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Heady trios and “White Noise”

Plus more events we recommend checking out in Madison, December 12 through 18 edition.
A trio of headshots of the performing musicians—Shuguang Gong (piano), Sahada Buckley (violin), and Trace Johnson (cello).
Shuguang Gong (piano), Sahada Buckley (violin), and Trace Johnson (cello) play December 16 at Arts + Literature Laboratory.

Plus more events we recommend checking out in Madison, December 12 through 18 edition.

We’re partnering with the wonderful independent email newsletter Madison Minutes to bring you event recommendations every week. Some of these write-ups will appear in Madison Minutes‘ weekly event email, and all of which will appear here.

A few notes: This events roundup is, as before, selective and not comprehensive. Each week, we’ll focus on a handful of things our editors and writers find compelling, and that’s it. We’ll write up a few of them, and just list a few more. It’ll take us a while to get back to full strength with this part of our coverage, because we’ve had so many other exciting, demanding things to work on lately. Please reach out to us with suggestions—and info about your event, as long as you’re able to get it to us a few weeks in advance—at [email protected].

CURRENTLY PLAYING THROUGH DECEMBER 15

White Noise at Marcus Point Cinema. Various showtimes.

As a follow-up to his septupuly Oscar-nominated Marriage Story (2019), Noah Baumbach has used approximately $80 million of the money Netflix seems to be hemorrhaging lately to do a “one for me” movie—a project that greatly expands his visual ambitions while addressing the only subject that’s a universal concern for our species burdened with sapience. We are going to die. Yes, you, the person reading this, will die someday. That fact and the various complications we create to avoid confronting it is what White Noise (2022) is more or less about. With such a lofty subject to motivate him, Baumbach has created something sprawling, messy and totally fascinating, his analogue to One From The Heart (1981) or Under The Silver Lake (2018).

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Adapted from Don DeLillo’s ’80s satirical novel of the same name, White Noise follows Jack Gladney (Adam Driver), a college professor who has pioneered the field of “Hitler studies,” and his wife Babette (Greta Gerwig, in her first acting role since 2018). They’re accompanied by four children from various previous marriages (including Raffey Cassidy of Vox Lux who plays the eldest), as well as Jack’s friend and fellow professor Murray (Don Cheadle), who hopes to popularize an academic discipline centered on Elvis Presley similar to Jack’s “Hitler studies.”

The group navigates a constant Altmanesque cacophony of unending information, and naturally gravitates toward the biggest spectacle. It can be reasonably assumed that whatever commands the most attention is most important (Jack makes his living from the well of a historical spectacle that will never run dry, after all), while they’re all firmly entrenched in the certainty that whatever disasters are on TV are removed from anything that could happen to them. Of course they are proven wrong, and history intrudes on day-to-day life in the form of “The Airborne Toxic Event.” The exact nature of the danger is unclear, but the mere fact that danger is present is enough to disturb the routine.

The plot is somewhat of an exaggeration of themes Baumbach has explored for his whole career, namely the anxiety of trying to place yourself within society. He expands his palette past the character studies he’s made his name on, incorporating visual references to Brian De Palma’s films, to Jean-Luc Godard’s Week-end (1967) and Tout Va Bien (1972). Baumbach even casts Fassbinder regular Barbara Sukowa in a cameo toward the end of the film.

Consumerism at once creates distraction and meaning, and Baumbach takes care to include a corporate logo in the frame for most of the film’s running time. This ubiquity of branding culminates in an end-credits sequence scored by a new LCD Soundsystem track written especially for the movie. After all, once you accept you’re going to die, you might as well get on with your life. 

—Lewis Peterson

DECEMBER 14

Cosmic Rays Film Festival Tour: Look and Learn at Arts + Literature Laboratory. Doors at 6:30 p.m., screening at 7 p.m. $5.

DECEMBER 16

To Space And Back: An Evening Of Piano Trios at Arts + Literature Laboratory. Doors at 7 p.m., music at 7:30 p.m. $15 advance, $20 doors.

