One hour, four chords, numerous permutations: the idea shouldn’t work, but it does. The score to a Czech production by a German writer, On neni jako on reflects the nature of the play like a cracked mirror.
Multiple disciplines join at this juncture. The Monroe Transfer’s Nick Gill is not only a multi-instrumentalist, but “a playwright, letterpress printer and type founder”. The 72 letterpressed physical copies are the inaugural offering from his own Effra Press, and will be followed later in the year by an LP and a book. Elfriede Jelinek’s play also heads in different directions, as it involves multiple, unnamed characters who in this version were played by the same actor. The play is dedicated to the Swiss writer Robert Walser, who committed himself to an institution. This being said, Gill’s score offers variations on a theme, and seems like the integration of a fractured personality more than the fracturing of an integrated personality.
While writing this description, it’s hard not to think of Orphan Black, a television series in which one actress plays multiple roles (although in that instance, each role represents a clone). In this score, each instrument is analogous to one role. The guitar, cello, piano and synthesizer each tamper with the timbre and timing of the chords, presenting individual takes on a shared theme. Strangely, the album’s greater beauty lies in the unifying layer of electronics, static and recorded tape layered atop the instrumentation like a gauze strip. At times one hears birds, at times conversation, conjuring images of an institutional cafeteria with an open window. A ping-pong game emerges halfway, then the sound of squeaky sneakers on a wooden floor. At certain points in the narrative, the crackle takes over like mental dissension. One begins to wonder which element is meant to be foreground and which background, just as the actor struggles with the dominant and non-dominant personalities. Is the child’s voice a phantasm, a memory, a buried persona or an actual child on the grounds? Which instrument will soothe the troubled brow?
Four instruments, four characters, four chords, four careers: four sets of four. Four is the number of material order: the four corners of the earth, the four winds, the four elements, the four points of the cross. Each is separate and yet whole. The internal movement of Gill’s music, from instruments to octaves, seems to indicate forward progress, but all within a large box. At some point, the variations will be expended. The protagonist (if there is one) may realize that certain laws cannot be changed, recognizing the illusion of free will within a larger spectrum of fate. But recognition is freedom: the freedom to focus one’s struggles on the meaningful. Might the listener see Walser through Jelinek through Gill? Or does the listener play the role of the fourth, the subject of a yet-unseen examiner? Just when we think we’ve put it all together, the image dissolves. (Richard Allen)