Morphing from a 40-piece orchestra in 2005 to a theatrical performance group, back into a 17-piece big band then into a dance troupe, and most recently surfacing as a five-piece experimental garage band, the Degenerate Art Ensemble is diverse.
Founded in 1999, the DAE has been electrifying audiences with its oddity. The group is described as a performance company that transforms and transfuses traditional genres into multi-dimensional works. Simply put it’s an experimental spree of music, theatre and dance.
“I think it is often the particular people that are in the group that have the strongest effect,” said Joshua Kohl, conductor.
Kohl and the five-piece band version of the DAE will be performing just the music from the group’s latest theatrical endeavor “Cuckoo Crow” as part of the Bainbridge Performing Arts After Dark Series April 7.
The BPA’s EDGE Improv theatre troupe will start the evening off with a bucket of laughs at 7:30 p.m., followed by the DAE’s wildly extravagant musical ensemble.
“The music will never let your mind rest. Always challenging you,” Kohl said. “Sometimes hypnotizing you for a while and then hammering you on the head, or making you dance.”
Kohl said the DAE’s lead singer/dancer Haruko — who started out as the group’s choreographer — adds movements and expressions that are sweet, terrifying, wild and beautiful all at the same time.
The DAE show is all about imagination.
“For any first timer … I can safely say that it will be like nothing they have ever seen,” Kohl said. “Just come with open ears, open eyes and an open mind.”
There are virtually no limits to creation for the DAE — the only guideline, Kohl said, is that the work is quality, something that inspires or challenges. With that mentality, anything is possible.
“The five piece is a great formation that can be added to, but is full enough for the wildly differing work we do,” Kohl said.
The DAE’s music — from it’s latest CD “The Bastress” — varies from an intimate venture with Haruko’s sweet song matched with accordion accompaniment on “Dreams From Wounded Mouth” to a funky, polka-style trip that segues in a hard rocking assault called “Oni Goroshi.” Both of those tunes are available for download at the DAE Web site www.degenerateartensemble.com.
The DAE song is in constant evolution, Kohl said, noting that when the quest began (in 1993 with the Young Composers Collective, the birthplace of DAE in 1999) the music didn’t have voice. On the upcoming DAE album — which will be coming out this summer — every song has voice and are much more like conventional songs with Haruko as a singer.
“But they are full of our constant exploration of sound and wild takes on form and experimentation,” Kohl said.
The group employs musical tools ranging from a drum kit to violins, cellos, bass guitars, horns and vocal chords to strangle out sounds and tempos that are sometimes unheard of.
Visually, the show is just as wild.
The DAE is heavily influenced by Butoh theatre — which is a type of theatre that is described as “resisting definition or explanation, yet profoundly transforming those who encounter it.”
“It is the freedom of expression. The love of all kinds of beauty, even the beauty in hideous things,” Kohl said. “It is really an art form which doesn’t try to just present one angle on beauty.”
Both Butoh theatre and the Degenerate Art Ensemble explore life and art from a very raw place, allowing viewers to create their own interpretation.