This program of chamber works by composers Bedrich Smetana, Fazil Say, and Dmitri Shostakovich spans over 150 years—from the lavish romanticism of Smetana’s nearly 30-minute “Piano Trio In G Minor, Op. 15,” composed in 1855, to the creeping dramatism of Say’s more contained “Space Jump, Op. 46,” which was first performed less than a decade ago. The evening concludes with Dmitri Shostakovich’s mid-twentieth-century work, “Piano Trio No. 2 In E Minor.”

Say’s modern piece, which performing violinist Sahada Buckley rightfully calls “a total bop,” swoons with a tense interplay of pizzicato and legato technique between her violin and Trace Johnson’s cello, before Shuguang Gong’s stark and sticky piano melody sweeps up the strings in a dizzying rush from lower to higher register. If it sounds like the soundtrack to a high-stakes stunt on silent film, it sort of is, tributing Felix Baumgartner’s legendary jump from a helium balloon in Earth’s stratosphere as he picks up speed.

The three movements of Smetana’s “Piano Trio” actually well-complement Say’s acrobatic work; while they may momentarily offer a brighter sonic palette that evokes the lithe dance of nostalgia, the piece as a whole is predominantly consumed by a melancholic motif reflective of Smetana’s loss of his eldest daughter. In its finale, the range of the piano particularly shines as the strings drift atop its piquant pianissimo and full-on forte.

After an intermission, the trio will conclude with the 25-minute suite of Shostakovich’s “Piano Trio,” which expresses the same amalgamation of elation and grief in Smetana’s composition. Shostakovich channels these emotions most vividly into the dramatic arc of the final movement, rife with alluring polarity and a seismic dynamic range.

Reference the event page for a substantial idea about the performers, but it doesn’t quite compare to hearing the virtuosic potential of Buckley and Johnson, whose electroacoustic duo Vōchē recently improvised one of the most compelling sets I’ve seen this year, at Communication. With the dexterous Gong joining Buckley and Johnson for this performance, “To Space And Back” promises to articulate the reciprocal and interconnected musical journey.

Buckley, Johnson, and Gong are also performing this same piano trio program in Hamel Music Center (Collins Hall) on UW-Madison campus on Monday December 12, at 7:30 p.m.

—Grant Phipps

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Dial Code Santa Claus at UW Cinematheque. Doors at 6:30 p.m., screening at 7 p.m. Free.

DECEMBER 17

Stein/Smith/Shead + Roscoe Mitchell at Audio for the Arts. 7 and 9 p.m. $30, shows ticketed separately.

Found Footage Festival at Barrymore. 8 p.m. $17.

Daughters of St Crispin, Or Does it Explode?, Something is Waiting, Wasabi Neon at Mickey’s Tavern. 10 p.m. Free.

DECEMBER 18

New Music Series: Johannes Wallmann Trio at Arts + Literature Laboratory. Doors at 4:30 p.m., music at 5 p.m. Free.

Pianist and composer Johannes Wallmann, chair of UW-Madison’s jazz program, continued to build on his already-strong discography earlier this year with the release of Precarious Towers on the Shifting Paradigm label. Wallmann has been restlessly exploring different configurations over the years, and this time he pulls together a quintet that helps him tie the roots of jazz to a range of playful and dissonant tendencies. At this show, part of a free Sunday series organized by saxophonist Anders Svanoe, Wallmann will be joined by percussionist Mitch Shiner and trumpeter Russ Johnson. Shiner (who himself chairs a jazz program, at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee) plays vibraphone on Precarious Towers, and makes a particularly memorable contribution lending color and conflicted texture to the slinky, blues-y “Never Pet A Burning Dog.” Johnson has also recorded with Wallmann before, including on the 2015 album The Town Musicians, and he’s an adventurous composer/bandleader in his own right, as you can hear on standout albums like 2014’s Meeting Point and 2018’s Headlands.

—Scott Gordon

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