To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Walker intern Chris Mode shares his perspective on Shelley Hirsch’s Sound Horizon performance. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
As curator of this season’s Sound Horizon, artist Jim Hodges hand selected musicians to perform in Give More Than You Take, an exhibition of his work over the last 25 years. This Thursday saw the second installment, and vocalist Shelley Hirsch filled the galleries with her eclectic sounds.
Known for her experimental, improvisatory storytelling through song and text, Hirsch has been an active performer and composer for over three decades. Her biography boasts a presence on over 70 CDs, and she has worked with composers such as John Zorn, Christian Marclay, and Alvin Curran (who was at the Walker last month as a part of the Trisha Brown Dance Company’s performance). Hirsch frequently works with visual artists as well, and she and Hodges have a long history of friendship and collaboration.
When she entered the gallery for her 7 pm performance, Hirsch’s dress of blue velvet and floral lace was at home with Hodges’ soft textures and colors. Microphone in hand, she began with an attempt at call and response, the greetings of “How are you?” and “ I’m saying hello to you” careening through her range before breaking into gibberish. Hirsch’s first task was to engage the dozens of students that surrounded her, arms crossed and unenthused. After some forced participation (“you’ve got to get up and be proud!”), they warmed up to her as she began her musical tour of the galleries.
Like Hodges, Hirsch creates through subtle transformations of the everyday; her improvisations relied on in-the-moment reactions to the art and bodies around her. She built a chant out of a simple observation: “I see you looking at me looking at you.” She invited us to “try try try” to draw on napkins, as Hodges did, the next time we got coffee. Classic songs are a large part of Hirsch’s performance vocabulary, and this invitation moved quickly into the first phrase of “Try to Remember.” Her powers of contorting text and sound were quite impressive. After asking for the time, “7:27” slowly morphed into “transcendence,” “transfigure,” and “triangles of light,” moving through the intermediate nonsense words in a free association description of Hodges’ work and her reaction to it.
Hirsch’s appreciation of Hodges’ art was evident throughout her tour. At times she would explicitly acknowledge her fondness for a piece. Elsewhere, his work provided inspiration for her sonic explorations. Near the start, she stood quasi-yodeling into the hanging flower curtain of You. Later, she sang from the sheet music of Picturing That Day, singing the names of colors that Hodges had placed where the note heads had been.
In a participatory performance such as this, the words Hirsch elicited from her audience were often as entertaining as her own. By now totally won over, the students offered comments like “This is my dream job” and “I seriously want whatever she’s on.” At one point, a mother explained to her young, wide-eyed son, “it’s called performance art.” But, smiling, he didn’t need an explanation of the fun that Hirsch was creating.
Early on, I spotted Jim Hodges sitting on a stool in the corner. He watched with a smirk, knowing exactly what we were getting into. By the end of Hirsch’s performance, that smirk became a smile, and I saw it repeated on the faces around me.