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Fire away

Martyrs tour full of danger, haunting music, masochist films

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Eyedrum, June 15 -- Picking himself up from behind a table of CDs for sale, Richard Schneider, aka Schloss Tegal from Washington, D.C., walks to the stage to begin the Atlanta stop of the Fire Martyrs tour. Passing the numerous phalluses comprising Eyedrum's latest art exhibit, he sandwiches himself between his serpent-and-cross logo and his singular, concise electronic sound generator.

Faders slide, switches are thrown and knobs are twiddled as nebulous throbs and vibrations spill from the speakers. Schneider mouths along with intermittent vocal samples, playing up his appearance as a speaker behind a podium. His face strains with the increased intensity of sound, but before any control is lost, the set ends without incident.

The same can't be said of the performance by the Czech trio Skrol. Two men station themselves rigidly behind their electronics as if they are pillars. Out front is the alluring Martina Sweeny, adorned in a dress of shiny black tape, fine mesh and crinkly plastic sheeting that looks like it was assembled directly onto her body. Kneeling behind seven small candles, she seems like the only human on stage. And as the pounding, ebbing tones puncture the air, she appears to plunge herself into some sort of deep concentration. Her long, black hair hangs over her face.

In the shadows to her right are Martina's voice processors. Microphones in each hand, she begins to screech with inward breaths. The music builds like some beautifully violent demonic symphony and she covers her face as if to shield her eyes from unseen terrors. Now fully in a trance, she rocks back and forth -- screech in, breathe out. Meanwhile, her long strands intermittently nip the candle flames. Caught in the throws of performance, she's oblivious to the danger.

Then it happens: She juts her body forward with a bellow and instantly an inferno is rapidly climbing toward her scalp. Leaping onto the stage, I grab her hair near her scalp and, fist closed, run my hand down over the flame. Martina barely breaks from her revelry and the air is quickly choked with the noxious stench of burnt hair. Mixed with the dark grandeur of the music, the effect is oddly intoxicating.

As the sound peaks with great force, the odor slowly dissipates. The fervor drops slightly, hangs on a lower plateau and then stops altogether. The stench is gone and the show is over. The two pillars walk off the stage, leaving Martina wading in a soup of her own psychic energy.

Following this act would be tough under any circumstances. For Slovakia's Einleitungszeit, who already are dramatically scaling down their normal use of fire to accommodate touring constraints and the club's low ceilings, it's impossible. Sounds coming from the sonic half of the duo fuse together rather indistinguishably. The performance half runs into trouble when his grinding wheel peters out and the contact mics connected to his steel-scraping plate barely register. When his fireproof mitts are coated with liquid and set aflame, the effect is hopelessly anti-climactic and safely premeditated compared to Skrol's set. At one point, though, the frustrated performer searches the stage among the spilt candles and picks up something from a pool of wax: a dripping tress of Martina's hair.

Appreciating filmmaker Joe Christ, who capped off the evening with a video screening, isn't done by focusing on his crude films. Rather, one must look at the streaming performance art of one man touring the country with these non-revolutionary works. Glowering as offended or disinterested patrons head for the exits, he wears rejection like a badge of honor. In Germany, where Christ says he has his biggest following, copies of his latest film My Struggle are difficult to mail into the country. And this is a good thing. The act isn't simply the images on the screen. It's the living, breathing masochist that stands in the back waiting for that look of displacement as you turn to walk away. Wanna pay him respect? Smash his VCR and spit at his feet.

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