Musician Todd Juengling paints pictures with sound. In a dark room at 12th and Jackson streets in Over-the-Rhine, his one-man Fringe 2007 act sonically creates environments — even worlds — that can captivate and amuse. What he does seems almost magical.
Using modern recording and reproduction technology, Juengling makes a few sounds: He whistles or claps, thumps on a small resonant drum, taps a hammer or jingles a wind chime. His equipment captures the sound or the sequence and begins to loop it. Then he layers in something else, typically his acoustic or electric guitar, both of which he can play with artistry. He might lay down a melodic line or a bass riff several times. Then he puts down the instrument — but its sound eerily continues, as if it’s taken on a life of its own. He can accompany himself in this manner or add even more.
This process is already fascinating, but Juengling adds one more element: a memory game/toy from the 1980s called Simon. You might remember the gimmicky device if you think about it. About the size of a pie plate, a Simon has four differently colored lenses (red, blue yellow and green), which illuminate in random sequences, emitting an electronic tone to correspond. The challenge to the player is to repeat the sequence of lights and tones, which grows one at a time. Juengling has four Simons as part of his electronic “band,” and he uses them for musical numbers that seem unique.
Sometimes he starts with several of the Simons, laying down a rhythm bed of electronic beeps that he then accompanies on guitar. Because the Simon generates its patterns randomly, Juengling’s musical “partnering” becomes Jazz as he responds to the rhythm that’s been created. In one number, “Go Slow Stop Breathe,” he starts with more familiar sounds — whistling a bird song and an owl hoot — adds a melodic line from his acoustic guitar, gets them spinning in their own electronic loop and then begins to “play” the Simons, adding electronic tones to the stew of sound.
The result is music unlike anything I’ve heard before. That’s not to say it’s completely engaging: Sometimes Juengling lets it go on a tad too long, and over the course of 50 minutes in the dark he failed to offer enough variety to keep me fully engaged. But there are many lovely and fascinating moments.
His variations on the theme of “bells & whistles” open and close the set (with “Morning Bells” and “Evening Bells”) and provide an interlude in which he creates the sounds of “Traffic” — sirens, alarms and cars — made all the more intriguing by the rush of traffic whispering by on 12th Street. I liked “Erin’s Theme,” a more traditional melody that Juengling plays on acoustic guitar, slowly translating its bossa nova beat to the Simons.
The Simons’ sound can be jarring, because the musical tones are flat and without nuance. Sometimes Juengling compensates for that by blending with his more musical elements; sometimes he uses the effect to make his musical point. In “Think Fast Go Slow,” from which his show takes its name, he does both with interesting effect. In some numbers, I found myself jolted from one musical direction to another when the alien beeps intruded.
I suspect this is a musical mode that Juengling will continues to explore. I doubt we’ll ever have a concerto for Simon and symphony orchestra, but he has created sonic experiences that I’ll remember. I guess that memory element is another inheritance from the Simon. Grade: B
— Rick Pender