Last spring, while perusing The Andy Warhol Diaries, Amnon Wolman thought about turning the voluminous name-dropping journals into an opera. "The materials cried out for a larger-than-life, operatic treatment," says Wolman. "After all, Warhol was a master of exaggeration, always trying to achieve boredom and overexposure." But he quickly dropped the idea. "I realized that it would have had to be very long, using tons of text," he says. "I definitely didn't want to do a Wagnerian opera." Instead, the Northwestern University composer brainstormed with a bunch of his graduate students and hit on another approach: throwing a party. "Warhol spent most of his after-dark hours at parties schmoozing with other celebrities--seeing and being seen. So we thought it'd be fun and instructive to come up with the 90s equivalent of the 70s New York party scene."
To evoke the world-weary ambience of a Warholian extravaganza in the contemporary context, Wolman turned to his younger collaborators. "The counterpart of disco music today is, of course, techno music; posing is now called voguing," he says. "And the closest to an all-night disco is the rave popular among teenagers. The idea is the same: Dance till you drop."
Wolman, who has mounted John Cage performance marathons in the past, wants to foster a new relationship with the audience. "At those Cage events and other long performance pieces the audience felt obliged to sit through the whole thing, to wait for something to happen. We don't want that; we want them to dance, to participate, to come and go."
One way to participate--albeit indirectly--is through the Internet. About six weeks ago, Wolman sent an e-mail bulletin soliciting submissions for techno-tunes to incorporate into the piece. "Andy was always up on the newest technological gimmicks," he says. "He would've approved of the Internet as a global-village type of device. He would've welcomed its mix of anonymity and familiarity."
Two of Wolman's former students, Canton Becker and Matthew Moller, wrote a program that allows users to create melodies by choosing from an electronic menu. Wolman explains the process like this: "Pick from two or three commonly used bass patterns, then pick a particular chordal progression. After the sequence is determined, it's then jazzed up with a synthesizer." Wolman's team then mixes the sound fragments with excerpts from interviews with Warhol. So far they've processed more than 80 submissions from around the world. An entry from Kyoto came with the message "expecting a massive groove."
The "groove," titled "Amnon Wolman's Andy Warhol's Diaries," will take place in the Dome Room at Excalibur on three nights later this month; each is expected to last to 4 AM, the club's closing time. Actors Leon Ko, Sean Goldmann, and Curtis Moore will scat-sing and recite text from the diaries to the beat of the Internet-solicited techno-music, which Wolman describes as Laurie Anderson-esque. They will also vogue as Warhol, members of his entourage, and other denizens of the 70s party scene, "looking very jaded, of course," says Wolman.
Projected on the Dome Room's giant monitor will be video vignettes shot by H.D. Motyl, intended as an ironic homage to Warhol. They include long shots of a jockstrap-clad model sitting in a chair and a drag queen putting on makeup--very slowly. Wolman urges guests to dress up for the occasion. "Bring a shopping bag, carry a Polaroid. And subject yourself to meditation, enlightenment, and boredom."
All are invited to Wolman's performance party in the Dome Room of Excalibur, 632 N. Dearborn, on Wednesday, June 15. Additional shows are scheduled for June 22 and 23. Starting time is 5 PM; admission is $10. For reservations or more information call 774-1919.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.