Irish composer and performer Jennifer Walshe will be the guest of adventurous new-music ensemble Bent Frequency in a December 5 concert at Georgia State University’s Florence Kopleff Recital Hall. The program will consist entirely of two multidisciplinary works by Walshe: “XXX_ Live_Nude_Girls!!!” and “Atlanta 2089.” Parents should note that “mature content” is involved.
Although some of Walshe’s music has been performed in Atlanta before, by Sonic Generator in 2007, Monday’s concert is her first appearance here as a performer. Walshe now lives in London, but she met Bent Frequency percussionist and co-founder Stuart Gerber when she was living in New York City. Shortly after that, saxophonist Jan Berry Baker joined Bent Frequency. Walshe had known Baker from Northwestern University, where they both got their doctorates. Bent Frequency became for Walshe “an interesting connection that began with a stranger and continued with a friend. Now I’m very excited to work with them.”
“XXX_Live_Nude_Girls!!!” is a kind of “Lysistrata”-meets-Barbie theatrical piece inspired by 18th-century traditions of Austrian marionette opera. Although taking the premise of Aristophanes’ comedy “Lysistrata” as a starting point, “XXX_Live_Nude_Girls!!!” is a tragic narrative of three women and their boyfriends.
Walshe calls “Atlanta 2089” a reworking of a piece she originally wrote for the 2010 Future Music Festival in Stuttgart, Germany. In composing it, she says, she was trying to imagine a meditative science-fiction scenario set in the future.
“I had been watching this film called ‘The King of Kong,’ a documentary about these guys who play Donkey Kong and PacMan, all these old arcade computer games that they played obsessively. Within this fantastic documentary they all spent a lot of time, oodles of hours upon hours, trying to figure out the patterns in these games, trying to win them, and getting to this position of the game called the ‘kill screen.’ ” Old arcade games had very limited coding space, Walshe explains, so if a player could keep playing long enough to force the game past those limits, making it crash or behave erratically, he had reached the kill screen. In the movie, she says, “they talk about it almost as if it’s a religious portal to another universe. I found that really touching.” So she included in “Atlanta 2089” a discovery of a laboratory where people have been infatuated with video games, kill screens and memes from the Internet.
“Atlanta 2089” also has some theatrical elements, Walshe says, though nobody plays a dramatic role. “The two percussionists at one point chop basil, mint and different herbs, and they move through the audience space zesting lemons and oranges so the smells are drifting through the space.” She notes that there’s a big video part, a different film for each scene within the overarching story. These scenes are also combined with passages from “Hagakure: The Book of Samurai,” which serves as a practical and spiritual discipline for warriors.
“I like there to be visual elements in music,” says Walshe. “That’s very relevant to the way we live today.” She says she often returns to a quote from John Cage’s book “Silence”: “What next? Theatre; because we have eyes as well as ears.”
Cage is only one among many wide-ranging influences on Walshe’s work. She also mentions OutKast, Louise Bourgeois and Mauricio Kagel. And then there’s Samuel Beckett.
“Well, I’m Irish,” she says. “We don’t have our Beethoven or Mozart, but we have Beckett and James Joyce. That’s my heritage. Samuel Beckett would be probably even more of an influence than Cage, in terms of how he deals with action on stage.”