The 10th Fusebox Festival gets off to an electric start with the 'Mozart Requiem Undead'
Can't you just picture poor Wolfgang Amadeus laid out on the slab, lifeless and cold, surrounded by a pack of crazed geniuses, who gleefully attach electrodes to his powdered white wig and fingertips, then throw a switch that sends millions of volts through his inanimate form until the great composer is once again alive! Alive!
That's the kind of mental image conjured by Mozart Requiem Undead, the "reanimation" of that choral masterwork with all the parts not written by Mozart himself before his death being completed by 10 contemporary composers and stitched together into a single work. The first full performance of this Frankensteinian mass – masterminded by Golden Hornet Project leaders Peter Stopschinski and Graham Reynolds – will kick off the 2014 Fusebox Festival, and it's precisely the kind of project that makes this hybrid arts festival such a thrilling part of Austin's cultural landscape. It's ambitious, risky, maybe a little perverse, certainly visionary, inventive, intensely collaborative, and it draws together and mashes up – fuses! – wildly different artists and art forms and styles in ways that are original, novel, and full of surprises.
This particular project has been in the works for nearly five years, during which Reynolds and Stopschinski have been handing out movements from the original Requiem Mass to a range of composers (alt-classical, rock, hip-hop), collecting the results, composing their own contributions, and even taking a few sections out for a test drive with the Texas Choral Consort. That body will provide the 150-voice chorus in the free concert at the French Legation Wednesday, April 16, and Artistic Director Brent Baldwin will conduct the whole affair, which will also include a 30-piece orchestra and soloists from acclaimed local vocal ensemble Convergence. Baldwin has been putting his singers through their paces for four months already, not just getting them used to the divergent styles of the 10 composers but trying to make their work flow together into something resembling a cohesive whole.
How challenging could that be? Consider: The Requiem Undead will encompass music by Caroline Shaw, whose Partita for 8 Voices scored the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Music; Glenn Kotche, percussionist for Wilco; Todd Reynolds, violinist with Bang on a Can; DJ Spooky, the experimental hip-hop musician and multimedia artist; Adrian Quesada of Grupo Fantasma and Brownout; Justin Sherburn of Okkervil River; Petra Haden, violinist, vocal sensation, and member of the Haden Triplets; Kate Moore, award-winning Australian composer; and, naturally, Stopschinski and Reynolds. That's like sound coming from every frequency on the radio dial, an impossible mix of musical modes and genres.
Ah, but the impossible is Fusebox's stock in trade, the thing it takes on so fearlessly and accomplishes with such delight. Remember the digital "lecture" by William Shatner, created by Phil Soltanoff entirely from edited snippets of Shatner as Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek series? How about Action Hero's re-creation of Evel Knievel's jump over the fountain at Caesar's Palace with a bike, a wooden ramp, and a couple of fizzing liters of Coke? How about Gob Squad improvising a love story on Austin's streets, capturing in real-time on video, then screening the result minutes after the tale's conclusion? We could draw hundreds of examples from Fusebox's first decade – that's how frequently this presenter of the innovative and the astonishing shows us what we imagine can't be done.
Mozart Requiem Undead will open the door to yet more unimagined wonders for this milestone edition of the international interdisciplinary celebration: gelato flavors inspired by concepts in contemporary art; a play composed only of texts sent to you over six months; a musical work scored for a weaver at a loom, an accordionist, and 50 violinists who have never before played the violin. More than 50 projects are lined up for the run from April 16-27. (Full disclosure: This writer is leading one, a not-quite-impossible talkback session titled Tailgating With Robert Faires.) Fusebox founder and Artistic Director Ron Berry has once again drawn artists from across the nation and the globe, and has done the impossible in making every one of them available for free. (See "A Charge at No Charge.") Among the more far-flung of this year's participants:
• Wunderbaum (Fusebox, 2012) returns from the Netherlands with Looking for Paul, in which the troupe invites a Rotterdam resident to accompany them to Los Angeles to confront a sculptor whose "Buttplug Gnome" is, she feels, ruining the street where she lives.
• Sibyl Kempson (Fusebox, 2009, 2010, 2013) is back with the latest incarnation of her three-year collaboration with the Pig Pile, a mélange of Austin artists from the Rude Mechs, Salvage Vanguard Theater, Rubber Repertory, Physical Plant, and ScriptWorks. A version of this, River of Gruel, was shown at last year's Fusebox.
• Suzanne Bocanegra (Fusebox 2013) serves up Rerememberer, inspired by the weaving of a Danish garment, and incorporating the sound of live weaving from a miked loom, the sound interpreted and riffed on by an accordion, a DJ, and a 50-piece amateur orchestra.
• Sam Green provides a "live" onstage documentary drawn from his visit to Stanford's extensive Buckminster Fuller archives. Indie rock supergroup Yo La Tengo provides the live score to The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller.
• Bulgaria's SubHuman Theatre and interdisciplinary artist Venelin Shurelov present an installation/lecture by a cyber-being.
As usual, the ATX is well represented, with a few local artists teaming with guests from around the world, such as dancer Rosalyn Nasky and composer Steven Snowden (Hong Kong); and artist Rebecca Layton and clothing designer Monika Jakubiak (Warsaw). Also look for contributions from Christeene, Conspirare (leading a Big Sing for Fusebox), Puro Chingón Collective, Magnifico, Vortex Repertory Company (premiering David DeMaris' new opera about theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli), Arthur Simone (doing stand-up with a real robot), Experimental Response Cinema, and that Physical Plant play by Steve Moore that develops through text messages that will be sent to you over half a year.
It's enough to make Wolfgang Amadeus spring back to life himself, just to see what else these crazed geniuses have reanimated.
Fusebox Festival will take place April 16-27 at various locations around Austin. For more information and the full schedule, visit www.fuseboxfestival.com.