Part sculpture, part monodrama, part concerto for virtuoso percussionist, Schick Machine is a genre defying performance piece that combines its disparate elements into a surprisingly delightful 80 minutes. This collaboration of composer Paul Dresher, percussionist Steven Schick, instrument builder Daniel Schmidt and writer Rinde Eckert may not be life altering theater, but it is a heck of a lot of fun.
Entering the space, one is confronted by an array of large contraptions with a sole tinkerer, Schick, wearing an apron out of a 19th century laboratory, fussing with a batch of blueprints. Soon this rustling and crinkling of paper seems to take a life of its own. Surely it’s deliberate, a transition into a world of noise and sound. The fun of the show comes from discovering how each of these strange machines, with the assistance of audio looping technology, works to produce a unique sonic landscape. Music comes from less imposing devices as well. Schick teases polyrhythmic miniatures out of wood blocks, metal hoops, modified organ stops, and an entire pantry of kitchen implements.
The evening is oh-so-slightly held together by a few short snippets of narration that identify this inventor as an isolated genius who has forfeit human relations in an obsessive effort to create this machine that will “reconcile the past with the future” (isolated geniuses are something of a recurring theme in Eckert’s work). If these bits of spoken text were the crux of the piece, they may well be criticized as lacking substance, but to my ear, they serve primarily as a backdrop, a setting that informs the separate musical moments of a dream play.
You can find video excerpts of Schick Machine on YouTube, but I would advise against watching them. They don’t come close to capturing the piece’s greatest strengths, the physical presence of the machines in the room and the spectacle of one man drumming furiously as the entire stage threatens to erupt into chaos. It’s the difference between going to a funhouse and watching a video of a funhouse.
This funhouse will be open for one more week at ZSpace, running until March 27.