By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
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It's hard to tell who's making the music on the darkened stage, there amid the instruments, percussion, and stacks of black boxes.
All that can be seen of one artist is a tent of long gray hair hanging over a keyboard; another is a shaggy shadow, beard and hair, apparently wearing some sort of robe, possibly even a dress.
They don't hold much attention, though: The audience, seated cafe-style and sipping beer or wine in the central area of the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, is surrounded by walls on which all sorts of visual distractions are projected, each changing at a different rate: A hand-rendered cartoon mural slowly crawls across a back wall while an unchangingly dead fish looms behind the wall behind the band.
On a screen to the right of the crowd of approximately 60, moving pictures silently run: first the Little Rascals, then Clint Eastwood; later, the sepia images of Sergei Eisenstein's classic Battleship Potemkin flicker past. On another screen across the stage, images have been so distorted or de-focused that they rush past as abstract patterns.
A white-clad woman in a black costume mask dances at stage center, coming out of the gloom only to sneak around the periphery of the crowd, almost unnoticed except when she introduces herself over the shoulder of a startled guest or offers a flower to a tableful of patrons.
The groove warps subtly as players change instruments; a tinny muted trumpet stabs through the current of sound as the screens jump from the archival to the abstract. Bandmembers wander around and through the audience; the dancer now sings as images of eyeballs, B-17s, and African dictators parade against the retinas of the audience members.
What the hell? Comatheatre, baby, a "performance art collective" dedicated to breaking down barriers, in this case through its Entermind series at the MAC, 3130 McKinney, from 10 p.m. to midnight every Saturday until August 10. Entermind seeks to lure the listener into a subconscious dream state, free of artificial distinctions.
It's definitely not your father's Oldsmobile. Consisting of musicians Kim Corbet, Chad Evans, and Bruce Richardson along with dancer/vocalist Amy Seltzer, the band is seriously cross-trained: Evans is a graphic artist and painter, while Richardson designs theater sound systems; Seltzer works with video.
"We're a multimedia interdisciplinary ensemble," Corbet explains, quickly using up his compounds. "We want to bring the arts together as much as possible...I've been an improviser a long time, and I'm fascinated by unconscious decisions."
"We want to get off the stage and into the whole room," Seltzer says, explaining her free-range role. "The dancing is just a point beyond what you'd normally see on stage; it makes things a little bigger than life, a little exaggerated, a bit dreamlike."
That sense of dream-time is vital to the group; in fact, its name stems from a waking oblivion all-too familiar to most of us. "I was traveling down 75," Corbet recalls, "and this guy just like--zoom--cuts right in front of me, and it was like, 'Hey man, whatsa matter, you in a coma?' Chad and I started to jam on it--something might be a total coma, or coma deluxe."
The definition of coma has since expanded: "We're talking philosophically here, but 'coma' (is) a theme park," Corbet says. "People think that when you're in a coma, you don't do anything, but it's actually a place where everything happens--you just don't recall it. All this different stuff could be juxtaposed in there...We try to present something like those juxtapositions."
"We're visiting a dream state or another world," Seltzer offers. When she dances, she's "trying to make the experience 3-D, like I'm experiencing a coma of my own and I'm trying to figure out what it is." She also sings, and while she shows up with lyrics and themes in mind--which she shares with the band in advance--she never thinks about melody, vamping instead with whatever the band is unspooling.
To make its sound(s), Comatheatre uses "anything and everything," according to Corbet. "Lots of electronics--they do so much for the space they take up--mixed with enough (traditional) instruments to give (us) validity." Corbet and company are particularly fond of looping devices. "Loopers allow individual roles to be larger, "says Corbet. "You can play duos and trios with yourself, be your own groove machine."
Loops are particularly appropriate for Comatheatre's recombinant cultural mission. "Their repetitive nature (references) Eastern chants, but combined with Western minimalism," Corbet explains. "We want to bring together things that have never been brought together before."
"What we've been trying to do," MAC co-owner Claude Albritton says after the show, "is establish ourselves not just as a museum or gallery, but also as a place where people could come hang out, like for a Saturday night, have a few drinks and hear some interesting music. We'd like for people to think of us and say, 'Why don't we just stop by?'"