Nick Brooke’s Border Towns is a multimedia mash-up vision of Americana, using audio samples and live performance to create a fractured sonic and physical landscape that reflects the complexity of our Imagined America.
The show unfolds in a series of vignettes set in specific towns, each one with a unique sonic landscape. We hear bits of familiar music in tiny fragments – everything from Springsteen to Copland to Gene Autry or Patsy Cline or mariachi music. All of this is ripped apart and mashed together to create new meanings – or to point towards the possibility of new meanings.
Brooke visited eleven towns at the literal fringes of the U.S. asking, “What’s listened to here?” Through interviews, radio station monitoring, historical site visits, sounds walks and statistical research, he collected sounds and then assembled them into unique compositions. Throughout the evening the compositions reference each other, a small sample will recur over and over again in different contexts.
At the same time the performers are performing the sampled and looped soundtrack, both vocally and physically. Gestures appear and recur in small snippets, building in complexity over time. Hints and suggestions of meaning flicker and evaporate, images arise and disappear before we consciously register what they are. The series of vignettes accumulates and culminates in a tent city that could be depression-era, could be a WWI battlefield covered in smoke/gas as the chorus of the song “Over There” loops in the background. It is haunting and beautiful.
Brooke and co-director Jenny Rohn have gotten strong performances out of the entire cast. The performers – Laura Bohn, Michael Chinworth, Chris Giarmo, Laryssa Husiak, Kamala Sankaram, Laura Stinger and Dax Valdes – are all fantastic, ably balancing the challenging physicality and vocal work.
Brooke’s use of sampling combined with live voice-over from the performers is reminiscent of composer John Moran, but in Border Towns Brooke’s reach is more mythic and anthropological than Moran’s more recent, whimsical explorations with collaborator Saori Tukada.
Border Towns is a great example of the hybrid work that HERE cultivates through its Artist Residency Program. Brooke has obviously worked over a long period of time to meticulously craft a seamless, complex and intriguing sound art composition. It is operatic in scope, unfolding in layers that constantly reveal new meanings.
Border Towns continues at HERE Arts Center through September 18th, Tuesday- Sunday at 9PM.