More On Sideshow by Noam Bierstone

Steven Kazuo Takasugi’s Sideshow is an hour-long theatrical work for chamber octet, electronic amplification, and playback. Based on the dark sideshows of Coney Island’s amusement parks in the early part of the 20th Century, Sideshow is a work of music theatre that is framed in a chamber music performance suggesting a circus sideshow, or freak show. NO HAY BANDA is the only Canadian group to perform the work, and we are thrilled to be taking it on the road following our initial performance in Montreal in 2019. We were very fortunate to work with Takasugi in preparation of that performance, and we are delighted that he is able to join us at the Modulus Festival as well. 

Sideshow features the players seated in a straight line across the stage, rather than in a typical chamber music curve, so that their faces, hands and instruments are fully visible to the audience. The musicians are required to perform every action, ranging from frozen silences to severe acts, with the utmost intensity, presence, and concentration. The work is extreme and sometimes “over the top” in its theatrical depictions and demonstrations, particularly for a piece of chamber music in a concert setting, yet it is saved by a ruthless containment. As Takasugi explains: “While comical, strange, or grotesque elicitations may result from various acts performed on stage, these are never approached by a performer’s attempt to be silly, cute, melodramatic, or histrionical. Quite the opposite: Sideshow is an extremely austere theater, more related to the Japanese Noh Theater or the tea ceremony.” 

Sideshow draws attention to a unique form of theatrical music and an innovative use of technology. Takasugi’s approach exploits every single movement performed by the musicians as a theatrical tool, and enhances these movements with extra-musical facial expressions and actions. Furthermore, Takasugi, originally a composer of electroacoustic music, uses the inherent tension between humans and technology as a way of emphasizing the importance of live performance. Takasugi describes the integration of live performance into his original project of fixed media as “When people return…” This relationship creates a strange doubling effect playing off the “who is doing what?” issue that is inherent with simultaneous live and recorded media: a ventriloquism effect of sorts.  

Noam Bierstone. October 2022. Vancouver, BC.

Tickets & concert info: No Hay Banda plays Steven Kazuo Takasugi’s Sideshow – November 8, 2022 at THE ROUNDHOUSE.

Support for The Composer Essay Project is generously provided by SOCAN Foundation.