I’d been trying to get into ATA to see my downstairs neighbor Todd’s photography and music exhibition without much luck for several weekends. On my latest attempt I spied the light of a projector through the window glass of the door and finally got someone to answer the buzzer. They were having a workshop, but my pleading won her over. The lights are off. I’ll have to climb over a log jam of folding chairs pushed to the margins of the room to see some of them and do without the CD recording that accompanies the exhibit, but I was in.
Luckily, Mr. Sanchioni thought of everything: you can download the music tracks from his website to listen to while viewing the photographs, certainly the best way to experience The Changing Face of Laos Through its Music. The show may have come to a close at ATA, but the images and sounds waiting for you on Todd’s site are part of a journey you will want to take.
Todd’s lens has captured the dizzying variety that is Laos: an image of monks huddled around a laptop is suitably iconic. Using music as the common thread to run through the show means the images never lapse into an outsider’s sentimentality. A cell phone ring tone briefly comes to life at around 3:52 into Track 8: Singing Monk, stirring the listener out of any misplaced notions that this is a culture where the traditional and the contemporary lead separate but parallel lives. Indeed judging from other reviews a collective favorite is of a glaring Cells’ band member picking at his axe, engulfed in smoke, mining that primal essence of rock as hard joy wrenched from dark places. If anything it proves the continuity of humanity’s obsessions from sacred meditations to the latter day glam of stage shows.
A shot of Mr. Tu playing piano, his song sheet a big board with the keys depicted pictorially is a personal favorite. Tucked into the corner are burlap sacks and a mop. Like many of the images, of the Laos Original Gangsters caught in an off-stage moment or of Mr. Khamsuan silhouetted in a doorway with his flute, it carries an undertone of quiet, waiting for the music track to prove the lie to such assessments. Frozen as they are, even a teenager playing an acoustic guitar on the back of a scooter seems to be traveling through a zone of silence, his expression one of absorbed concentration.