“Ground Control to Major Tom, Take your protein pills and put your helmet on.
This is Major Tom to Ground Control, I’m stepping through the door,
And I’m floating in the most peculiar way, And the stars look very different today.”
David Bowie, Space Oddity 1969
“I was born not just to know the Earth but to know other stars; to become a composer of more efficient things. To re-compose some galaxy.”
Karlheinz Stockhausen 1969
LET’S FACE IT 2019 has been the year from hell: environmental disasters, political corruption, children in cages, a crisis of homelessness, an epidemic of mass shootings, media white noise, impeachment hearings and raving demagogues, all ending with the consumer frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. By the end of December the trash dumpsters will be overflowing with a glut of plastic packaging and a lot of things nobody needed or even wanted to further poison the planet. Round it out with the film Dark Waters, a sobering account of courage against all odds, leaving us with the fact that 99% of humanity now has the indestructible chemical compound c-8 in our blood. The specter of extinction and the collapse of democratic institutions and the rule of law hover over us. Dark times indeed that do not bode well for 2020. Where can we go for a little relief from the pervasive anxiety and stress, for a little hope, joy even?
Sometimes a little fantasy that celebrates a better more loving world can rescue us from the grim reality and briefly transport us. Sensory pleasure, music and song, virtual healing and a liquid elixir were the Vibration Group’s potions on their spaceship’s journey into an alternative future that strangely resembled counterculture visions from the past. Entering the three room installation at LACE and partaking in the offerings of this multimedia performance opera written and directed by Anna Luisa Petrisko was a bit like stepping into a parallel universe with a slightly different timeline, as if you’d made a left turn instead of a right turn somewhere back in the twentieth century. The name Vibration Group alone conjures up the Beach Boys 1966 song Good Vibrations composed by Brian Wilson with lyrics by Mike Love.
“I’m pickin’ up good vibrations (good vibrations, oom bop bop)
She’s giving me the excitations (excitations, oom bop bop)
And indeed Act 1 was all about good vibrations offered up in the beautiful calming environment of the first room with its lush green plants and soothing atmospheric extended vocals. A woman at a long table poured a lavender-scented liquid into fluted glasses and invited us to join her in a communal group toast to the eternal spirit. We were led to the third room — the Earthness VR Spa officiated over by two young women who handed out headphones, VR units and instructions. Once inside and suited up for the journey we reclined on beach lounge chairs and were transported via our headsets into a Garden of Eden resort with animated mushrooms and flowers and butterflies. While it wasn’t quite “psychedelic”, it did make me think of Grace Slick singing White Rabbit (1966).
“One pill makes you large, and one pill makes you small,
And the ones that mother gives you, Don’t do anything
at all. Go ask Alice, When she’s ten feet tall.”
It was more of a 1970s New Age vibe with a contemporary techno-gadget aid to a therapeutic respite in a magically healthy, blooming planet instead of an irretrievably damaged one. Of course the thirteen young members of the Vibration Group Crew (as they call themselves) weren’t even born in the 1980s, let alone having any first hand experience of earlier decades. So the déjà vu is strictly my own generational thing.
All of this was just a prelude to Act 2 Group Therapy, to put us in a relaxed, maybe even blissed out state of mind ready for a spiritually uplifting, exuberant performance featuring seven song and dance numbers, including opening and closing rituals and a Third Eye Interlude. It was a multicultural, genre-bending, time-warp mix from new age ambient, 1980’s pop, disco and dance party, to performance art ritual, high-style sci-fi, and off-Broadway musical theater. Yet as an ensemble work Vibration Group had its own distinctive personality, character and sensibility, due in part to a unifying visual design scheme in which the costuming, sets and lighting design played a major part, along with the meta-level of ecological concerns.
The performance stage was framed by a folded origami-like proscenium arch made out of repurposed mats, in the mode of ornate old movie palaces. It was flanked by vibrant blue, vertical light tubes glowing like electric candles. The metaphorical spaceship’s crew of performers and musicians were all attired in tops and pants or jumpsuits printed with brightly colored graphic patterns on white or dark blue backgrounds, quite opposite from the sleek bodysuit uniforms of the Starship Enterprise.
In the opening sonic ritual Space onto Space the performers encircled Luna the high “priestess.” Bathed in green light, they enacted a healing with Chay’s blessing and prayer over a supine body. They raised him up and carried him into a standing position, “projecting him into space” to be reborn. The following sets of songs, dance, and music were accompanied by brilliant washes of pink, blue, violet, orange and green light, an assortment of props including masks, light tubes, mirrored glasses, and solarized neon-colored video projections on the side walls. (I was having flashbacks to decades past.) The performers were all beautiful, high-spirited and jubilant. The atmosphere was more cruise ship than starship, and I was a charmed passenger on this trip. The Crew exuded an upbeat sense of possibility and their retro-futurist optimism conjured up a time when we were happy and hopeful.
Although I couldn’t understand most of the lyrics of the songs, the choreography suggested a transcendent message to do with the necessity of this odyssey, of finding a new home and another way to be, and a coming together of mind, body and spirit with the universe. Ironically in a very 1980s pop song style, Mimi sang, “Seeing home, Taking home, Leaving home. I’m not there anymore.” And “Feed me release me clean me move me does anybody hear me through this fire?”
This story is prescient to the future this generation is facing — mass migrations from an uninhabitable world. Vibration Group’s tribal commune has set forth on this journey to find a new home, one that they would nurture and care for, and live in peace and harmony in, because the one they sadly had to leave behind was dying. In their words —“A space commune of chosen fam seeks refuge using tools of ancestors, energy, and our shimmering seeing eye. Suspended in an abyss of long time displacement, spiraling in wait, migrating. We pooled vibration. Exercises of mourning, care, joy for co-designing survival environs of the spheres: psycho-spiritual-body.” They go forth guided by their belief in their mission and their capacity to carry it out.
In the final song of the closing ritual the lyrics were clear along with a boom boom disco synth beat. ENERGY COME TO ME They were all dancing in place like in an 80s club ENERGY SET ME FREE awash in black light VIBRATION SET VIBRATION GO gettin it on 7 BEAMS OF LIGHT CONVERGING ALL AT ONCE . . . . . . . . .
I couldn’t keep from laughing, joyously, a little giddy. And yes it was cleansing! Maybe a little bit camp? Maybe a tongue-in-cheek lark. Or maybe just a genuinely sincere flight of imagination. Whatever way you want to see it, it was something to feel good about. You have to love Vibration Group’s talented crew for an evening of light in the midst of darkness. Their youthful belief in art as a magical communal act is something to celebrate at the end of this grim year.
COVER PHOTO: TAMMY NGUYEN
The Vibration Group
November 20 -23, 2019
LACE, 6522 Hollywood Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA