It was a performance that felt a bit like a mirage. On the shores of Echo Park Lake, a Oaxacan brass band led curious clutches of onlookers in an informal procession. In the middle of the lake floated a raft with three massive wooden megaphones. Behind them stood experimental vocalist Carmina Escobar, looking diaphanous in a swirling ensemble of purple and green.
As the band halted its parade in view of the singer, the notes of its traditional processional began to dissolve into something far more abstract. At one point, the air filled with the ringing of bells. Amid this din, Escobar’s voice came into range through one of the megaphones: whoops, chirps, mournful cries and takes on the ebullient gritos (musical shouts) associated with Mexican song.
On a separate floating platform, Oguri, a butoh dancer from Japan, gracefully balanced a length of bamboo in a range of gestures that drew inspiration from the music — at times serious; at others, playful.
“Fiesta Perpetua!” was a performance that felt a little bit like a stirring rite that transforms into an impromptu neighborhood party. It was staged one afternoon earlier this month as part of the recently concluded Pacific Standard Time Festival: Live Art LA/LA (the performance component of PST: LA/LA, which has been showcasing the work of Latin American and U.S. Latino artists in Southern California museums).
This is the second time Escobar has performed the work. The first took place last spring, when “Fiesta Perpetua!” was staged as a day-long happening by the now-defunct Machine Project. That event lasted from dawn until dusk, a roughly 14-hour period in which Escobar, Oguri and a pair of brass bands circled the lake, performing at regular intervals. I was there for the dawn performance last year and it was ethereal — Escobar’s high notes skipping across the still-quiet park.
For the purpose of the PST festival, the work was shortened to an afternoon. But it retained many of its previous elements.
Maqueos Music, a brass youth band led by Yulissa Maqueos, played marches and other music as it strolled the perimeter of the park at intervals throughout the afternoon. This had a pied piper effect — visitors curious about where the band might be headed naturally followed. The band inevitably ended up by the water, facing Escobar, where they carried on a musical conversation of sorts.
As the band kicked off a cycle, the impromptu procession felt like a roving party. When they grew still and their sounds more abstract, Escobar chimed in and everyone hushed — making for curious moments of reverence.
Occasionally, the sounds of everyday life in the park became part of the score: traffic, children playing, the bells of a paleta cart. In the distance there were sirens. But “Fiesta Perpetua!” — which seemed as inspired by the park as it was by other more otherworldly phenomena — embraced them.
And at times, it was one siren talking to another — Escobar and the city, in affecting musical conversation.