Jack the Dog | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Jack the Dog


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The practice of making new music based on traditional religious forms has a considerable legacy--take Arvo Part's Litany, Cantus, and Psalom, or the vocal pieces for Greek Orthodox communion that John Taverner wrote in the 70s. From a less reverent region of the experimental tradition, Chicago's own Jack the Dog set out in December 1996 to compose a complete Roman Catholic mass. True to its name, the group settled on a canine theme for its religious excursion; the resulting Missa Canibus subverts dogma with dog, emphasizing biblical passages about shaggy beasts. On the responsorial psalm, for instance, words from Psalms 22:17-22--about our fang-toothed friends--are used in the formation of mesostics, a puzzlelike device John Cage frequently used to construct his poetry. The result is a radical condensation of the text--nonsensical, but still somehow relevant. Mixing Cagean conceptualism with religious ceremony is a task for specialists only, and with Carrie Biolo, whose main ax is vibraphone, and Jeffrey Kowalkowski, who primarily mans electric keyboard, Jack the Dog has certainly developed a unique MO since its inception in 1994. The twosome composes collaboratively, often using ironic performance-art tactics, sometimes incorporating taped audio-verite soundscapes, additional tracks of music, or brash sound collages, and performing brisk unison parts consisting of tricky rhythms and coiling lines that hark back as much to Frank Zappa's "serious" music as to the heyday of minimalism. (Last year they put some of this stuff to wax for the first time on Ah. It's Like You're Talking in Your Head and You Just Can't, released by Eighth Day Music.) Missa Canibus will be presented twice as part of the Sovereign's Festival, a six-weekend exploration of "some of the ways that sovereignty amongst people and within an individual creates pressures that shape behavior," curated by singer, actor, and playwright Jenny Magnus. Friday and Saturday, 8 PM, Link's Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield; 773-281-0824. JOHN CORBETT

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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