Scoring the emotional aftermath of a breakup
The shock of a breakup doesn’t just shake up your ego, it can demolish it directly upon impact. That heartache era is a confounding time where it becomes nearly impossible to trust yourself, and it becomes challenging to trust your friends. So in your starkest moments of unfettered neediness, you might begin to soundtrack your solitude with the music that soothes you, distracts you, helps you. Under that music, though, are the other sounds of your breakup: the microwave timer, the whirring fan, the clock’s tics, the mattress springs, whatever sounds your space makes that are typically inaudible except for in those estranged times. These organic sound combinations – that I’d almost put out of my head after my last life-shattering relationship ended – were unlocked again for me when I visited the Venue on Friday night to see local artist Jessica Earley’s live performance of “HYPER-bolic.”
Many a capable artist has taken up the task of scoring a breakup. There was Rob Reiner’s decision for When Harry Met Sally to employ Harry Connick Jr., who did original arrangements and loaned his voice when it was needed. Comparable moments to Connick’s “Where or When” appeared in Earley’s vision of her own breakup in the form of the artist singing to herself with an imperfect delivery that was somehow both wrenching and charming. This was particularly the case toward the end, when her song of choice was “Greatest Love of All,” which sounds predictable, yes, but her choices throughout the performance, both visually and sonically, not only seemed calculated but rang genuinely true in each scene. It was a splendid, clever performance from start to finish, but apart from how impressed I was with the multimedia aspects, the choreography, the abstract storytelling and the colorful, whimsical visuals I’ve come to expect in Earley’s work, the music of “HYPER-bolic,” scored by Justin Tighe and featuring Emily Reo and Alex Halenda, lent the show a necessary atmosphere, creating a dome over the whole performance, as if the scenes were in a snow globe that I could shake up and watch again. I wish that was a real option.
A couple years ago, there was a scarring film released called Blue Valentine that skewed very far into the darkness of romance and was scored by experimental pop band Grizzly Bear. This was a phenomenal choice, particularly so during scenes scored by the instrumentals like “Lullabye” where the mood is set by syncs and contrasts to what you’re seeing on the screen, resulting in a textured uncertainty that resonates with any broken heart (or even just the fragile ones). Although Earley did take us to the emotional blackness that most will shudder to remember from Blue Valentine, the music that Tighe created for “HYPER-bolic” scenes, such as “Suicide,” was similarly as evocative, as he punctuated his low-range, hollowed-out composition with grave percussive thumps that enhanced Earley’s visual statement with that balanced-by-hyperbole drama she was going for. Somehow in overshooting the emotional content, the performance resonated in a very grounded way.
Although you can’t see the show for yourself (yet! I’m told there will eventually be a video), you can listen to most of Tighe’s “HYPER-bolic” soundtrack, which I’d recommend for anyone who is still feeling the deep impact of the show or for anyone curious to experience the performance in part. I know that I’ve used a lot of movies to communicate the impact of “HYPER-bolic,” but I continue to feel that were it made into a movie, it would easily be among my top films of this year. Maybe I’m just one of those people who appreciates the empowerment that can follow a good sting. Since I can’t return to the theater for a second helping, I know I’ll find myself reliving in my head in the coming days, and having access to the music will help tremendously to get back to the fanciful territory Earley trod upon.