Music — The Bop Ants

The Bop Ants

by Michelle Saturley

Take a chance on the Bop Ants Performance art group slated for Jewell & the Beanstalk

For those who find themselves filled with ennui at the thought of hearing one more rendition of some Barenaked Ladies song by a local cover band, or the high-decibel anger of yet another metal band at one of the city’s many bars, there is now an intriguing alternative. The Bop Ants, an improvisational multimedia performance art act, will be making their Manchester debut at Jewell & the Beanstalk, the friendly neighborhood hair salon-restaurant-art gallery-nightclub, on Jan. 22.

Marc Bisson, the Manchester resident who founded the group, says that this is the first time the group has even considered playing the Queen City.

“We play mostly in the underground college scene in the Boston Metro area,” Bisson said. “But I live near the Beanstalk, and Amber [Grogan, who owns Jewell and the Beanstalk] is such an open-minded person, it seemed like a good fit.”

In his formative years, Bisson, who grew up in the Concord area, came across an album by an obscure British guitarist named Frank Frith. Frith used unconventional methods to play his instrument that evoked a moody, mesmerizing sound. Bisson says he was hooked.

Later, Bisson took the traditional garage-band route, playing in blues and rock bands in the local scene. It wasn’t until he moved to Seattle that he once again encountered the music of Frith. This time, he wasn’t the only admirer.

“It was encouraging to realize there were other artists and musicians who were into the same things as me,” he said. “When I came back to New England, I decided I would find some other like-minded people to play with. That’s when I stopped doing the whole ‘commercial rock’ thing.”

Today, Bisson plays tabletop guitar in the band and uses what he calls “preparations” to achieve different sounds and effects on his instrument.

“I lay the guitar flat, and put different things in the strings, such as kitchen utensils, glass bottles and alligator clips,” he said. “The result is a very unique, moody sound that’s more like a soundtrack than an actual song.”

Joining Bisson will be Walter Wright, who plays analog synthesizer and mans the video projector that adds a multimedia layer to the performance. Wright is a media professor at UMass Lowell who has developed his own video system called the Video Shredder.

“Walter splices together all kinds of footage, from stuff he shoots on the street with his video camera to old monster movies,” Bisson said. “The video he puts together serves as a backdrop for the music we create.”

The band’s violinist, Katt Hernandez, will be unable to make the date at the Beanstalk, according to Bisson. Rounding out this unusual group of musicians is Mitchel Ahern, who plays, among other things, the vacuum cleaner. Yes, you read that right.

“Mitchel has been building his own instruments for years, using things like old scrap metal and vacuum cleaner parts,” Bisson said.

In addition to sound and video, the group uses movement in the form of two dancers, Joe Burgio and Heather McQuiston. Burgio, according to Bisson, is the strangest dancer you’ll ever see.

“He began dancing as a full-grown adult and his movement vocabulary is untainted by early training,” Bisson said. “It is fresh, original and entirely his own.”

McQuiston, on the other hand, is an accomplished dancer and choreographer who performs with other alternative troupes all over New England.

“We all sort of play off each other,” Bisson said. “Sometimes, it’s the musicians who will come up with something really new. Other times, it’s some footage of Walter’s that will take us on some journey. And then it can be the dancers who do something with their bodies and we’ll all just take off behind them.”

Though performance art may be something of an oddity here in Manchester, Bisson says he thinks audiences are ready for it.

“There’s something cultural happening here that’s different from when I moved here seven years ago,” he said. “There are people with open minds who are looking for something new, something other than the standard bar and club scene. They’re tired of the loud scene. They want something that’s more challenging.”

That’s not to say, however, that the Bop Ants never get loud.

“One of Mitchel’s home-made instruments is called the Electrolux-a-phone. It makes a variety of sounds without an amplifier,” Bisson said. “That one can get pretty loud.”

The Bop Ants will appear at Jewell & the Beanstalk, 793 Somerville St., Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. For more information, call 624-7067.

- Michelle Saturley

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