you know nothing about wickedness
i hadn't been to a psychasthenia society presentation in a long time, so when i saw it had moved to collective unconscious, i made sure to see it. i say "presentation" because the format makes this word seem more appropriate than "show." the core of the idea is a kind of "remix" of classic film noir images (actually using the hideous beast powerpoint, last i heard), recontextualized by an original story told live by jon keith brunelle. the results are often humorous, sometimes sociopolitical, and always engaging.
the concept, as well as his bemused delivery, struck me as an idea that, while having been done to some extent before (most famously by mystery science theatre 3000), had never been taken this far. brunelle's approach is more than simply mocking the original, replacing dialogue, or reacting to and speculating on the original actions and plot as laid out in the films. instead he uses these somewhat quaint, innocent images of yesteryear to illumimate modern tales of anxiety. dark, dramatic, jazzy music clips accentuate the performance as he advances the stills in real-time. it's also worth noting that in the age of omnipresent quick-cutting, he takes care not to overload the audience with a barrage of fast-paced visuals.
i first saw brunelle's unique vision at the tank as part of the day job event put on by spit and duct tape. he later expanded it in an approximately monthly show at galapagos, some of which i've written about before. during these shows (which were free or very low admission), he brought in a series of collaborators. in between a three-part story, a different laptop-based musical guest would play a short set while a video artist grabbed images from the preceding chapter and manipulated them live. in recent months, the lineup has been pared down to visuals by daniel vatsky and music by mad ep.
at the collective unconscious show, the trio offered what seemed to be a "megamix" or "greatest hits plus new material." using elements of previous stories about work, drugs, the christian right, he tied everything together with a thread involving deadly nanobots and added an additional story tying it all up at the end.
towards the middle, brunelle broke up the static staging (a necessary evil when all three members are behind laptops and mindful of keeping a screen in view) by stepping out front. here he became more animated, interjecting touching and funny fictionalized accounts of some of his own past experiences, illustrated with stills from the period. although seemingly unrelated to the other stories, these somehow helped put everything in a more personal perspective instead of just being a crazy sci-fi story with music.
speaking of music, mad ep has to be the most appropriate musical collaborator brunelle has worked with, along with end (some of whose sturm-und-twang "spycore" music makes short appearances in the show). matthew peters never lets his apparent love for hip-hop overshadow his original ideas or the needs of the story being told. his relentlessly inventive breaks and assistance with the show's musical cues are surpassed by his ability to use appropriate arrangements for each setting he comes into.
daniel vatsky has also grown into his role as visual foil for brunelle's straight-man film clips. putting the "psychedeleic" into psychasthenia, his use of effects is never heavy-handed, but visually stimulating and intuitively reacting to mad ep's music.
this conglomeration seems designed for a downtown theater crowd, as opposed to the chapter-and-intermission-based galapagos shows. although the show is no longer free, you certainly leave feeling like you've had your money's worth. in all honesty, i somewhat prefer the older format, because it was a bit more informal and broke things up more. i also found the new ending a bit superfluous (a preceding slide using the words "the end" enhances this feeling). but perhaps the club gigs were only warm-ups for this magnum opus, with more ambitious works to come (such as the inclusion of dancers at last year's performance at ps 122 (josh took some great pictures). whatever form the psychasthenia society takes in the future, it's not something to be missed.
the title of this post is part of a tagline for the lady from shanghai, some stills from which were used in the production.