Wednesday, December 22, 2004


"Timepiece" is the first collaborative project of Anne Hege and Heather Heise, artistically known as Sidecar Syndicate. Premiered April 16th, 2004 in Oakland, CA, "Timepiece" is a collage of twentieth-century artsongs and original soundtrack material that creates a world of characters who speak to current events. Compositions by Luciano Berio, Charles Ives, William Bolcom, Hanns Eisler, John Cage and Willie Nelson are sculpted together with electronic tracks to create a single, uninterrupted piece. Heise plays piano, accordion and toy piano in accompaniment to Hege's sweet soprano and incisive electronic compositions.

"Timepiece" opens with the tick, tick, tick of an old metronome and establishes real time, something measured and mechanical, but (because it is heard via the sound system) hints at an "unreal" world. The electronic soundtrack is a backdrop that Hege and Heise play into, with, around, and against; effectively, it runs in counterpoint to the acoustic performance, accentuating dreamy, other-worldliness (the echo track in Percy Grainger's "Early One Morning") or the immediacy of the present (rolled chords from Ives' "Thoreau" chiming repeatedly like a grandfather clock, cuing the next song).

Unbroken by sets, sub-sets, and applause, the through-composed show allows the audience to immerse themselves in an imagined setting. The experience is thus more of "theatre" than of "concert." The selection of musical material, especially the Ives and Eisler, prevents "Timepiece" from becoming a scripted narrative about something concrete. The pieces evoke distinct characters, yes, but these characters seem to have an awfully difficult time interacting with or speaking to each other. Aptly described by Hege as "a web of mirrors," the show indeed captures a feeling of time mercurial, of both a knowing comprehension and a fog of confusion. As a thematic concept, this duality plays out in the performance: the rhythmic insistence of a piece like Ives' "The Cage" (all the more potent in a toy piano rendition), the staged whispering in Berio's Sequenza for voice, and the precise alignment of electronic tracks and acoustic songs are all shards of light in the dreamy cloudscape of John Cage and Alvin Curran piano pieces.

Though its multi-dimensional evocativeness is a nod towards Wagner's concept of total artwork (gesamptkunstwerke), "Timepiece" attempts to depart from the classical models, eschewing the formality of an art-song recital and, in particular, the concert hall as a venue. Rather, Sidecar Syndicate hopes to bring these songs into a local bar or cafe, revealing and juxtaposing the variety of "high" and "low" influences in their creative work while demanding a certain "casually assessing" attentiveness from their audience. It should be fun, but serious fun.


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