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Aural Report

Wherein memory holds strongest sway
Dumb Type rules
by Kurt Dahlke

love rules, yet I hate them. The ones that you have to follow, I hate. The ones that follow you, I love.

Some of my strongest childhood memories involve a very long stretch of immense laurel hedges in the back yard. I would call them 40 feet tall ... at least 20 on a real day. My memories of them now are hopelessly distorted.

Dumb Type: Is there no way this is live music?

So I'm breaking a few rules; there's no way MemoRandum, as performed by Dumb Type, is live music. Though one assumes Dumb Type is live humans, and I'm walking away from my usual sunny demeanor to trip over my tongue, awestruck.

Brought to Portland and an increasing list of other cities by PICA (Portland Institute of Creative Art), Dumb Type is a modern dance troupe from Kyoto, Japan, that employs powerful music and audio sculpture with mesmerizing visual effects to create an overwhelming, deeply reverberating experience. It's an experience that awakens centers in your brain that rarely get work, save late at night.

The tip that MemoRandum would be a crushing occurrence arrived in the form of free earplugs and printed warnings of seizure-danger at the door. Yet despite the truly aggressive nature of parts of the audio, parts of the video, and parts of the dance, it is the insidious manner in which Dumb Type explores the illusory nature of memory that engenders the most blissfully damaging effects.

Handing out earplugs: a show called MemoRandum.

Dim lighting (used frequently, and dim enough to render objects or people blurry on stage) finds a scattering of words projected on the wall. Human shapes slither, more heard than seen, and gradually begin climbing the words on the wall. As we realize the words (which slowly fill in) outline the beginning of Goldilocks and The Three Bears, a girlish voice begins narrating the story.

This audacious and unsettling beginning guides the audience into a childlike, dreamlike state – the two states wherein memory holds strongest sway, reveling in its transformative power.

The climax comes early, in the most devastating passage of performance, in which Dumb Type accomplishes things which appear impossible, accompanied by foundation-shaking blasts of white noise.

This is the part of the show they warned us about.

Elements with ludicrous power ... or merely video projections?

What we come to realize are the sounds of our lives: various white noises, computer beeps and mechanical whirrs, are sequenced rhythmically, coinciding with a frantic projection of images on a bank against the wall.

The dancers appear, tertiary to the experience. Are some of them merely video projections? Some of them are blurry; can they blur themselves?

It's an uncanny syncopation of elements with ludicrous power.

Maybe lots of people think their lives peaked early. Awash in idealized memory, even horrible times become gauzy magic. MemoRandum peaks early, then settles in for the finer workings.

Yet another roar or two remain to occur, even as Dumb Type sinks into the hypnotism of time past. Laurels appear (or some other bush, anyway, projected 20 or so feet tall) during the creeping climax, while shadowy, smartly attired people slowly grind, rotating across the stage over a 10-minute period to a Steven Reich-styled one-note samba (if you will).

Among other multi-faceted, intelligent, and creative sequences, it's the most evocative, lulling you into a state where your mind will go where it will: perhaps a view of your folks, getting ready for a night on the town, when you're three and waiting for the babysitter.

Or something like that.

And on top of it all, there are cute bears with a vacuum cleaner. Even Dumb Type humor works.

Regardless, it's a wash; Dumb Type destroys me. The memory will increase the power of the performance. I wonder if my head can take it?

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and see the nw drizzle archives.

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