio decor of white hanging projection drapes, metal chairs, and symmetrical speakers, Aurbacher’s fashionable Indian dress with matching pumps, the performers’ careful repacking of their equipment do not recall any iconoclastic, a-traditional, obscene Dada gestures.

Sometimes, however, Dada does come through. A Sylvano Bussotti solo (1959) gives the existential experience of a performance never twice exactly the same, as Aurbacher’s interpretation becomes a kind of (albeit) esthetic “readymade,” which Bauer tape-records in real time. He then simultaneously creates a kind of “readymade aided” by selecting, isolating, and altering passages from the tape and playing them back as echo, counterpoint, duet, and second solo to Aurbacher’s continuing performance. The Trio’s whole electronic emphasis, as during the Bob Cobbing sound poem Tan (1970), provokes Picabian fancies about whether performer or machine has dominant or subordinate role and in what space and time occur the real and artificial.

Ewald Liska acts as producer and arranger for the singers, dividing texts among them, calculating sequences, spaces, time, and nearly everything else. So that, for the most part, the nature of the effect is neither intuitive nor critical Dada, but an education and skill-inspired matter of methodical taste. No true Dada would so adhere to lessons, and while the considerable preparation could be seen as Duchampian planning or Man Ray-ish tireless experimentation, these performers, in a time when society gets a vicarious thrill out of hell-raising, might more appropriately drop the Dada device and use their established skills to construct material completely of their own.

C. L. Morrison