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Panorama Ephemera (Review)

By Bart Bishop · May 31st, 2013 · Fringe
“Good” is a subjective term. A more effective way to engage with art is to contextualize its intent. In the case of Panorama Ephemera, 60 minutes is spent with context being subverted. Archivist Rick Prelinger’s 2004 film, Panorama Ephemera, is a compilation of old industrial, advertising, educational and amateur films and still photos. For this 2013 Fringe performance, CiCLOP, the Cincinnati Composers Laptop Orchestra Project, accompanies the film. Whether or not the result “good” is beside the point, and your mileage will vary when it comes to entertainment value. What’s most important is how the film and the music grab your attention and make it impossible to look away, forcing you to contemplate the purpose of the piece with your own context. 

CiCLOP might not be the first laptop orchestra, but the nine-person ensemble certainly felt like a fresh concept. They perform in the suffocating heat of 1211 Jackson St., a small warehouse building with a single door that could be the entrance to a fabled world, perhaps Narnia. The orchestra includes a string section and a drummer who creates the spine and rhythm of the performance.

Five more performers are immersed in the glowing oblivion of their laptops and iPads, producing a hypnotic wall of sound, like Radiohead mated with an Atari 2600. With little boundary between seating and screen, the small audience of curious hipsters and unprepared octogenarians was forced into an immediate intimacy with the musicians.

They interacted with Prelinger’s David Lynch-ian nightmare on the screen. Historic footage ranges from atomic bomb testing in the 1940s to Safety Woman PSAs from the 1970s. The quaint innocence of a bygone time is distorted through digital manipulation. Sometimes it is silent, but when there is dialogue, it hardly seems to match with the faces, creating an unnerving atmosphere of dread. 

More often than not, CiCLOP demonstrated how music can be a powerful tool in guiding emotional reactions. A scene of a little boy soaking his teddy bear in a sink becomes a horrifying murder as the staccato beats and electronic sounds resonate. There’s little rhyme or reason to the order or editing, except repeated themes do start to emerge: the effects of technology on mankind, insatiable female passion, misdirected masculinity and white-collar vs. blue-collar life under the veil of the suburbs.

What a casual viewer can take away from that imagery, these sounds and those themes is anyone’s guess. Panorama Ephemera offers no easy answers, but credit must be given for creating a wholly exclusive experience. If you choose to make this a part of your personal Fringe experience, however, be prepared for a cold, calculating question mark rather than a bold, loud exclamation point.

PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE: 8 p.m. May 31, 7 p.m. June 2, 9 p.m. June 5, 8:15 p.m. June 8 at CICLOP. Find more of CityBeat's ongoing 2013 Cincy Fringe Festival coverage, including performance reviews, commentary and venue details, here.



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