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At Darmstadt, the Avant-Garde Rivals Wagner’s ‘Ring’


Walshe’s text moves fast, and the music moves at the speed of thought. One moment, her vocals may seem to be celebrating internet memes — or the “minor characters” who become “main characters” for a day on social media. But before long, she’s chiding the world, or herself, for ignoring weightier matters. The music rockets back and forth between amiable, unhurried rhythms and black-metal blast beasts; between ad-jingle saxophone riffs and free-jazz skronk; between even-keeled, Eddie Van Halen-style finger-tapped motifs on electric guitar and less orderly plumes of distorted noise.

She toys with audience expectations, too. Early on, she begins in a confessional mode, relating a #MeToo-style narrative involving a professor luring one of his students down to his basement. But before long, Walshe leaves the audience there, narratively, with no resolution and the professor screaming to no one in particular, in perpetuity.

Instead, “Minor Characters” pivots to new fascinations and horrors — an exorcism in a rural country field, reports on a burning planet — as online life tends to do. When Walshe gave wild voice to lines like “they knew, we all knew, and we did nothing about it,” her self-implicating understanding of the climate crisis had a Brünnhilde-like edge — with traces of grace and good humor leavening her grave understanding, similar to Wotan in the “Ring,” of a world order’s undoing by its own designs.

Walshe has a wide range of literary inspiration, Wagner included; her contributions to the liner notes for “Peopls” refer to “certain sections from ‘Watt’ by Samuel Beckett,” the rapper KRS-One and “the cast of ‘Lohengrin.’” That Wagnerian citation is no joke. “I don’t do anything ironically,” Walshe said in a brief interview after the performance of “Minor Characters.” “I don’t like any music ironically. But it has to mean something. There has to be something at stake.”

“Minor Characters” seems to ask: If everyone is distracted online, following their own taste, how do we solve problems together? Even though the show feels complete, there is no true resolution.



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