Maya Beiser: Almost Human <font size=2>by C Snyder</font> Nov 18, 2006

by Tania Kupczak

Maya was exceptional tonight. Her journey became our journey and the full house seemed to gladly follow towards, what I perceived as being, her exploration of place, migration and nomadism. To watch Maya play a cello is somewhat similar to seeing the setting sun. It’s through movement that one gains a better understanding of the complexity and beauty. Her left hand working the fingerboard from top to bottom, alternating between a blurred furry to a slumbering vibrato, while her right hand works the bow seemingly cutting and stabbing into the strings. All the while, Maya has her cello nestled into her body or held at hands length, much like you would love your lover. Which is to say, watching the astonishing act of an artist making music allows the audience greater opportunity to understand the music. Which leads me to my dilemma with the Almost Human show, I want to see and hear the artist perform without distraction. Yet several of Maya Beiser’s works in this show include projected video or video through television monitors on stage. As a result, the music seemed to change context and the audience reconfigured into a more cinematic experience. The two videos included in the first five pieces in the show are the work of filmmaker Bill Morrison. Light Is Calling (2004) is the most recent of his found footage works and Cello Counterpoint (2006) was expressly made to illustrate how Maya Beiser constructed the audio of the Steve Reich commissioned arrangement. The last piece, which comprises the entire second part of the evening, is a multi-channel video displayed on video monitors. With Maya seated down center stage, there are four monitors to her left and four to her right, alternating between black and white and color images of a film by Shirin Neshat, commissioned specifically for this piece. So who am I to complain or question? Bill Morrison’s work is engaging and he’s doing important work. Likewise, Shirin Neshat has such profound access into the sublime that I could hardly grumble at having to see her work through sloppy monitors on stage. Yet the music that Maya Beiser makes takes you to world far beyond what 24 or 30 frames per second can ever hope to contain and contextualize. Watching her move though compositions using a mixture of muscle memory, imagination and exhaustive effort should never be compromised. It provides a topographical map which enables some sense of bearing over the immensely dense and provocative sounds from her performance. However, Maya Beiser included the video work for a reason, so I will continue to trust her artistic voice and look deeper for the connections. I just hope that we haven’t reached the point in our culture where every creative act needs a television turned on to be considered valid, or worse yet, accessible.