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Band World Avant-garde


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"Ancient God Plays Central Park"

It is dusk, and the rapturous strains of the violin play with the ever-deepening shadows in the arched tunnel at Central Park's Bethesda Fountain. The entrancing sounds reverberate through the cavernous space, compelling all to enter.

The voice of the violin is joined by another that takes it out of this world. Is it human? Is it an angel? Is it an ancient earth spirit? The new voiceis Thoth, Egyptian god of wisdom.

Clad in his glittering gold loincloth, gold sparkles and heavy chains, the self-described "prayer-formance" artist Thoth is part ancient gladiator, part Egyptian high priest and part Indian shaman. The rhythmic pounding of his feet on the metal grates turns the floor into a giant drum that forms the heartbeat of his pieces, which also incorporate bells, shakers and spirit catchers. His waist-length dreadlocks, topped with a flamboyant red feather, whirl as his singing and dancing take the music to a higher pitch, turning his so- called "solopera" into a mesmerizing performance piece.

"Solopera is a term I made up myself," says Thoth, a Flushing native who was trained as a classical musician. "It is 'solo' plus 'opera.' It is me being the composer, the orchestra, the characters and the dancers. I'm doing the opera by myself. It draws from every center of my being-it is part vocalization, parable, aerobics, monologue, alchemy, theater, puzzle, language deconstruction, healing ritual and sacred dance."

Thoth's soloperas, which he says he channels from the spirit world, are inspired by his studies of religion, philosophy, mythology, fantasy, botany, chemistry, biology, gender and sexual roles, and his own imagination. For several years, he performed them in San Francisco, where he all but became a cult figure, and he just began performing them again in New York last year.

"Thoth gives a dazzling, beautiful performance," said Curt Johnson of Manhattan, who often goes to the park to watch Thoth. Johnson, whose public relations-marketing firm, New World Inc., specializes in celebrity clients, says Thoth "is one to watch because he's destined to become a star act."

Thoth's path to self-discovery started in childhood, when he created a mythological world all his own and began writing about it.

"When I was younger, I was depressed and I had a mentor who encouraged me to look into mythology as a way of finding a self to develop," he says. "Hermes, the fleet-footed god of communication, was most similar to who I was. I have African ancestry and started searching that mythology, and I found that Hermes is Thoth, so I became Thoth."

Thoth, who performs his soloperas in warm weather on Wednesday through Sunday afternoons in the tunnel by the Angel of the Waters fountain at 72nd Street, between the park's Lake and Mall, and in many private venues in the metro area, says the tunnel has special energy that is especially suited to his art.

"It is a magical place," he says. "It connects strongly to what I'm doing geometrically and aesthetically. Inside, the space is shaped like two pyramids."

In his latest work, a three-act, three-CD opera titled "The Herma: The Life and Land of Nular-in" that was inspired by Wagner's "Der Ring Des Nibelungen," Thoth creates a mythological land called Festad that is populated by a people called Mir. After four ages of growth, decay sets in and a Mir named Nular-in destroys the plague-ridden land and creates a new one.

"The three parts of the opera are about the aligning of the body, the mind and feeling," he says. "It also represents the active, passive and neutral. This is my magnum opus. It's my 'War and Peace.'"

Although Thoth does write basic musical phrases for each solopera, the works are designed to be improvisational. "I found that classical music was too clinical, too technical," he says. "This is feeling music."

But the soloperas are much more than art to Thoth. They, combined with meditation and prayer, he says, have centered him, leading him to discover a calm that he believes few ever achieve.

Now that winter is coming, Thoth will be leaving his angel tunnel and searching for an indoor stage.

"The tunnel taught me how to manifest myself in a theater," he says. "The metal grates became my drums, and I want to find a stage where I can have drums on the floor so I can do the bass and drumbeats with my feet. Until then, the tunnel is a perfect drum."

In the meantime, he'll keep searching, through his work, for the answers to life's biggest questions.

"I'm just coming up with a method of living my life," he says. "I'm doing my duty as a being who has been blessed with life. I create an open lifestyle towards the goal I have of living a life of self-understanding. Everything I do is a complete expression of myself. My goal is to continue fully being who I am."

But who is that?

