Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art co-commissioned Bellowing Sun, the sixth album from Jaime Fennelly’s Mind Over Mirrors, once a solo project and now a quartet including Jim Becker, violinist from Califone, Jon Mueller, drummer from Volcano Choir and Death Blues, and singer Janet Beveridge Bean of Freakwater. Fennelly is the synthesist, harmoniumist and co-composer of the three-year, multimedia project, which was performed live at the MCA on April 6 and 7.
The production was a deep, layered, trippy 70-minute immersion into a 12-song cycle, a stoners delight, perhaps referencing, remembering or reflecting on the months in a year or the number of celestial zodiac signs.
The audience was seated in a square on the floor of Edlis Neeson Theater, surrounding a massive, hung, rotating zoetrope, a multicolor drum (painted by Timothy Breen), lit from within and without, which changed illumination patterns and speed to match each composition. The lighting instruments on the sides and floor, designed by Keith Parham, were intense (like maybe a bellowing sun?), causing some audience members to shade their eyes.
The four players moved among multiple instruments (including double wooden flutes and cowbells) and synthesizers underneath the giant circular canvas structure, both overwhelmed by and yet in sync with the overarching theme of movement and rhythm, a drumbeat throughout the program, utilizing a kit, shared kettle drum, conga and two gongs.
The drums provided a Native American feel, the fiddle and flute a Celtic vibe, plus a Middle Eastern call to prayer leitmotif. The pieces are evocative, but not derivative, of the film Koyaanisqatsi (frankly, anything Philip Glass), the initiated systems of Brian Eno’s ambient music, and Robert Fripp’s tape looping technique called Frippertronics.
Bean’s clarion voice repeated phrases such as “the butterfly of the Eastern” and words like “life” on half of the tracks, and added a zither at times too (although she should turn around sometimes so the audience can see the face behind the long false eyelashes and zoetrope-scraping bouffant, and embrace the theater-in-the-round).
This experiment was carefully crafted to defy convention, offering an onslaught of whirling visuals and tribal sounds, inviting, defining and creating a new type of community calendar.