September 11th, 2010 5:33 pm | by CHRIS STAMM News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

TBA 2010: Charles Atlas/William Basinski


Friday, Sept. 10 at the Works:

I have not been inside of a high school since I dropped out of one 15 years ago, and as I mount the steps of Washington High tonight, I remember why I fled and stayed away: The sight of the unmistakably educational corridor awaiting me at the top of the stairs fills me with sick dread and fluttery angst. Okay, so PICA has turned this old prison into an adult playground of video art and libations and smart, attractive people who don't want to beat me up, and I can smoke outside without getting detention, but still, I want to fake a tummy ache and call my mom and tell her to pick me up and take me home to Mama's Family reruns.

The bitterly nostalgic feeling persists until I'm sitting in the auditorium clutching a beer. You are a man, I tell myself. Look: No acne, a pretty girl holding your hand, cold alcohol warming your insides, a spitball-free neck. Yes, I am doing some pretty intense mental yoga as I wait for William Basinski and Charles Atlas to take the stage. What do you do before the house lights go down? Enjoy yourself? Pssh.

So anyway, I'm feeling decent when Basinski and Atlas emerge from the wings to man their battle stations. They sit on opposite sides of the stage, a gulf between them, their faces glowing in white laptop light. Their digital mind-meld begins with plangent strings accompanying a video loop of a distressed man who appears to be dreaming as he dies, or dying as he dreams. Other faces blur into and merge with this man's oneiric twitches, before they too are flooded--looped fragments of football players, scuba divers, birds and body builders lick and rub at each other and descend into a febrile nightworld stuttering towards decay.

Basinski introduces wailing vocals with a few mouse clicks, and now we here in this strange high school are adrift, floating, soaring up to, down to some teleological truth about ourselves (or at least the images we look at to try to understand ourselves). In short: we're in the motherfucking zone, and these two stoic guys--who, for all I know, might be checking their email and posting status updates up there--are our masterful guides.

But I'm actually getting a bit too comfortable with this lucid dream vibe--afraid, actually, that I might fall asleep and see things I don't want to see--so I head downstairs to the beer garden, where Atlas's images are being projected onto a sheet. I smoke a cigarette as outside voices soundtrack the final contortions. The sheet gets shoved by wind and Atlas's visions fall to the lawn and finally die. I'll let my high school self have the last word here: whoa dude.
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