The latest project from The Residents, Mush-Room, is a collaboration with Needcompany, a European modern dance troupe. They’ve often worked with dancers in the past, but never to this degree. This is keeping alive the thread of widening the margins of what defines what “Residents” means. Here they’ve created a symbiotic relationship with an external talent, essentially bringing it inside in all but name, and the result is not too far flung from where they would have gone on their own, but is still, undeniably, new territory.
But under the hood we see a further separation. The cover says Residents, but inside the full attribution is: The Residents present a Charles Bobuck contraption. Whether that’s a line in the sand or, given the nature of sand, a delineation that is fleeting at best, I’ve no idea. Again, the exact definition of Resident-ness is liquid – it turns out to have always been so, but that fuzziness has only been made clear in the past decade – so this simultaneous inclusion and exclusion could play out in any way, and may simply be a playful jab at the constant need to apply labels to everything.
I find myself drawn to the hyphenated title. The separation of “room” implicitly (and elegantly, I might add) places all action into a separate world, so even before we see or hear anything of the performance we know we’re dealing with a fantasy setting. I don’t know if the song titles relate to the story or are just fun wordplay – probably a bit of both, and that’s a good sign. It shows that they actively engaged with the story as well as had fun with the creation. And I think that sense of purposeful play comes through in the album. The music is as tribal as it is electronic, recalling at times that modern day masterpiece Animal Lover. It may be true that The Residents have been too prolific in the past decade, putting out more material than can be consumed (and spawning fears they are diluting their creativity), but projects like this are a confirmation that they can still be at the top of their game. Whether that’s due to the collaborative energy or simply the fact that more work produces better work is no matter; The Residents continue to be everything they’ve always been.
However, I feel somewhat at a loss with this recording because I am unable to see the accompanying dance piece. This goes beyond how I perceive a movie score in isolation, somehow, though I am unable to articulate exactly why. I wonder if it has to do with the role music plays in dance vs film. In film, music enhances a scene, adds emotional depth, but it rarely partners equally in the proceedings (movie musicals are a notable exception of course). With dance, music is a true partner, often leading, but it can seem to follow given an excellent choreographer.
Because of the uneven relationship, a film score heard by itself is able to take on its own life, to grab the spotlight far removed from its much more powerful master – almost an act of subversion. But a dance score in the same situation is partnerless, alone. Everything about it reminds you there should be a visual side. The give and take is so prominent that the void is almost palpable. The best one can do is to dance along to the music, in an attempt to restore that which has been taken away.
I was never much of a dancer, and besides my dancing days are far behind me. But I can choreograph my hands and fingers. I can bob a foot or wiggle my nose. Open mouth, close mouth, grin and clap hands. Yes, this is music I can move to. It was created for a specific dance troupe, but was released to the world. Stand up, sit down, move or don’t, but do so with determination and purpose. In short, I give it a 10, Dick.