The question is posed by Evelyn Drach halfway through her set at The Box in Soho on a Monday evening in June where nothing else, not even the clouds or trees would give away the secret to the summoning of (pre)natural forces we are about to witness on a cabaret stage. The invitation to Evelyn Drachs 100th reincarnation requested, on entry, that the visitor bring with them a small stone. My particular stone was retrieved from a corner of the nearby Golden Square park, between a ping pong table and wooden bench. The stone itself was small and unassuming. It held a curved triangular shape and reminded me both in weight and texture of a small sweet I would eat as a child. Perhaps a slightly misshapen jelly bean. Before entering I remember remarking to a friend about my stone possibly being more embodying of myself than initially intended. A moment later myself and the stone found ourselves separated once again, my hands cleansed ritualistically over a basin of water and the stone (or more affectionately now that we’re acquainted, the pebble) discarded into a cradle with other discarded pebbles. I was given a square offering of food, I was now prepared to be ‘reincarnated’. I mention this ritual sacrifice upon entry to Evelyn Drach’s performance because in many ways reincarnation is defined in principle, not by what is born, but by what is left behind. Cultures with varying deities pronounce these exchanges as sacrifices or offerings, something of which Drach in her centennial incarnation seems keenly aware of instilling in her spectators.
This was then amplified by the sound installation crafted and performed by artist Sol Bailey Barker. These ‘living sculptures’ presided in a mirror-clad liminal space, hidden behind a door formed from a hollowed closet by the bar, but demanding you find it to be able to move on into Evelyn Drach’s stage space. It makes perfect sense to include him because Bailey-Barker as an artist works so keenly with mythologies, and especially these works themselves act like mirrors in which the soul belongs to a more cosmic space, visual amalgamations of raw mineral ore harnessed by the artists tools.
Each object expels a brief sound, the impact each observer experiences infers unto these sculptures a vitality, breathing in anthem. Their contours regard each new visitor ponderingly, and we regard ourselves in them as the artist himself using percussion sticks and an array of digital amplifiers and loopers conducts our mutual curiosities, sentiments and concerns with each other. It is the exact cosmological headspace needed to move on to the final station on our journey, The Box’s tiered cabaret stage, just as far from what is old as what is new.
As a performer and a songwriter, Evelyn Drach exists in the moments between the old and new, the dead and the immortal. She appears on this stage in a wisp of smoke, moving her hands in both circular and static motions, exchanging happenstance ceaselessly.
In a time inexplicably before or after Drach proclaims on the single ‘Follow Me’, she’s buried on either the causality or prequel to an aforementioned point in time when the white mountain head of Seven Sisters, a series of rocks sat in meticulous formation. Her rumination of experiences had and observed in such settings, both supernatural, natural and domestic, and her ability to move so fluidly between them, bringing the visual imagination of her audience with her typifies the storytelling prowess of Evelyn Drach. Narratives exist on impact, at the exactly calculated yet wildly volatile and vulnerable point of the listeners reciprocation. Within the sonic four-walled fiction Drach creates, she is a mountaineer of wayward moments, whose sensibilities we rely on to walk unapparent paths, amongst the small creviced memories of us, her listeners.
Throughout an approximate hour-long set filled with smoke and circular crevices, both physical and metaphysical, her mystical mothership finally touches ground with Drach’s most recent and catchy single ‘Never Let Me Go’, in which she delivers sultry remarks between winding distortions of synthetic compositions; a more pop-mindedly crafted composition of the message we have been communicated in different iterations throughout the evening; ’Time is for the keeping, not mine or yours’. As a final song which could suggest a new sonic direction for Drach in her next 100 reiterations, ‘Never Let Me Go’ serves as a final weight to anyone at this point still considering Drach’s preordinate song-writing and performance skills. In it she delivers the kind of two-punch one-liner usually reserved for iconoclast artists and lyricists such as Lou Reed, Jeff Buckley, Robyn, Burt Bacharach, Simon and Garfunkel; the kind of lyric that can appear mid-refrain and with the emotional impact of a waterfall hitting the ground, a moment of overwhelming newness and beauty married to an intimate recognition of a recurring tableux or memory. After sheperding us through mis-en-scenes from the Seven Sisters cliffs to a man’s sitting room flowers, she declares in an understated yet almost confrontational fashion; “Every year I grow older, but you don’t”. After an hour in her company, its evident that Drach’s relationship to time positions her in the role of a custodian. In performance and in presence, she as a character inherits the damage of broken memory through the musical ambitions of repairing them. They are hers and the music you receive in exchange offer a clemency for the needing, even and perhaps especially to those unaware of the need.
