Weekly Rochester Events #321: Hey Vern: How About Some Grog?
Thursday, March 3, 2005I decided I'm going to try and sell the partly broken Bell & Howell 16mm projector on eBay or else I'm going to shoot it. Well, at least that's the threat ... we'll see if it helps people bid.
On Thursday night last week I got out to the Thursday Thinkers at The Rochester Public Library (115 South Ave.) to see Dr. Warren Allmon speak about evolution and religion. He was specifically speaking of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species with its two theses: that evolution is a process that happens, and that the process by which this happened is through natural selection. (Thus, the combination of these two ideas is called "Darwinism" to distinguish it from evolution.) Even in 1860, most people (including the church) agreed that evolution happens, but there was argument that teaching the idea that man evolved from lower animals would lead to people denying morality and acting like animals. By 1900, the focus shifted to natural selection as the theories of the destruction of morality failed to materialize.
However, natural selection continued to be a sticking point. The trouble lies in the belief that natural selection leaves no room for a guiding force in the universe; rather, it becomes a cold and meaningless place where all living things are simply a random set of traits which, given a catastrophic event, only some would survive to breed and pass their traits to the next generation. In its extreme form, both hard-line evolutionists and hard-line creationists agree — given that natural selection is true, there can be no creator. However, most other people find a balance in the two — for instance that what we perceive as chaos and randomness is the hand of a guiding force, but our limited capacity prevents us from comprehending it as that.
After that I headed to the Ossia New Music performance at Eastman Theatre (60 Gibbs St.) Nothing like going from talking about evolution versus creation to seeing a twisted manifestation of it where originators of creative works fight the thought that they are simply creating an evolutionary step. [Ok, so it's a weak segue: I'm working chronologically here, people.] The first piece was Matthias Pintscher's Choc which was remarkably unnerving and almost terror-inducing — quite a surprise considering how many orchestral tricks I've heard used in scary-movie soundtracks. David Plylar's The Artist's Studio was good too. The irreverent style spelled out in the program notes was evident even to my relatively untrained ear. I thought the piece succeeded in its goal of suggesting a work-in-progress and the variety of tangents that are followed on the path to a finished work. Finally, I somewhat liked Elliott Carter's Double Concerto, but it was so technical that I felt I didn't understand all the nuances of what was going on to really appreciate it. According to the program notes, the harpsichord ensemble, consisting of "largely metallophones and lingophones" emphasized the "melodic and harmonic intervals" of "minor seconds, minor thirds, perfect fourths, augmented fourths, minor sixths, minor sevenths, and minor ninths" while the piano ensemble, consisting of "largely membranophones" emphasized "major seconds, major thirds, perfect fifths, major sixths, major sevenths, and major ninths." I suspect I might have enjoyed the piece more if I had any idea what that last sentence meant.
Friday I shifted gears and went to see The Blackwater Ensemble at The Black Box Theatre (34 Elton St.) perform their sketch comedy show "Numbers We See." I'm not trying to be mean when I say it's about 25% as good as a $20 show. It was actually funny, so that's good, but it wasn't sidesplitting. I don't know how to do it the right kind of justice ... see, the humor was consistently in that 7-out-of-10 range — only a couple times did it get to a 4, and only a couple times did it get to a 9, but it mostly just hovered around 7. The multilayer complexity also ranks in the "above-average" range and also pretty consistently so between all the sketches. So if you're looking to find comedy that's so bad you leave in disgust to enjoy the next 2 hours complaining with your companions (you know who you are) or if you want an excuse to piss yourself in public, you probably need to check out open-mic comedy somewhere or learn that those are your pants and you can do as you please, respectively — but The Blackwater Ensemble isn't your answer either way.
If you're looking for someplace to go that will make your jaw drop to the floor in surprise, stop in at The Metro 37 Ultra-Lounge (37 Charlotte St., at the corner of Matthews where Spot Coffee is) around 11 on a Friday night and skip to the next paragraph. With that warning out of the way, the place dubs itself an "ultra-lounge." Apparently that means it's a pretty nightclub like Tonic (East Avenue near Alexander) or Karma 355 (East Ave. near Alexander) but with the additional feature of ornamental dancers (no, not Asians, redneck) who are there not as "live entertainment" but literally as a decorative element [I can just see Steve Watson on Monster House saying to some poor saps, "and what would an Ultra-Lounge House be — without ornamental dancers!"] I felt too much like the frog thrown in boiling water (of Snopes fame) and had to get the hell out of there ... I may try again starting very early and let the water heat up around me to see if I can get a feel for the vibe of the place.
Saturday I was back to my usual tricks: The Bug Jar (219 Monroe Ave.) I got to see Stinking Lizaveta which I described thusly: "imagine all of rock-and-roll distilled to dirty perfection ... cacophany and precision combined." I really can't add more ... except maybe, "this isn't your father's rock-and-roll" — that this is an incremental step for rock-and-roll into something else. I also hung around for Gil Mantera's Party Dream which I described thusly: it "was as if they grabbed disco, synth-pop, and power-pop by the balls and demanded all their money — and collected the payout." Oh, and it was really funny too.
Monday I made it out to The Little (240 East Ave.) to see the Emerging Filmmaker's films. I was disappointed when I left, but I guess I was in some kind of "anti-" mood because in retrospect everything was really quite good. First up was Handshake by Patrick Smith which was a rather bizarre animation with a man and a woman meeting and shaking hands ... but things go wrong ... I guess maybe the woman is some kind of man-eating monster ... either that or I'm projecting my own issues again. I also liked The Art of Hollering by Vivian Wenli Lin. It's a short documentary about a topic I hadn't really thought about before: that of men — especially young men — yelling at women on the street to woo them.
However, Tesseract by Geoffrey Alan Rhodes and Sarah JM Kolberg was just spectacular. It's all about Eadweard Muybridge (the guy who's known for proving that a horse leaves the ground in a gallop through sequenced photographs) and his obsession with time, in part brought on when he murdered his wife's lover. Stylistically the filmmakers (according to their press pack online) apply comic book styled panels to tell the story, adding the motion element. They really hit home, though, with the film as a meditation on what was, what is, and what will be — or what could have been.
And finally I wrapped things up on Tuesday with Mayor William A. Johnson, Jr.'s State of the City address at The Rochester Academy of Medicine (1441 East Ave.) He started out with an assurance that this was his last term, and offered some advice to his successors. The main thrust of his speech, though, was to point out that the city has tightly constrained revenues: revenues from the commercial tax base are down, there is less federal funding, and the city is missing significant state funding promised by law.
More interesting to me, though, was that two mayoral candidates were present: Police Chief Robert Duffy and City Councilmember Tim Mains. Several local TV stations interviewed them and I realized that even if I were to catch the newscasts, I'd only be able to see the requisite 8-second sound-bites. From what I saw, I liked Duffy's down-to-earth anchoring to the populace, but I didn't like Mains' detachment from it — evident to me by the way he talked about the "poverty problem" as if poverty itself was the problem and not a symptom of other societal ills.
(And special thanks to Todd — el Dude — for the "ornamental dancers? D'you mean Asians?" joke I stole from him.)
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About the title ... Grog — originally rum diluted with water — is named after "Old Grog," British admiral Edward Vernon born 321 years ago in 1684.
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