new york

Industrial Symphony #1

brooklyn academy of music

Artists who traffic in dreams run the risk of confusing profundity with silliness. Dream motifs too often degenerate into hackneyed psychobabble. David Lynch’s films, such as Eraserhead, 1978, and Blue Velvet, 1986, have resolved the problem by joining logic and illogic, thereby conjuring disorienting truths out of the most banal dream elements. For Industrial Symphony #1, his live presentation that kicked off the New Music America Festival, Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti created a large-scale operatic dreamscape that combined goofy, cartoonlike characters and actions with a deadpan theatrical conviction that never wavered in its sincerity. It’s precisely the triteness of Lynch’s imagery—dozens of baby dolls, a floating angel in a ’50s prom dress, a naked woman running around in a panic, a demonic midget—that made the performance so persuasive. As orchestrated by Lynch to Badalamenti’s moody score, the figures and events add up to an hour of live action that captures the evanescent quality of a bizarre dream. The piece acknowledges its own flimsiness at the conscious level, yet it manages to bypass the critical superego and tickle the id. Lynch doesn’t so much flirt with silliness as embrace it, as if to say that the most serious truths take the most preposterous forms.

A laundry list of some of the performance’s events reads like a Mad magazine version of The Interpretation of Dreams: the singing angel crashes to the floor from a great height, dozens of baby dolls are lowered on wires, flashing strobes and search-lights obscure vision, and a line of chorus girls emerges from nowhere, kicking wildly. Like an erotic fetish reduced to a clinical description, the whole bolus sounds like an adolescent bad joke. Yet the characters and events in Industrial Symphony #1 offer a compelling description of disturbed sexuality in uncensored terms. The languid, high-volume, and continuous music is performed at Quaalude speed. Familiar themes appear—notably, the search for love in a blasted wasteland—but with their power restored, so that they may penetrate and explode our painfully acquired, viciously defended sense of identity. Like Kafka, who described the goal of his work as taking an axe to the frozen sea within us, Lynch and Badalamenti take dead aim at the preconscious emotions that persist beneath our socialized selves.

John Howell