The title of Heiner Goebbels’s music-theater piece, Hashirigaki, refers to a Japanese word for flowing, scripted writing. And like a pen rolling with effluence over paper, his production glides forward in fluid motion, celebrating flux. Each scene in this series of extended musical tableaux contains some moving current: Thick wavering lines project across the space, objects descend and swing overhead, performers sway back and forth or tread toward never found destinations. The stream of words and sound rarely abates, carrying one set of rhythms and images into the next. Even when contrasting elements abruptly collide, they quickly become re-absorbed into the production’s sumptuous textures.
Goebbels, a leading composer-director in Europe, explores relationships of image, sound, and text in this presentation by Théàtre Vidy-Lausanne at BAM. But unlike a lot of cross-disciplinary performance today—which often resists accrued meaning or refuses to allow fragmented components to add up—Goebbels’s work cultivates connections and looks for sensory and experiential depth. His compositions embody the fluctuations of consciousness, at all its speeds and in all its tones. We watch three versatile women (Charlotte Engelkes, Marie Goyette, and Yumiko Tanaka) of different heights and nationalities (Swedish, French Canadian, and Japanese) perform his soundscapes; they range from traditional Japanese folk arrangements for the koto and samisen, to the theremin’s “pure” tones, to samples of Brian Wilson’s bouncy instrumentals for Pet Sounds (the 1966 Beach Boys album). Relishing their various accents for humor and charm, the women also recite selected passages from Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans, a modernist epic describing the human family’s evolution over time.
Building on Stein’s always mutating language, Goebbels passes from entrancing percussion with finger cymbals to a harmonium solo to giddy pop. Rather than choreographing with the mechanized rigidity of, say, Robert Wilson—another director devoted to Stein’s formal rigors—Goebbels allows his performers a degree of natural poise as they propel themselves through successive worlds. But the visual connections remain precise: A woman perceives a shadow cast on an upstage screen and tries to align herself with it as it swells into a balloon and then morphs into a headless woman. After another dance, in which the women sway in conical hoopskirts, three bells descend from the sky on ropes, mirroring the performers’ physiques and creating a new set of possibilities.
The environment seems always to be coalescing into something greater or more complete. At Hashirigaki‘s delightful zenith, Wilson’s “God Only Knows” vamps brightly as the women drag cardboard cutouts onstage; they create a little city moving in silhouette with skyscrapers, church steeples, buses, and houses with laundry lines. “Noise, continued noise, much noise,” they exclaim, “something someone is not hearing!” With such rich evocations of the world’s spectrum of noise, Goebbels makes listening to it pure pleasure.
Hashirigaki revels in the omnipotent noise of consciousness; Compress Your Dreams, a short musical piece by Transmission Projects, is a search for silence. A large, glossy white platform, sloped at the edges, stands in the Gale Gates gallery’s center: a psychological tundra of ice and isolation. As the audience drifts in, a nameless young woman (played by the expressive Okwui Okpokwasili) gazes across the lonely expanse to the looped sounds of howling winds, which might also be heard as deep breaths. Inner and outer landscapes overlap more thoroughly when her doppelgänger (Anika Tromholt Kristensen) appears moments later, prompting self-interrogation through dialogue, songs, and mirroring-movement sequences.
Identically dressed in furlike coats, boots, and bucket-shaped hats, the women (or woman) inhabit their arctic environment as naturally as polar bears—and if polar bears could sing, they might very well produce the gentle, laid-back croons of composer-performer Cynthia Hopkins. Hopkins’s sound design provides the dreamier parts of the work’s title; she weaves—to my ears—feedback, speech samples from a live radio, digitally delayed loops of string and bow, and keyboard pulses into suggestive, resonant layers. Her voice-overs are full of understated introspection, and her original songs bring to mind Patti Smith with their musing fantasias—especially in the haunting final lyric for acoustic guitar (“A madman is a dreamer who doesn’t sleep”).
The abundance of musical monologues, ironically, fuels the protagonist’s anguish. If Goebbels shows us ecstatic figures reveling in the sonic boom of consciousness, here the mind’s noise oppresses the heroine, driving her quest for solace in silence. Unable to stop thinking, remembering, and feeling, she finds herself curled in a fetal position on the ground. In mysterious dialogue the woman occasionally alludes to an anonymous “him” who caused her recurring pain, and longs to release herself into the white expanse. Speaking text excerpted from Michael Baran’s Finnish play You Don’t Know What Love Is, the heroine intones, “I dream of the place of silence, the silence where you think you’re deaf.” When silence finally falls, on the heels of her meltdown somewhere near an imagined North Pole, the twin selves separate but long to be reunited. One sleeps restfully, while the other loses her footprints in the snow, hoping to wipe her life clean in quiet purity. Written by Kristensen, Compress Your Dreams sometimes labors with the text’s frosty ambiguities and extremely sober performances, but Hopkins’s mind music reverberates far beyond the glacier’s edge.