Erik Sanko's Creepy Puppets Meet the Kronos Quartet

Love with strings attached at BAM's Next Wave Festival

Writing for the group posed a challenge, since Sanko doesn't read music and wasn't too familiar with string quartets. But he took his usual approach: "Bungle your way through it, put together a bunch of notes, and suddenly you have a song." On his grandmother's out-of-tune piano, he worked out basic motifs, memorized them, and played them again on the Midi keyboard of a friend, who then arranged everything for strings—the result being a series of noirish, bittersweet themes with hints of Philip Glass, Shostakovich, and Sanko's synesthesia, that peculiar affliction in which the brain equates notes with colors. "It was very emotional," Sanko says of the first time the Kronos rehearsed. "I really felt like I was going to cry and throw up at the same time."

"It scratches some itch": Sanko in his lair
Remigiusz Pyrdol
"It scratches some itch": Sanko in his lair

Though Sanko hasn't jilted Skeleton Key—"I love puppets, but I still gotta rock out"—the marionettes are getting plenty of attention. Next month, The Fortune Teller will have a second run at UCLA, and might later tour the U.S. and Europe. Sanko's creating 30 new figures for a Tokyo performance of The Devil and Daniel Webster (a collaboration with multimedia artist Ping Chong and a 400-year-old Japanese puppetry company), and he and his wife are planning an innovative show based on Shackleton's Antarctic expedition, which will create the setting's expanse by having the string-pulling puppeteers become mobile, wearing construction-worker stilts. Eventually, too, Sanko will resume his shows at the Box, the gonzo cabaret where the randy crowds, Sanko says, are eager to see his marionettes "fucking, killing each other, and taking drugs." He grins mischievously. "There's nothing like puppets jumping on each other and going at it."

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