Here, the tale is that of modern Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich and his Fifteenth (and last) string quartet, a self-written emotional history of a man who, in order to survive Stalin's terror, wrote sarcastic and scathing music that on the surface seemed patriotic but at its core was an erect middle finger.

The first half of the production blends Shostakovich's voiced letters and radio reportage with screened stills, video clips, and the choreographed actions of four mimes dressed in '40s suits to symbolize both the composer and the four instruments of the piece. Spot-lit violins float to polyrhythmic voices. Top-hatted men scramble against the invisible wind of the war-inspired Seventh Symphony. Empty dresses hang in midair while Shostakovich's wife and mother discuss "Mitya's" anxiety about composing, his love for his children, and his steadfast nature.

And then the Emerson emerges from darkness and different sections of the stage, playing the E-Flat Minor Quartet from memory while facing the audience. It's a little hokey at first. Until, of course, the gifts of the group and the poignancy of the piece come to bear. Leader Philip Setzer's violin traverses militaristic rounds of notes with forlorn alacrity while his comrades, seemingly under blind command, offer gut-wrenching and desolately modal sounds for a mournful 40 minutes until their spots suddenly die and the room fades to black—an atmospheric obituary. —Adam Baer

Pint-sized epiphanies: Adem Ilhan of Fridge
photo: Taylor Pope
Pint-sized epiphanies: Adem Ilhan of Fridge

Clash Your Head on the Punk Rock

When downtown impresario Larry Tee, avid fan of all things queer/punk/dancey/gothy, dubbed his five-night festival "Electroclash," it's doubtful he had in mind a procession of keyboard freaks and '80s synth-pop revivalists running behind schedule and smack into the blunt-force trauma of an incoming bridge-and-tunnel crowd. Electro clash, indeed. At Webster Hall on October 12 (evening No. 3 of the festival), Chicks on Speed were shaking their groove thang to their high-school art project gone awry while the masses panged for Ricky Martin remixes. As Kiki Moorse danced in detached fashion to a raunchy techno kick (below a 10-foot amalgamation of inflated breast-like appendages) and deadpanned lyrics about her vagina being a superstar, a bottle cap whizzed by her head. Could it get any more punk rock?

Punk was the pulsing heart of Electroclash. Or at least one of its hearts. If the festival failed in any regard, it was in its noble attempt to gather too much music and too many ideas under the umbrella of one "scene": DJ Assault's ass-and-titties electro, Soviet's earnest and articulate new wave, Fischerspooner's cast-of-Cats-goes-goth electro-trance. But then, Mr. Fentzloff showed me in 10th grade Algebra II (back when new wave and punk were winding down from their first go-round) that one plus one doesn't always have to equal two.

Electrorehash might have been a more appropriate name. The new wave bands were the most popular among the hipsters, enough of whom turned up wearing skinny ties and tails in their hair and bad Don Johnson suits (with docksiders!) that if you blurred your eyes and sucked in your gut a bit, it was like hanging out in a John Hughes film. But if, as its propaganda unabashedly proclaimed, the Electroclash festival represented a musical movement, it was the evolution (or perhaps the repackaging) of techno as the stripped-down, ugly, unapologetic child of punk.

The CBGB musical epiphany was that instrumental skill was no prereq for hopping on stage, but techno culture has made the instruments themselves obsolete. On the 11th, Peaches stood on stage at Exit—alone but for a backup dancer—wearing black leather panties and a halter top and screaming about fucking the pain away. Wendy O. Williams had her chainsaw, Peaches has an oversized neon dildo; both, when brandished, represent the same nihilistic essence. In the late '70s and early '80s, DIY was an excuse to play guitars, badly. Today, the same ethic is pouring forth from keyboards. Ducky would be so pleased. —Bill Werde

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