By Christine Gwillim
Mike Khoury stood in a single spotlight on the floor of MoHA where audiences usually sit or stand, where folks line up for beers at the bar, but not usually where people perform. The audience sat in front of him, above him, around him. He stood also in place for his colleague and collaborator Dirar Kalash, a Palestinian sound artist whose visa to perform at Fusebox was denied.
Image by Lenny Gonzalez
He stood and plucked his violin, in the spotlight that was meant for someone else but was also totally his. The building, a semi-converted warehouse, creaked and groaned as he plucked. Wind snuck through the cracks and hissed across the train tracks on the other side of the thin wood boards holding the building and us in. He played delicate, slightly off-key notes, that rattled in the wind, and swelled into virtuosic vibratos. It built slowly, with sadness, or longing, or maybe haunting. Arab.Amp is a diasporic project, so the sadness and absence make sense, but in this circumstance, the engagement is flipped, it’s not that one cannot go back, but rather that those who are still there cannot come here.
The sadness and discomfort of the music particularizes the distance, the isolation of not coming, in a way that makes Detroit and Austin feel very close and Palestine unattainably far. One of the most beautiful and special things about Fusebox and other festivals like it, is the opportunity for international and cross-cultural exchange that they bring. Mike Khoury playing alone on the cement with a single light on him, moths fluttering around him, wind whipping, was a reminder that those exchanges are dependent upon institutional systems that don’t have to bear the burdens of their own hauntings.