It’s Gotta Be The Shoes!

Who would have thought a couple of pairs of funky shoes, a beat-up 80s boom-box and a laptop could create magic? Not me until I saw Joshua Fried’s performance of Anything Bass, an excerpt from his work Radio Wonderland on Tuesday night at HERE.

Here’s how it works: Fried has four upturned shoes mounted on stands with a pick-up imbedded in the heel of each shoe. The pick-up is rigged so that it releases a sound when it is struck – and the source of that sound can be anything. In Radio Wonderland all of the source material is taken LIVE off the FM radio dial. It was amazing! From the moment Fried walked on stage playing with the radio knob to capture the FM signal I was captivated. I felt a sense of child-like wonder and playfulness at the spectacle of seeing a man making music by playing his shoes and my inner bohemian felt a sort of avant-garde thrill at listening to this new and different music. Part Wrinkle in Time sci-fi and part Dali, Fried’s approach is unique while still being musically satisfying. There is something compelling about the idea of taking FM radio, a sound shared by everyone – mothers cooking dinner, cab drivers cruising the street – and transforming it into music. Additionally, the fact that he has no control over the available source material at the time of performance enforces the surrealist idea of reliance on chance and coincidence.

Fried’s work also reverses the traditional role of technology. He takes the idea of sound design – of enforcing rigid technical controls on live sound – and inverts it by using the technology to create an uncontrollable experience. And in this way each performance is a one-time, unrepeatable experience shared by both performer and audience. The moments of danger, suspense and humor can be claimed by everyone in the room because everyone feels like a participant. After seeing so much precisely controlled theater I found it striking and refreshing that Fried trusts that the art will emerge in the moment. That’s gutsy and very cool to watch.

Tuesday night’s performance, Anything Bass, concentrated on turning the miscellaneous sounds into a bass line, and is the first in a series of works-in-progress that will culminate in the completed production of Radio Wonderland premiering at HERE in January ’05. The next performance in the Radio Wonderland series will be October 14th at La MaMa, etc. For more info on Joshua’s upcoming gigs check out his website. You can also check out a Quicktime Movie of his work-in-progress (8 MB download.)

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