The Fugue Fugue has its charms

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By TJ Dawe. Presented by Boca del Lupo as part of its Micro Performance Series. At the Anderson Street Space on Thursday, February 13. Continues until February 16

TJ Dawe’s The Fugue Fugue is like a short, sometimes charming, but ultimately unsurprising TED talk.

Basically, Dawe is performing an essay about the fugue form, which is a contrapuntal compositional technique. In music, storytelling, and other creative endeavours, you build a fugue by spinning variations on a theme in two or more voices. In music, a fugue is kind of like a round but, in a fugue, the voices add more melodic variations and can sing at different pitches.

In his discussion of the fugue, Dawe draws on a promisingly wide range of references: everything from Johann Sebastian Bach’s compositions to the TV show Lost, Robert Altman’s movies, and the comic-book series Watchmen.

As Dawe speaks, the walls of the tiny Anderson Street Space are often awash with images. And, just as they are in Errol Morris’s film Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, to which Dawe refers, the words and images are sometimes juxtaposed. As Dawe describes the mysterious island inhabitants on Lost, who are known as “the Others”, for instance, pictures of Mark Twain start popping up. Twain will fully emerge later in his own thread, but in the meantime, Dawe is attempting to create contrapuntal resonance: he’s inviting us to lean forward, as he would say, and create our own meaning, possibly by contemplating Twain’s temporal and cultural otherness. Clearly, Dawe’s presentation, with its multiple threads and variations, is itself a fugue.

The package is often pretty: I loved being surrounded by a map of London. (Dawe likens the conceptual complexity that London cabbies carry to a fugue.) Dawe is a disarmingly straightforward performer. And the intimacy of the venue—the maximum capacity is 20—is a pleasure. (I was part of small audience, so the room didn’t get too hot for me, although others complained.)

But what does The Fugue Fugue add up to? Well, the idea that fugues riddle our culture isn’t startling. And Dawe’s climactic argument, which is that the digital age allows a wondrous proliferation of fugues, rings false: my experience is that the multiple demands of social media are far from harmonic.

Referring to Andrew Bird, who combines live violin with loops, Dawe notes Bird’s persuasive combination of technique and emotional content. There’s technique in The Fugue Fugue, but only superficial resonance.

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