Saturday, February 18, 2017

Ulysses in the Subway (Paul Kaiser, Marc Downie, Flo Jacobs, Ken Jacobs, 2017)

The avant-garde trains us to step off the capitalist treadmill and pause on some useful-in-its-uselessness image or sound. I've been mesmerized by a rainbow sliver on a CD tower created by light caught on an overturned DVD. And I always stayed to listen to my garage door close because it evoked the gong-rattling guitars of My Bloody Valentine's "All I Need." So I was receptive to Ulysses in the Subway, a 3-D algorithmic picturing of a sound journey taken by Ken Jacobs of a subway ride up to 42nd Street and then back down to his loft near Chambers Street where his wife Flo (Penelope in this Odyssey) awaits him. But it put me right back on the capitalist treadmill.

The idea here is to awaken our hearing to the sounds around us by providing a graphic representation of their complexity, an effect enhanced by the 3-D which allows us to dive into the sound-images. Often, they resembled the perspective of looking upon miles of city lights from high on a hill. The problem is that the sounds themselves weren't recontextualized and the sound-images didn't do enough to transform that deadening "Stand clear of the closing door please" announcement. For millions of New Yorkers every day, this is capitalism's repetition compulsion at its most pummeling and Ulysses didn't deliver it from us. And soon, everything about the project felt just as oppressive as those eternal announcements, from the fact that the journey never wanders above 42nd Street to the leisure implied in Jacobs' stopping to listen to an endless steel drum performance to the hoary narrative of the male wanderer and the female waiting at home. 

Ok so it wasn't for me. But I'll tell you who it was for. At the Q&A afterward at MOMA, an old man asked where he could hear these sounds. Clearly, the man hadn't been underground in some time, if ever. So come with me and watch the Show Time boys do their thang. Marvel at the purple explosion all over the walls and pillars in the Union Square station of black man named Prince at various points in his history. Keep your eyes open for the light orgy just before you reach the 125th Street station. Oh you've never up this far before?

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