"Thoth," he answers emphatically. - Newsday, New York

"Thoth In Central Park"

Thoth starts each "solopera prayformance" by purifying Central Park's Angel Tunnel with burning sage. Not that anything could purge the pigeon shit or restless souls of rollerbladers who nearly knock over Thoth's yin-yang-bedecked altar. But Thoth has a John Cage heart; he's unfazed. Tunnel cleansed, he strips down to his costume—red kimono, revealing gold loincloth, bare chest smeared with glitter and crisscrossed with chains. He writes in the air with a large quill. Gestures hieroglyphically with his hands and dreadlock-plumed head. Whangs around a contraption of rubber bands and Tinkertoys. A group of startled pigeons erupts overhead, scattering droppings, and Thoth takes off too—whirling and yelping, fiddling madly, mugging at children, and jangling leg bells.

And so goes the energetic and unnerving performance of Herma, the story of Nular-in from Festad, who escapes the evil lord Pansu-ga aided by a flying xentar, only to fall in love with his own brother Tito, who, when he learns Nular-in is a hermaphrodite, nearly kills him. From there, it's all sea turtles and Zilephs and Droshi.

I'm going by the program notes, here. Thoth sings in a language of his own invention, so it's not immediately clear that Herma is an allegory for his own life as a "mixed being." Thoth (his given name's Stephen Kaufman) was born to a Barbadian mother and a Russian Jewish father at a time when interracial marriages were frowned upon. He eventually found himself "capable of expressing both male and female, gay and straight"; in his home-brew queer theory "solopera," he sings all four operatic voices while accompanying himself on violin. Classically trained on the instrument, he abandoned formal study in favor of "emanating the perfection of the moment." ("Playing music that is basically dead is a very limited way of expressing one's self," he complains; still, his music retains a classical polish.)

"My work is meant to instruct in the process of moving towards the neutral," he explains, "so energy can flow between polarities." His two-year-running gig was temporarily repurposed when the Trade Center came down. Troubled by his imbalanced energy, he now prayforms for the living and the dead.

Apparently, his work is striking a nerve; Herma draws crowds reaching the hundreds, and even caught the attention of Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Sarah Kernochan, whose film Thoth opens October 19 at Cinema Village (22 East 12th Street, 924-3363).

This may sound like some blissed-out New Age freak show, but Thoth is no flake—he's mad only north-northwest, as the saying goes. "What I am doing is myth making," says the artist, who holds a comp-lit degree from San Francisco State. "Myths offer a reflective way of perceiving the now, because it's difficult for us to see it. It gives us an objective viewpoint." - Village Voice

"No Curbing This Street Singer"

It is a Saturday in Central Park. He wears black high heels, a gold loincloth, a scarlet plume just below his long dreadlocks, some ornamental jewelery and not much else. He plays the violin, but his music is secondary to his transcendent voice, plus his outlandish appearance. It's hard to say which of these attributes is most responsible for attracting 50 or so passersby to his performance — eccentric even by New York standards — but Thoth can draw them in.
The namesake of an Egyptian god, the 46-year-old Thoth was born Stephen Kaufman in Jamaica, Queens, the son of an African-American musician (she played timpani in the San Francisco Symphony) and her Jewish husband. His father, a physician who died last year, left the family when Stephen was very young, so the boy never got to know him.
After graduating from the LaGuardia High School of Music and Arts, Kaufman went West. He received a BA degree in literature from San Francisco State in 1983, but soon took up street performing — and adopted the name Thoth. He has been at it ever since and claims to "make enough" to support a Spartan lifestyle.
I first saw him last fall on Las Ramblas, the central avenue in Barcelona. He was on what he calls his "walkabouts", busking journeys that take him down streets all over the world. But he can be found more often than not in the tunnel near the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.
I've serenaded people in this tunnel and some have even started crying," Thoth says. "The simplicity of my performance, for me, is like a lie detector test — how people respond tells me about who they are."
Thoth got his first paying gig a couple of weeks ago when he performed one of his "soloperas" as he calls them, at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, located at 172 Norfolk St. in a former 152-year-old synagogue. The three-act piece centered on a heroic figure who goes from mortal to god. He says his goal is to form his own professional troupe of dancers and singers.
"If someone would have told me when I was 17 that I was going to be walking around the streets in a loincloth, I would have been terrified," he says.
Then, he picks up his violin, clears his throat — and goes to work. - Daily News

"Lonicloth Maestro"

