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Noise annoys. (Rants and Raves).


I left a dance performance in the middle, and it was neither the dance, the dancers, the hard seat, nor indigestion that propelled me into the night. It was the noise perpetrated by Edouard Lock's celebrated Montreal company, La La La Human Steps. To this day, my eardrums shrivel at the thought of the racket made by the great dancer Louise Lecavalier, as she brandished a wand that broke a light beam, which, in turn, generated an electronic cacophony akin to a hundred chalk sticks drawn over a hundred blackboards. Lecavalier brandished her wand for an ungodly ten minutes, and the sound, amplified to an almost toxic level, was as close to torture as I had encountered.

Oh, the anguish! "Ouch, ouch, ouch, human ears? passed my lips. I was enjoying Lock's choreographic invention, but not enough for this. I dashed away, muttering about Canada's revenge for acid rain and dismissing Lock's assault as an aberration.

Fifteen years later, aberration has degenerated into a nightly ordeal at dance concerts. Amplification of recorded material or electronically generated sonic sources has risen to alarming levels, and woe to those of us who have not misspent our youths at rock concerts or dance clubs acquiring premature cases of tinnitus. I, for one, still need my ears for my work. I speak not of negligence, but of concerted attempts by choreographers to cross the pain threshold.

When, somebody tell me, please, did decibels become synonymous with artistry? When did we begin to equate pain with significance? When did partial hearing loss acquire its sophistication, along with tattoos and body piercings?

What is least conscionable about this business is the aura of transgressive chic pervading much of the clamor, a lot of it dished up by younger choreographers striving for an artistic nexus with their contemporaries. This might be considered reaching out for new audiences with a vengeance--recreate the atmosphere of a dance club, turn up the volume and they will come. But will they come again with their new hearing aids after their 30th birthday?

You would think an older generation would know better. However, postmodernists, by the very definition, like to dabble. So, why not dabble in affliction? Nobody dabbled more egregiously this past season than the French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj, whose Helikopter took my annual prize for noise pollution. The music was Kadheinz Stockhausen's Helikopter Quartett in a recorded rendering by the Arditti Quartet. On the recording, an engineer balances the sounds of the string players, each in a separate helicopter, with the noise of the rotor blades. With the volume raised, the sound mix seems to shake the foundations. Preljocaj complemented the music with snazzy projections, placing us inside a helicopter. Still, one wondered how much all this flummery was intended to conceal the poverty of the choreography, which resembled a melange of old Trisha Brown and a mosh pit. Reportedly, even Preljocaj's dancers asked why the music had to be so loud.

So, what can be done to alleviate this noxious phenomenon? First, choreographers must gauge the size of a hall before setting a volume level. What inflicted pain in a 750-seat auditorium reportedly brought less grief a week later in an 1,800-seat setting. Presenters, for their part, should rent the highest caliber of sound equipment, and, as they currently note the use of stage fog or strobe lights in their advertising, let them also warn us of extreme volumes. Critics should tell their readers, perhaps affixing a logo to their reviews, along with the star ratings.

What you and I can do is buy a box of earplugs. Along with a ballpoint and opera glasses, they have become standard equipment for dance-going. The only consolation for these onslaughts? You can't hear the cell phones.

Associate Editor Allan Ulrich is a widely read dance and music critic.
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Author:Ulrich, Allan
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2003
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