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Juggling photography, french invasion, Jandek

We got an article in the local paper about our juggling festival a couple weeks ago. I figured that might get us a few more people at the festival or our weekly meetings, but the main result so far has been that we get lots more requests to volunteer work.

None of us really performs, though. I don't think any of us have anything against the idea--it just takes work to put together something entertaining and original, and nobody seems to have the energy. Maybe some day. But occasionally if someone doesn't mind our just showing up, fooling around, maybe doing some one-on-one juggling instruction with passerby--basically the same stuff we do for fun on the diag every week anyway--then we'll show up. So this Saturday a few of us made it out to Chelsea's "Relay For Life", some sort of American Cancer Society benefit. It wasn't that interesting, and we didn't stay very long. I never understood that kind of fundraiser--isn't there some simpler way to get people to write checks?

Before that we had our regular Saturday afternoon juggling thing. There were a couple French students--Arnauld, who'd been before, and Ariel, but who I'd met briefly at Sweetwater's before. Some random passerby that were friends of Dave's also turned out to be French speakers, so hung around and talked to Arnauld for a while.

Then there was also a photographer from the UM alumni magazine--someone at the magazine saw that the Ann Arbor News had run juggling pictures, and figured, hey, maybe they could do that too.

Later in the evening Sara, Paul, Steve S., and I saw a free Jandek concert. Wikipedia can fill you on the details of the whole Jandek mystique; or see this NPR article. Nobody really tries to describe the music, though. So what was it like? This is what I wrote Dave, who decided to skip the concert at the last minute but was still curious:

So there was a harpsichordist, a trumpeter, a dancer/singer, and Jandek.

Jandek had a guitar (was it some kind of bass guitar? I couldn't see from where I was). He'd often start songs playing notes that went up and down a bit and didn't have a regular rhythm, but by the middle he settled in to this very regular thump-thump-thump on the lowest string. It was always about 180 beats per minute, I think. So there was almost always this deep bass drone going on, and every piece had pretty much the same medium-slow tempo.

You can go find his singing on youtube. It varies between just speaking and chanting. He'd start a sentence sliding up to a note, hang around on that note, then drift back down at the end.

The dancer would start sitting up straight in her chair, then stand up, walk a careful circle or two around the stage, or maybe stand in one place and make sort of jerky movements with her arms and stuff. Occasionally she'd stand at the microphone and sing wordlessly, mostly longer notes.

The trumpeter would sort of listen along a while, then join in with an atonal jazzy little solo, and fill in between Jandek's singing.

A lot of the time the harpsichordist was just jabbing out these occasional little chords, like a jazz pianist comping behind a solo. Sometimes he'd do more complicated stuff with some syncopation and multiple lines going on at once.

So how was it? Who knows? I think I napped a little during the first few songs. By the end, once I'd resigned myself to the thump-thump-thump and the unchanging tempo, I actually decided some of the music was kind of pretty, and that the harpsichord was doing some interesting stuff.

The harpsichordist and trumpeter were clearly very proficient musicians. I thought the dancer had a good voice too, and liked her singing. I know nothing about dance, but suspect she's pretty good at what she does. As for Jandek himself? I just have no idea. Anyone could have done that stuff, I suppose, but, hey, I've never heard anyone else do it, so if you were into that kind of stuff, I guess he's the guy to go to. Personally I thought we could have replaced him by a machine that went thump-thump-thump and not missed much.

A lot of people left between songs. Some songs would have a particularly large exodus at the end--we could never figure out why--they mostly sounded pretty much the same, so it's not like you could say that the song that a lot of people left after was any more annoying than the previous ones.

There was a standing ovation at the end (assuming it wasn't just people anxious to leave), yet another data point in support of our hypothesis that Ann Arbor audiences give standing ovations to anyone.