Wolf Howls, Monster Growls, & Sex Sounds: Tanya Tagaq's Live Score of NANOOK OF THE NORTH (1922) at Zipper Hall / by Samuel B. Prime

This past weekend, The Broad in connection with The Colburn School's Zipper Hall hosted Inuit throat-singer and polymath Tanya Tagaq as part of the continuing feminist performance series Tip of Her Tongue. Tagaq's first solo performance in Los Angeles, she has been touring a fierce, elemental live score of Robert Flaherty's 1922 silent film NANOOK OF THE NORTH nationwide. Accompanied by violinist Jesse Zubot and percussionist Jean Martin, whereas most live scores seek to draw inspiration from the onscreen images, Tagaq's angle seems more inclined to dismantle them. Tagaq's combination of Inuit heritage and noise-rock experimentation channeled through wolf howls, monster growls, and sex sounds yields a shamanistic expression at odds - or in competition - with the film.

Simultaneously delicate and guttural, the live score's tone unpredictably changes shape at a moment's notice.* Pleasure and pain. Pleasure in being acknowledged or recognized, important enough in some respect to be in front of a camera rather than behind a camera or otherwise lost to collective memory. Pain to be unable or, more to the point, not allowed to represent oneself. At least partially an attempt to highlight the imposed artificiality of Robert Flaherty's ethnographic film, the score refuses to directly underscore the action. It challenges it. It makes it seem haunted - as if Tagaq is a medium, speaking in tongues, embodying her ancestors. The performance is a physical feat. The result is a hybrid cinematic experience where the audience's attention is divided at all times.

Tagaq stomps around the stage conducting an eminently watchable exorcism to which the audience is witness, contorting her body and wailing high-pitched echoes into the void. At the same time, Robert Flaherty's NANOOK OF THE NORTH (1922) - as a sterile, distanced counterpoint - plays on the screen behind. However, the film itself is ostensibly the primary art object - that which is being modified. Does Tagaq invite the audience to consider that the subjects of Flaherty's film are themselves primary ethical persons that precede (or somehow invalidate) the creation of art? Consider the ethics of any representation. How do you decide what to look at or what is most deserving of your attention when so much is going on? "Exactly" is the unironic response that I would expect to hear from a bespectacled museum curator. I might agree with them, but I would still laugh... "because, of course."

Learn more about Tanya Tagaq, the Tip of Her Tongue series, and The Broad here.

- Samuel B. Prime

Founder, LA Ciné Salon

* but not without design