The Fussy Eye: Larval Melodies

The Degenerate Ear Ensemble?

The Degenerate Art Ensemble is an acquired taste. Led by Haruko Nishimura and Joshua Kohl, the local avant-garde troupe creates elaborately costumed and choreographed performances dealing with fairy tales, dark fables, portable surgery vans, and creepy transmogrifications. Sitting through them can be a chore. Fortunately, the Frye's current exhibit of DAE props, photos, costumes, and videos provides a more manageable—and to some, less irritating—survey of the company's past work, including Sonic Tales and Cuckoo Crow. (There's also a new show, The Red Shoes, to be staged May 12–June 2.) The value of the videos—with some projected on a huge, tent-size skirt—is that you can get up and walk away when you've had your fill, unlike in the theater. Some of the costumes are pretty amazing, too, like bondage gear meets Alice in Wonderland. But the best gallery is a stand-alone audio installation, newly created for the Frye, that links big, papery wasps' nests, hung from the ceiling like so many stereo speakers. The choral music in Tuning Nest is from some past show, which recalls This Mortal Coil and other '80s artists from the English 4AD label. You experience the eerie yowling not from the confines of a theater seat, but by wandering among and below the nests, handcrafted by Robb Kunz and Nik Weisend with mostly organic materials (and disassembled old mp3 players from Craigslist). It's immersive and enveloping—the rare kind of artwork that's actually interactive, as the visitor varies his listening distance and position among the pendulous sonic larvae. 

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