The violin music starts out softly, wafting its way through the old arches of the tunnel at Central Park's Bethesda Fountain. People stop, stare and gather around.
Before them is Thoth, a half-naked, highly muscular man in a gold loincloth and gold chains, which glitter in the rays of the afternoon sun. His feet, covered by sandals, pound out a rhythmic beat.
Looking like a cross between a Roman gladiator, an Egyptian high priest and an Indian shaman, the one-named Thoth is a regular at the park's Angel of the Waters Fountain at 72nd Street — and a guy many consider to be the most talented street musician in the city.
A 47 year old of Barbadian and Russian Jewish descent, Thoth describes himself as a "prayformance" artist, and he travels the globe, performing all over Europe and South America.
Still, New York has claimed him as its own. New York maga-zine pictured him in its "Fifty Faces of New York" issue this
year, and he's the subject of a new documentary by an Oscar-winning director that opens Friday at the Cinema Village.
The film will be distributed to museums next month as part of Art for America, a national fund-raiser for the Twin Towers Fund.
But he's most at home between the Central Park's Lake and Mall, where he has been performing his so-called "solo-peras," or solo operas, since 1999.
"The tunnel is a magical place," Thoth says. "It's my temple. It concretizes my work. Everywhere I go, everywhere I play, I'm always looking for a spot like the tunnel."
In his soloperas, Thoth, a classically trained musician, is the composer, orchestra, singers and dancers. His music has elements of classical, overlayed with primal rhythms, but it defies categorization.
"My work draws from every center of my being," he says. "It is part vocalization, parable, aerobics, monologue, alchemy, theater, puzzle, language deconstruction, healing ritual and sacred dance."
Thoth, born Stephen Kaufman in Jamaica, Queens, in 1954, isn't married and has no children. His life is consumed by his performances and his studies — of religion, philosophy, mythology, botany and other subjects.
He returned to New York two years ago from California, where he graduated from San Francisco State University, and renamed himself after an Egyptian god. He'd moved west as a teen following his parents' divorce.
His father, a doctor from a family of Russian Jews, and his mother, a timpani player from Barbados who performed with the American Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, split up when Thoth was a boy. He now lives with his mother in Queens.
His mixed parentage meant a childhood of hostility and discrimination, Thoth says.
"Hatred was hurled at me," he says. Listening to his mother practice the timpani drew him toward music.
Among Thoth's many fans is filmmaker Sarah Kernochan,
who spotted him playing in the park one day and became enthralled.
She directed and co-produced "Thoth," a documentary about him that, she hopes, could win her a second Academy Award.
"His music touched me," says Kernochan, who won an Oscar for her 1972 documentary fea-ture "Marjoe," about 12-year-old con-artist preacher Marjoe Gortner.
"He's the living embodiment of human potential."
Thoth is also highly dedicated. He performs three or four hours per day and is working to complete his solopera. Out on CD, "The Herma: The Life and Land of Nular-in" was inspired by Wagner's Der Ring Des Nibelungen.
The work has been a lifetime in the making. Thoth hopes to finish it next year.
In the meantime, he'll continue to make music in Central Park.
"My goal is to continue growing and to reach as many people as possible," says Thoth. "I could continue playing in the tunnel for the rest of my life."
- New York Post


Maiden Flight
Tone Poems Of The Festad
THE HERMA: The Life And Land Of Nular-in, Act I
THE HERMA: The Life And Land Of Nular-in, Act II
THE HERMA: The Life And Land Of Nular-in, Act III
Space Gypsies



In 2001, award winning director Sarah Kernochan made a documentary about Thoth's life and work, which won the 2002 Academy Award for Documentary on a Short Subject.
Thoth was born and raised in New York. He comes from a musical and medical family. He began studying the violin at age 8 and has been writing music and stories about his mythological world -- Festad -- all his life. In addition, he has taken classes in modern and jazz dance.
For eight years, he has been prayforming excerpts from his solopera, "THE HERMA: The Life and Land of Nular-in," (based on legends from his mythological world Festad) daily at the Bethesda Fountain and Terrace in New York City's Central Park.
He has also prayformed excerpts from his solopera, in France, Portugal, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Netherlands, Los Angeles... And in the Bay Area, where he developed his work, for the AfroSolo '99 Theater Festival, Z Space, Venue_9, Sweetwater, Freight & Salvage, Hotel Utah, Paradise Lounge. He has appeared on "The View," "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and recently on "America's Got Talent."
In September 2006, Thoth released his eighth CD with multi-instrumentalist, Rhan Wilson, called "Space Gypsies."