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Taking in Jennifer Walshe and Anthony Braxton at Darmstadt


Walshe’s text moves fast, and the music moves on the speed of thought. One moment, her vocals could appear to be celebrating web memes — or the “minor characters” who turn into “essential characters” for a day on social media. But before long, she’s chiding the world, or herself, for ignoring weightier matters. The music rockets backwards and forwards between amiable, unhurried rhythms and black-metal blast beasts; between ad-jingle saxophone riffs and free-jazz skronk; between even-keeled, Eddie Van Halen-style finger-tapped motifs on electric guitar and fewer orderly plumes of distorted noise.

She toys with audience expectations, too. Early on, she begins in a confessional mode, relating a #MeToo-style narrative involving a professor luring one among his students right down to his basement. But before long, Walshe leaves the audience there, narratively, with no resolution and the professor screaming to nobody particularly, in perpetuity.

As an alternative, “Minor Characters” pivots to latest fascinations and horrors — an exorcism in a rural country field, reports on a burning planet — as online life tends to do. When Walshe gave wild voice to lines like “they knew, all of us knew, and we did nothing about it,” her self-implicating understanding of the climate crisis had a Brünnhilde-like edge — with traces of grace and good humor leavening her grave understanding, much like Wotan within the “Ring,” of a world order’s undoing by its own designs.

Walshe has a wide selection of literary inspiration, Wagner included; her contributions to the liner notes for “Peopls” consult with “certain sections from ‘Watt’ by Samuel Beckett,” the rapper KRS-One and “the solid of ‘Lohengrin.’” That Wagnerian citation is not any joke. “I don’t do anything mockingly,” Walshe said in a temporary interview after the performance of “Minor Characters.” “I don’t like every music mockingly. However it has to mean something. There must be something at stake.”

“Minor Characters” seems to ask: If everyone seems to be distracted online, following their very own taste, how will we solve problems together? Although the show feels complete, there is no such thing as a true resolution.

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