Experimental artist and professional weirdo Crank Sturgeon opened up his set at the SMFA Library Hassle Show Friday by saying “Welcome to Hell.” He then proceeded, while wearing a giant triangular headpiece stuffed with a violin, to turn the calming and low-lit library space into a mad science experiment.
A similar attitude of transformative solo sets by was brought by all acts that night. From start to finish, the three experimental noise and synth acts of Cleo Maio, then Victoria Shen, and finally Crank Sturgeon used audience participation and a variety of found instruments to invite audience members into a new experience. Performances which could possibly be seen as overwhelming, were Friday night allowed a sense of calm from the scholarly space that gave room for appropriately unsettling art.
Cleo Maio opened with the set of most audience involvement. Seated at the front of the room, Maio used a violin bow, cactus, and synths for her set. It started simple, with quiet clattering on “stage.” But then Cleo introduced her set’s magic: instructional notecards passed between hands of audience members. The cards told the audience members to use whatever objects they had to make their own sounds. Soon the room was filled with not just Cleo’s music but that of the audience. The effect was like being in the mush-pot of a drum circle or some sort of tribal gathering, encompassing and primal.
Next Victoria Shen brought her synths up to the table. Her sounds were like Cleo’s, but more aggressive in a sense. Her music tended on the more electronic-dance style of the sets of the night. Still, it incorporated found objects like a book, which fluttering pages were used by Shen to add literal layers of sound to her music. For Shen’s audience involvement, she used her body movement. She moved freely during her set: standing, circling her table, and finally crawling right beneath the audience’s chairs.
Last but not least Crank Sturgeon’s set. Crank was all over the place during his performance. With jokes, explanations, and live portrait-drawing, Crank was comedian, science teacher, caricaturist, and musician all at once. He moved with strategic timing from one segment to another, each with a cohesive build and sound aesthetic. At times Crank scratched a strip of duct-tape, attached from one book case to another to make deep, echoing sound. At other times he crouched over a table of microphones and wires to make what seemed like the bouncing sound-track to a cartoon. He closed with a lesson, teaching the audience to speak backwards. After several practice rounds, the audience spoke made-up words of Crank’s invention, that Crank then played backwards on a tape at the front of the room, becoming regular human speech. In its shocking success, the experiment was the perfect end to a night of bewildering and captivating sets.
photos by Andy Baraf