They say hindsight’s 2020; I wish. Many of us might wish we could fast forward to 2020 and look back and laugh, but for now a more useful tactic may be to judge recent-past prognoses, to try to figure out which future we’re in, where that might lead, and how to deal with it all. Thus enters the timely cheap&easy OCTOBER from performance group Object Collection. Led by writer/composer duo Kara Feely and Travis Just, the Brooklyn collective work across theater, film, and music, and are uncharacteristically and somewhat awkwardly restricted to only one of those dimensions on this 11-track album, released by Infrequent Seams, the steady archivers of experimental theater and music mashups. (See also: Steve Buscemi and Elliott Sharp’s Rub Out The Word from last September.)
cheap&easy OCTOBER is an audio recording of a live performance given by Object Collection in October 2015, but it’s hard not to hear it as a sustained diatribe about our present reality. I experienced the same feeling recently while re-watching Polanski’s 2011 film Carnage, a kind of gut-level realization that the slow descent of “Western” liberal values (foregrounded in NYC, America’s cultural ground zero) into a bloody, tribal tug-of-war has been in progress and on-topic for forward-looking art since at least the beginning of the decade.
I guess that’s just the adage that nothing’s new under the sun, that everything’s cyclical. On cheap&easy OCTOBER, Feely’s rapid-fire texts are spit ad hoc by a five-person ensemble; most of the self-described “noise-opera” here is more opera than noise. The words are taken in part from Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution,” and here we are, almost exactly one century later, fascists against communists against capitalists in a bare-fisted Twitter brawl to the death of a nation.
As Bifo recently said about the mess of ‘17(s): “The challenge is to cultivate this consciousness among cognitive workers: from their mental suffering, an ethical awakening can arise. And in the ethical awakening of millions of engineers, artists, and scientists lies the only possibility of averting a frightening regression, whose contours we glimpse already.”
Easier said than done, but I think Object Collection is on to something here. At this point, there’s no way forward that isn’t gonna be whistling into cacophony, but there is a difference between abject screaming and earnest (if terrified) debate, and that difference is nervously plucked out on cheap&easy OCTOBER. It’s queasy listening throughout, mimicking the bilious flow and manic-depressive emotional tenor of our quick-burn cultural moment, when all these solids melting into air have indeed left a thick mist of “fake” facts to navigate amidst. This album never quite escapes being what it is (an audio recording of a theatrical performance), but in reduction, its cacophony becomes coherent — if not musical, then at least audible, like the sound of news-cycle churn observed from above while being sucked in. When it comes closest to sounding “like music,” it is stop-start prog-punk, haltingly aware of its references and pushing forward tentatively into its own frame until the vertiginous flux of scripted falsetto faux-autocratic ranting and tortured violin crescendo (Nero would blush at Andie Springer’s bone-splintering work here) spiral the whole thing back into an ultimate message about, maybe, the hope in hopelessness, entrenchment as escape.
It’s all time confusion, history circling the drain and coming back as rain. One strangely affecting portion on mid-album mud-drone number “Drowning In Isolation and Provincialism” quotes, at length, a quibbling about historians getting dates wrong for several key episodes of the Russian Revolution. Gelling up in the often overwhelming text-ether that is cheap&easy OCTOBER’s script/palimpsest is quote after quote that sounds at once pulled from some author-less account of any given war waged during the Long 20th Century and served hot & fresh & ready for the conflicts around the corner: “Everything flammable will burn.” “The machine gun will wipe them out, they will capture the machine gun.” “The armed demonstration against the imperialist policy of the provisional government has gone into history under the name of the April Days, whereas according to the Western calendar it happened in May.”
Object Collection calls this challenging listen “a commemoration of forgotten events where talk is cheap, to the great emptiness of a post-revolutionary society… an homage, a send-up and a surrender” — but we’re already in different times. “Proto-revolutionary” might be more accurate to say today, and cheap&easy OCTOBER might be the most attuned gesamtkunstwerk to describe the mood of early 2017.