In 1981 David Byrne and Brian Eno released My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, an album so original and inspired that there’s few DJs today whose style and methods cannot be traced back to it. From Feb. 4 to Feb. 15, an interdisciplinary team of artists took on the ambitious task of recreating the album for the theatrical stage as part of Vancouver’s Push Festival.
The Theatre Conspiracy production company brought together DJs from No Luck Club and video editor Candelario Andrade making live noise and images, while Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg took centre stage as a focal point for the evening. Friedenberg was a chameleon, playing the roles of a woman scraping electronic parts from a wasteland, a suicidal day trader, an aging gambler living in fantasies of her past, a young DJ ensnared by an Internet predator, a televangelist battling the spirit of Jezebel, and an electronic goddess. As the talented Friedenberg acted and danced through these ghosts of technology, she was backed by music that sounded familiarly like Eno and Byrne’s collaboration and bathed in a shimmering array of lights and images.
The result was an abstract and unique mixed media collage—a mesmerizing assault on the senses from start to finish. It’s hard to encapsulate all the details of the piece in one go, but the production brought together the same spirit of innovation that Eno and Byrne invoked on their album. It is rare to see any production that so well mixes together the many forms of media available to a performer. It was easy to get caught in a barrage of images and sound—while considering the intricacies of online poker hands or Friedenberg’s impression of a televangelist, you would miss some other beautiful little detail.
Though no attention was spared in the details of the production, there were plenty of big, impressive moments in each of the seven pieces that structured it. As a frazzled stock broker kicks the bucket, you can see a projected image representing his soul fly out towards the ceiling. In the finale Friedenberg plays a goddess embodying both a primitive innocence and advanced technology. The production was so complex and abstract that its interpretation was left entirely in the hands of each audience member, everyone who saw it getting a different experience from it—which is one of the best things any piece of art can do.