We already have Friday, July 15 circled on our calendar. That’s when musician-performance artist-aerialist Ryder Cooley will be premiering her new major work, “Xmalia,” at Proctors in Schenectady.
Last Friday, Cooley squeezed into the fabulously funky Warren Street corner art space (Hi)story Labor(atory) in Hudson to offer a sneak preview of the show amid a standing-room-only crowd and the captivating artwork of Limor Gasko, Dennis Herbert, Kahn & Selesnick and others (including a rather unsettling display of bejeweled deer skulls by Cooley herself).
A benefit for (Hi)story Labor(atory), the evening began with a screening of a 15-minute animation by artist Bart Woodstrup of Cooley’s previous performance opus “Animalia,” followed by two short, captivating and thoroughly mysterious “filmic artifacts” by Truppe Fledermaus. (One of them, “Requiem for the Dutch Pond Bat” can be seen above.)
Then Cooley herself took the stage to perform a handful of songs from the upcoming “Xmalia.” Although best known musically for her work on accordion and singing saw, her primary instrument of late has been the six-string ukulele, and that’s what she was playing throughout most of the performance. Accompanied by projected video, each song that she sang spotlighted a different extinct animal species – from the Xerces Butterfly to the Tasmanian Tiger – hymns to the disappeared.
For several of the songs, Cooley strapped a taxidermy head of an animal to her back as she took on the animal’s spirit. It was an odd, disquieting sight to see her sporting a Chaplinesque bowler, a faux tiger-striped vest and the stuffed head of a deer, as she sang about Deer Gigantus: “You size was your demise, they say…” For a song about a parakeet, she sat down with her saw, singing and playing to her own pre-recorded ukulele and accordion accompaniment. And for the final ode to a ram, the ambient accompaniment was all pre-recorded while Cooley sang live, executing slow motion choreography with her back to the audience, a ram’s head staring plaintively back at the crowd.
And as the last notes of the song faded out, all that could be heard was the ominous ticking of the clock, a warning to us all.