New York

Kit Fitzgerald and Peter Gordon, Spectaccalo

Like its ersatz title, a made-up word that resonates with implications of baroque futurism, Spectaccalo was a singular hybrid that reveled in its boundary-stretching serendipity. A laid-back audio-visual performance in which live video projections controlled by Kit Fitzgerald provided the visual counterpoint to music composed by Peter Gordon and played by the saxophonist with an ensemble, Spectaccalo stated its self-chosen contradictions by flanking a huge, state-of-the-art video-projection screen with “natural” decor: birdhouses, an aquarium, and a circular tower of vines. A performance celebration along the lines of what composer Jon Hassell has dubbed “fourth world” music—a sort of third world “primitivism” combined with ultra-high-tech methods and machinery—Spectaccalo was a striking study in both the potential and the problems of musical, mixed-media performance poems.

Part of the work’s limitations arose from its rich-to-overflowing vocabulary. Presented as a performance album of 11 pieces by Gordon, it metastasized into a sprawling anthology of possible relations between its musical and visual effects; each piece demonstrated a different notion about how sight and sound can be combined. Gordon’s music ranged from squawking free jazz improvisation to lushly orchestrated mood tunes. Fitzgerald’s electronic palette also displayed a dazzling array of techniques: stop-frame action, live “drawing” with a light pen, overlaid layers of live action and prerecorded imagery, and colorizing gimmicks. That very eclecticism, plus the stop-start nature of the segmented structure, prevented Spectaccalo from building up to any climax, from making any grand statement over the length of the 80-minute performance.

But at least two of the etudes generated moments of breathtaking audiovisual energy. In “Color Tunnel,” which opted for a literal definition of the relationship between music and image, expanding rectangles of intense blue and green hues shifted color and number in tandem with Gordon’s ascending saxophone scales, creating an electronic “neo-geo” mandala, a synthetic psychedelic moment. The specific emotional content of this generalized avant-flashback must have varied from viewer to viewer, but its primal sensory effect was direct, clear, and stunningly moving. And the penultimate piece, “Romance,” achieved a unified ambience that Spectaccalo lacked as a whole. With its lush melodic fragments created by rippling piano arpeggios and double-tracked horn lines, its deliberately naive video visuals of crudely drawn animals and lovers, and its spotlit, ever-so-slightly wavering birdhouses on long, slender poles, “Romance” conjured up a mysterious, subtly hypnotic atmosphere. Relying solely on retinal and tonal abstraction, and with no specific subject other than its own sensuous techniques, the segment showed how novel combinations of video and music can unlock deep, almost classically “Romantic” emotional responses of awe and pity. “Romance” can be regarded as a successful model for a “new age” space-out experience, one only hinted at in productions that have been far gaudier and less assured than Spectaccalo.

John Howell