Thursday, the vaunted La Jolla Playhouse launched its digital Without Walls Series (WOW) with “Ancient,” a commissioned 20-minute Vimeo by Mike Sears and Lisa Berger. In nine separate windows on the computer screen, the viewer watches individuals carry out quotidian tasks–washing dishes, mincing string beans, folding laundry, potting plants–as a vehicle to discover the relationship between repetition and meditation. This is carried out with undramatic but measured, purposeful movement by the actors, who are accompanied by a musical soundtrack performed by singers and instrumentalists also shown in their separate windows–a cellist, a guitarist, and a keyboard player/vocalist.
Shawn Rohlf composed the music to “Let Everything Happen to You,” a poetic text credited to the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. In decades of reviewing all sorts of music, I have not encountered a more banal, irritating refrain than Rohlf’s sappy tune. Listening to it repeated over and over for 20 minutes proved more painful than experiencing 20 minutes of the most dissonant, atonal score of a third-rate serial composer from the last century. At best, Rohlf’s pallid style struck me as a weak imitation of folk music intended to be used in a sophomore parody.
Any serious student of liturgy knows that certain repeated chants can produce a sense of inner peace and exterior calm. Those that are successful may be simple, but they are not artless. I suggest Shawn Rohlf pick up a book of Taizé chants and study them the next time he undertakes a project of this nature. Access to this Vimeo is through the company’s website, which provides a free password upon application.