Nerve Theory Adventures



“If good governments could tell it like it is, they’d tell us to party like there’s no tomorrow,” declared Nerve Theory as they ended their show at The Palace Theater on Friday November 2. Nerve Theory is a self-described “sound/video/voice duo” that has been performing “VidSonics,” a mix of video, sound and speech, for over ten years. Tom Sherman, of Syracuse, New York, speaks into a microphone while images flash on a screen behind him and his partner, Bernhard Loibner, from Vienna, provides a soundtrack with guitars and computer generated rhythms.

Sherman explained that Nerve Theory, which has traveled throughout Europe and the United States, works on a “kind of schema,” in that all of his monologues and Loibner’s background music are essentially improvisation. On Friday, the monologue revolved around the idea of the bird flu, the ever-mutating H5N1 virus and a general pandemic, one that would infiltrate the world’s food supply and would require the closing of schools for a long time.

With the music of Loibner’s guitar and his computer droning in the background, Nerve Theory’s production appealed to all of the senses. Shocking pictures of dead turtles, lifeless rats and one-legged dogs appeared on the projector behind Sherman and when a dizzying image of spiraling branches appeared on the screen, the scene looked like it could have fit perfectly into a New York City coffeehouse. The technique used in many of the projections was so visually unique that it was difficult to tell whether it was slowing down or speeding up the pictures. While Sherman and Loibner regarded the images on the screen with what seemed to be numb indifference, the audience expressed awe and astonishment at the photographs that were reminiscent of a science fiction film.

Besides appealing to the spectators’ eyes and ears, Nerve Theory’s set had the express purpose of making the audience think. Nerve Theory’s VidSonics provide disturbing and alarming observations about today’s world. Sherman spoke explicitly about the purpose of government in the time of a general pandemic, saying that administrations exploit the public, which turns to them for protection.

As the performance neared an end, Sherman pronounced that the government has its priorities in the wrong place, for they are merely concerned with money and social unrest and not the welfare of the people. With these last thoughts, an image of a jellyfish floating in green water lingered on the screen and then faded to black with the lights.

The topic of a pandemic, Sherman said, was inspired by his own life-threatening bout with influenza, and by his fascination with the idea of things you can’t see. He explained that Nerve Theory wants to tap into the panic that results when a culture becomes so consumed by threats that it cannot control, including global warming and terrorism.

“It should turn a little bit into funny and absurd,” Sherman said of his troupe’s performances. “Not funny ha-ha.”

“We are interested in the experience,” Sherman said, “A performance is a social thing. We want to give the audience a lot of room to move.”

With their unique show blending video, audio and critical thinking, Nerve Theory certainly did.