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Review: Timur Bekbosunov rises above the 'Collapse' at REDCAT

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Now that we've got 3-D printers, shall we make a singer?

I want Al Jolson for the base material, useful for wholehearted expression derived from curious cultural transgression (but obviously without the blackface). Add a tad of Ethel Merman to enhance that in-your-face quality. For technique and theatricality, of course, Callas. This may be the ingredient hardest to obtain, but you can never have too much Maria Callas.

Nor can you have too much Cathy Berberian, who not only blended opera and pop but took new music to new vocal heights developing extended vocal techniques and who understood that sex is part of song in all genres and cultures. I'd like some Tim Buckley and Frank Sinatra, please.

And since a super singer needs to encompass both the male and female voice, we would do best to create a light bisexual dusting of Boy George and David Bowie, topped off with a pinch of Liberace for bling. Since the singer will surely be tempted to show off a little femur, let's call him Timur. And let's make him culturally exotic, say from Kazakhstan and living in East L.A.

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Timur and the Dime Museum, sometimes called a punk opera group, features the rock band side of Timur Bekbosunov, who is, in fact, a singer too multi-dimensional for mere 3-D sensibility. He has yet to put together all parts of his involvement in opera, pop, new music, old music, or to fully merge his playfully dark and sometimes not so playfully dark alter egos. But he's getting there.

His latest venture for Timur and the Dime Museum is "Collapse: A Post Ecological Requiem," which had its premiere at REDCAT Thursday night for the first of three performances through Saturday. It will continue on to Miami and an avant-garde opera festival in the Netherlands.

The theme of "Collapse" is our mindless destruction of the environment. The structure is the Latin Requiem mass. The material is a set of songs by the Dime Museum's keyboardist, accordionist and composer Daniel Corral. The group is conventional with guitarist and sound/engineer Matthew Setzer, bassist David Tranchina and drummer Andrew Lessman. But they, like Timur, are graduates of CalArts and keep a couple of toes in experimental music.

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"Collapse" is a multimedia extension for the group. A large video screen behind the band mixed live imagery of the performance with footage of various kinds of environmental disasters. The lighting is theatrical. Timur is costumed. Is he ever — as satanic priest, as frilly dandy and as bi-gendered in an outfit that is one side a suit and the other party dress.

The show has a long list of contributors, but it belongs to Timur, who takes on a variety of personas for Corral's stylistically and vocally wide-ranging songs. They can be popsy, preachy, beat, grungy or ferociously apocalyptic, with texts to match. The salmon are dying in polluted rivers. A Santa Monica beach holiday ain't what it used to be. Nuclear disasters come along with alarming regularity. We've got the cobalt blues. The new Allen Ginsberg Moloch is the tsunami.

"Collapse" may not tell us anything we don't already know musically or ecologically. The rock band part can fall too easily into generic dance mode, as though everything is going to be OK. The video doesn't add much. The lighting is dark. The amplification is heavy on drums. It's hard to make out a lot of the text.

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But what we are left with in the hour-long song cycle is Timur. He moves from bass to falsetto. He embodies centuries' worth of musical styles. He is nastily seductive, dangerous even. Whoops, Timur reminds me that I forgot to put Mick Jagger and the 18th century glam castrato, Farinelli, into the printer.

As a production, "Collapse" is in slight hazard of collapsing under its own theatrical and sonic weight. The backbeat soundscape and video overly dominate and do not evolve (although maybe this is meant to indicate the end of evolution as we know it, as well). But Timur flabbergasts from first to last.

If the way to save the environment is to conserve, the show would make its point stronger by tossing what is extraneous and putting all its faith in Timur. Meanwhile, I'll recycle the 3-D printer. Who needs it?

mark.swed@latimes.com

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