Economusic' merges delightful ditties with dismaying data

World's best, and only, economusician performs for colloquium

The Spectrum

Graphs on increasing income inequality, skyrocketing imprisonment rates and rising tides juxtaposed energetic, cacophonous piano playing and buzzing kazoos on Saturday.

At Hardware Caf?(c) in Allentown, Larry Bogad put on a show for the Performing Economies colloquium. Bogad, a University of California (Davis) professor and performance artist, came to Buffalo for the colloquium, which explored economic issues and potential alternatives, both on the local and national systemic levels.

His performance tackles the "musicalization of economic data," bringing a surprising, engaging take to otherwise dreary, if not appalling, data.

With a projector displaying various graphs behind him, Bogad played the piano, flute and kazoo to correspond with the rises and falls in the data. Crowd participation was encouraged and the room was happy to oblige. Rarely is so much laughter and applause garnered in response to graphs of this nation's growing economic inequity. But that seemed to be the point.

"It's kind of ridiculous, but it's surprising," Bogad said. "A haptic way of experiencing data - that's what I'm trying to get with this performance."

Drawing inspiration from sources as varied as the Dada art movement of the early 20th century and the Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci, the performance was nothing if not an avant-garde experience.

Just like the Dadaists broke from the haute art of the day and embraced unpredictable new forms in response to the horrors of war, Bogad's performance art made the dark, displeasing realities of our time eerily enjoyable to musically imitate. Giving kazoos to the audience to play along made the news of rising poverty rates displayed behind Bogad a bit easier to accept.

With his arms stretched across his keyboard to imitate the lines on graphs charting growing inequality, asking the kazoo-wielding audience to crescendo to imitate increasing incarceration rates, Bogad produced an ironic performance that was at times arresting, but always thought-provoking.

"We're in a perma-crisis, in this economic system," Bogad said. "The system is getting less stable, more inequitable. Part of [this performance] is to use the musical form, which is just one form, to make that an embodied experience for the audience."

Reversing optimistic credos like the French Situationists' famous mantra, "under the pavement, the beach!" with "beneath the beach, more pavement," a tinge of skeptical hesitation remained palpable throughout the playful performance.

The short piece remained fun and animated, providing a brief interlude in the academic colloquium's formality and a great deal to mull over for the audience afterward.

For the performance's conclusion, Bogad used an overhead camera connected to the projector and placed a graph of rising sea levels and carbon dioxide emissions in a Tupperware container that was then filled with water, imitating rising tides. Humorous quotes and a hand-drawn picture of Buffalo's skyline were placed in the container next; the message was clear.

'Economusic' both delighted and disturbed in a manner divergent from most performances today. Bogad created an absurd piece that challenged the audience to interrogate the dominant socioeconomic system, all while giggling and clapping, kazoos in hand.