Aug 9, 2007

Aurora Nova Profiles: John Moran

John Moran should not be here alone. As the title suggests, his show is a duet between the composer and his partner and former neighbour Saori. However, as the lights dim there is only John, sitting cross-legged on the floor, all in black with a smart waistcoat and his hair neatly parted to one side. He informs us that Saori should have been here, should have been performing with him, dancing to his music. But in order to raise a little extra cash for their voyage to the festival she was working in a restaurant, and just before they were due to fly out she stepped in boiling oil, scolding her foot so badly that she was hospitalized and has had to stay at home. So here is John Moran, performing a duet, solo.

This is just one of the stories that John tells. There is the time that he and Jeff Buckley fought for the affection of a beautiful girl in a grand musical game of one-upmanship. There is the other time he lived in a secret garden for artists in the centre of Paris, and buried the mementos of a lost relationship under a famous statue in the city. Or the time he was a member of a Jungian cult who asked him to commit suicide. These stories filter through John’s music, filling the gaps and covering the entire performance with a soft veneer of mysticism. They are marvellous stories. Beautifully performed. Beautifully honest. Beautifully fantastical. But it is for his music that John Moran is known.

For a long time in New York John Moran was known for his grand theatrical spectacles. Huge operas in spaces like the Lincoln Centre. Shows with dozens of projectors, months of tech, with performers and artists including Allen Ginsberg, Uma Thurman and Iggy Pop. However, after a few years of incredible success these ever grander, ever more extravagant enterprises left John feeling, well, disenchanted. Until one day, sat on his porch in Brooklyn, he happened to see Saori walking gracefully down the steps of the neighbouring apartment block. He asked if she’d come to New York to dance. Quickly she was drafted in as a replacement dancer for a tour of John’s work. Since then he has made nothing but portraits of Saori.

Although in many ways these small intimate pieces are radically different to his former extravaganzas, allowing John the freedom to improvise and play off an audience in a way you simply can’t do when your show requires a dozen technicians, they are still fundamentally an extension of the same philosophy. John calls his music a study of naturalism, presented as music and choreography. He meticulously stitches together hundreds of samples to create the illusion of voices, characters, and environments; Charles Manson, A McDonalds or an assortment of sleazy characters in a grimy LA Bar. As one jaw-dropping scene in the Edinburgh show demonstrates, all of these seemingly naturalistic environments are built upon a delicate, precise musicality; rhythm, phrasing, tone, and pitch are all present in John’s work, they are simply in disguise.

In his performances with Saori, John takes this one stage further. He and Saori become characters in their own show, performing exaggerated versions of themselves. Their words and actions are carefully scored and choreographed, recorded on a track that they then lip-synch to for large chunks of the show. Thus the entire event becomes an illusion. Like the art of Tim Noble and Sue Webster the show first appears as a messy catastrophe, the precision of which slowly (and terrifyingly) dawns on the audience. For some, it is all too much. John has had nights when audiences have sat icy with disapproval. For those who go with it however , the slow revelation of the artistry behind these bizarre scenes takes your breath away.

And without Saori it is this relationship between John and the audience that has become the most fascinating element of his Edinburgh show. In his low-fi, late night slot he is free to experiment with the show, to play with the audience, to create, each night a truly unique experience. This freedom took on an added dimension in the last performance when John asked Silvia Mercurialli of Rotozaza, who he had met since arriving in Edinburgh, to perform one of his pieces with him in the show.

Silvia spent the day wandering round the venue in headphones trying to drill herself in the complex naturalistic moves that John’s pieces require; picking imaginary beers out of fridges, walking five paces to the other end of the room, turning to the left, all timed exactly to the voices of the score. According to both the evening was a lot of fun and from now on it is likely that she may be a regular part of John Moran’s fascinating late night Edinburgh universe.

John Moran and his Neighbour Saori is at Assembly Aurora Nova until August 27th, at 11pm. Tickets from the Aurora Nova box office.

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