Insightful Reviews of Schick Machine, with text and direction by Rinde Eckert

Steven Schick Builds a Theater of Sound with his Fabulous Machine - San Francisco Classical Voice

In the guise of a wildly imaginative inventor, Schick works magic with his musical contraptions. 
Schick Machine full stage | Credit: Chi Wang

Schick Machine full stage | Credit: Chi Wang

What’s inside a Schick Machine? There are diagrams and equations, drawn on butcher paper; huge metal sculptures, balls, and hoops, and bells. A deconstructed pipe organ in the shape of a sunburst — called the Peacock — dominates the space. Somehow, Laszlo Klangfarben dreams, these mechanisms will work together in harmony, reconciling past and future, large and small.

It’s a bizarre premise — but one that forms the heart of an unclassifiable and unforgettable show: Schick Machine, starring percussionist Steven Schick and a menagerie of invented instruments and sound sculptures. Schick plays the obsessive inventor Klangfarben in this production by the Paul Dresher Ensemble, performed, on September 23, at Z Space.

With the house lights up, it takes the audience a few minutes to realize that the show has begun. Already in character, Schick ambles onstage wearing an apron over a crisp white shirt, and consults the blueprints he’s left draped over a large metal contraption. Over the next hour, he wanders around his studio, testing various noisemakers with curiosity, and often, unbridled joy.

Paul Dresher’s “Schick Machine” Begins its Run at Z Space - The Rehearsal Studio

Steven Schick in performance (image courtesy of the Paul Dresher Ensemble)
Steven Schick in performance (image courtesy of the Paul Dresher Ensemble)

Last night Z Space hosted the first of four performances of Schick Machine, a music theater production that, while only about an hour in duration, is awe-inspiring in both its concept and the realization of that concept. A synthesis of monodrama and recital, the piece was created for percussion virtuoso Steven Schick under commissions from Stanford Lively Arts and Meyer Sound Labs. The creative team involved Schick collaborating with composer and artistic director Paul Dresher, writer and stage director Rinde Eckert, instrument inventor Daniel Schmidt, mechanical sound artist Matt Heckert, and lighting and visual designer Tom Ontiveros.

Eckert’s note for the program book suggests that the narrative behind the monodrama was inspired by Labyrinths, the New Directions anthology of both stories and poems by Jorge Luis Borges. The stories have uncanny brevity. In a few pages Borges could summon up a logical paradox or absurdity, play with it, and then pull the rug out from under the reader, often through a self-mocking conclusion. New Directions probably chose the title because Borges could pack innumerable twists and turns into even his shortest tales.

Such twists and turns became an inspiration for Eckert. As he put it, reading Borges was “when Lazlo Klangfarben came to mind, or rather Steve Schick as a man unable to remember Steve Schick who has named himself Lazlo Klangfarben, but still has all of Steve Schick’s memories. Klangfarben, as opposed to Steve Schick, is an inventor. His latest brainchild is something he calls the Schick Machine, after a percussionist whose name he dimly recalls.”