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A concert for the damned, and the death of a piano.

YOU know what they say about your life flashing in front of you when you're about to die?

Last February 27, at the Cine Adarna of the UP Film Institute, it was close... but not quite.

Famed artist, cartoonist and experimental filmmaker Rox Lee was celebrated for his 40-plus years of his body of work in an exhibit cleverly entitled 'RetRox.'

During the 7 p.m. performance dubbed 'Rox External,' some of his art and films shot on 8-mm cameras flashed on screen, as members of sludge metal band Kapitan Kulam, blues rockers the Borrachos and avant-garde crew the Brockas played in what was equal parts a theater of the absurd, a symphony of the damned, and a madcap dance that assaulted the senses.

The scene reminded me of two things: The first, a scene in Ralph Bakshi's animated post-apocalyptic classic Wizards, where Blackwolf shows his mutant army World War II propaganda film that feeds their bloodlust to the haunting strains of an organ played by the Grim Reaper.

And the second, that part in the Doors' classic The End, where the song enters a spoken-word section by vocalist Jim Morrison, a reenactment of Freudian drama, as the music built to a climax before the band went ballistic.

And true enough, as the clips sped up, the music got faster; and the scene, even more surreal and bizarre. Poet and artist Khavn dela Cruz, who also plays with the Brockas, began literally hammering away at the keys of an old piano with... a hammer.

And when the keyboard was finally destroyed, he brought out an axe and began hacking away. Copper coil, wood, leather, including parts of plastic 'monobloc' chairs there were smashed on the instrument by host and actor Jun Sabayton, began flying in all directions.

At one point, dela Cruz doused the remains with some liquid, as if to set it on fire. But it was like a final blessing on the life of a musical instrument that served its purpose well.

In the midst of this orgy of sound and sight, Rox Lee, at 68 years of age, was rocking with his makeshift guitar made out of aluminum, shingles and wire. It was as if he was having a seizure. His eyes looked up to the ceiling, entranced. His body shook with spastic delight.

The whole set took about 45 minutes, and it ended with the destruction of the piano. Bloodlust satiated.

'That wasn't art,' dispelled Sabayton. 'That was experimental.'

I asked if this was rehearsed. 'No,' clarified dela Cruz, who also said they have done this before during a performance at Cubao X. 'It was totally improvisational. If we did this outdoors, I would have burned the piano's remains. Its work in this world... is done.'

By the performance's end, the hundred plus people who attended the exhibit and performance all clambered up to the stage to take photos and pick up remains from the piano as souvenirs.

Kapitan Kulam drummer Jay Gapasin noted, 'Improv performances are exciting. You not only go with the flow, but you play on the emotions and mood of the moment.'

And Rox Lee summed it up best with a joke and a laugh: 'That was 40 years of pent-up frustration... released in a moment. I hope people enjoyed it.'

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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Mar 7, 2019
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