The sonic landscape of Drach’s predicate themselves of the subtle ambience in the higher notes of piano keys, the furthest and most delicate strings of violin, the voice of Drach establishes the thick oil forefront of memory, history and emotion, each symphony culminating in the raw vocal storytelling accompanied by a choreography that mirrors the many arms of Pacific deities. As with all great paintings, the colours and shapes are subjective, oscillating in the central periphery of each viewer and like Caraviggio’s bleedings reds, begging for a body or mind to empty itself unto the canvas like running water, the very same water that drowned the stone which I separated from corpus upon entry. And so we return to the question Drach poses at our halfway point; “Why do people keep fake flowers in their homes?” Drach explores what incentive a solitary man in perhaps only his 45th reincarnation might have, and as with any perceptive artist, the audience is left sufficient silences between her own sonic oscillations to reflect on whichever reasons we may carry ourselves. To sustain life that cannot be sustained in its fullest potential? Because we have no choice but to appreciate the disruptive and beautifying effect artifice can have on our day-to-day lives? To commemorate the loss, or presence of a loved one without the fear of watching it welter away? A rumination the our societal reverence of beauty?
The beauty Drach is proposing here is rather exact; in its purest form, it is simply life, a confusing apparition in which we much accept its capacity to be artifice and authenticity simultaneously to create such mythologies and stories as Drach is able to summon with her sonic landscapes. It is apparent when the performance is over and the artificial lights reclaim the space that what has occurred was catharsis not only for the performer but for the listener, in a democracy that is so commonly elusive in music, because such staging typically it calls for a kind of reverence that declares the performer as the only genuine flower in the room.
However, in Evelyn Drach’s presence, we are all shown to be flowers who in our heart of hearts believe our beings and our souls are real. Much like the replicants in Ridley Scott’s future vision ‘Blade Runner’, whether we are fake flowers or not becomes irrelevant in the face of our ability to will a memory and the concept of a soul into existence. In the presence of an artist like Drach in her 100th reincarnation (and don’t let any hipsters tell you they saw her in her 78th, she was deep in the woods at that point, making no public appearances), it becomes clear that our memories or experiences, whether collective or individual, subjective or scientific, are what enable us to experience the most authentic crevices and supersonic highways of shared human experience if shepherded by the right custodian. And that Evelyn Drach is very much an able and deserving custodian of that ability.
Evelyn Drach will be playing a secret gig in Oakland next year, go to her website to sign up on her mailing list to receive an invitation to experience this extraordinary artist first hand.
Explore everything about Evelyn, from her music to press and upcoming performances on her website www.evelyndrach.com
For you all to enjoy right now, released only this weekend, Evelyn’s music video for Never Let Me Go.
Writers: Hugo Lucien Bou-Assaf and Hakon Lillegraven
Håkon Lillegraven and Hugo Lucien are graduates of Culture, Criticism and Curation at Central Saint Martins, London and independent curators and writers. Hugo recently curated the summer design show at the Lethaby Gallery and regularly publishes the photography zine Semaphore, which will materialise in an exhibition format this fall. Håkon is the exhibition manager of a new graduate show, Orbit and has held curatorial and engagement responsibilities at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Barbican Centre, and the Venice Biennale
Editor: Harriet Poznansky
Poznansky is a British artist currently based between Oakland and London. She studied at the Slade School of Fine Art London and School of the Art Institute Chicago. She currently works from her studio in Oakland’s Fruitvale district, making paintings, music, and writing short stories. www.harrietpoznansky.com