The program for composer Seth Nehil's new "sonic cinematic performance" lists 19 sources: "Phylogenetic Thinking in Biology and Historical Linguistics," "On the Limitations of the Iconographic Approach to Bruegel" and journal articles and books about film theory, theater, wolf children and similarly heady material. Yet the hour-plus program contains hardly half a dozen English sentences.
That's the consequence of sound artist Seth Nehil's bold decision to dramatize the development of new language without using the old one. Instead, Children's Games conveys its ruminations on Lacanian theory almost entirely via arresting sound, symbolic images and phrases such as "Ling long bling a ling ling." Invoking themes explored by writers from Rousseau to Anthony Burgess, this four-act, multimedia speculative fiction does tell an elliptical story: Feral children living in a "pre-Oedipal state of bliss," who've developed their own language and nature-loving "saturnalia of the mind," are rounded up, cleaned up and forcibly impressed into âcivilizedâ society.
Drawing on the brothers Grimm, François Truffaut, Dario Argento's cult movie Suspiria, Disney's Snow White and Pieter Bruegel's celebrated painting of the same name, Children's Games doesn't escape the common problem of overcooked ambitious art overloaded with complex ideas. References obvious to the creators become obscure to the audience. Yet the production effectively uses nonliteral musical, verbal and imagistic repetition to suggest social indoctrination—particularly the percussive, ominous, sometimes harsh electronic noise by Nehil, and bubbly minimalist chamber trio music by Matt Carlson.
Sometimes the performance provides both too little and too much, with images on a big screen, TV monitors and the stage while the Mouth's superb sound system blasts an assaultive, overlong climactic sequence at deafening volume. The big ideas and images could have been portrayed at half the length, but Nehil said in a post-concert talk that he wanted to push the envelope of audience patience for dramatic effect. He succeeds; the last words we hear are "over and over and over," and although I was happy it was, I was also glad I'd played these elusive, allusive games.
SEE IT: The Mouth, Inside Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont St., 320-7512. 8 pm Friday-Sunday, Nov. 4-6. $15, $10 students.