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Home / Articles / Entertainment / Screen /  Review: The Portal: A Cosmic Rock Odyssey
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Friday, April 1,2011

Review: The Portal: A Cosmic Rock Odyssey

By Eli Boonin-Vail

Billed as modern interpretation of a classic shamanic journey, The Portal: A Cosmic Rock Odyssey combines film, music and lighting to try and create a surreal, out-of-body, perhaps even religious experience for its audience. In the case of the audience at the Boulder Theater Thursday night, this effect was achieved with mixed results. Many people at the event seemed to connect spiritually, dancing and clapping along with the live music. Others, myself included, left within the first hour and a half.

My reason for leaving was simple: fatigue. While a theatric story is the overall intent of The Portal’s musical and cinematic elements, a majority of its screen time is dominated by seemingly meaningless fractal animations. Though it's a clean and simple way of filling time while the band plays, these trippy doodles quickly become boring, and from there move on to outright headache-inducing.

In addition, the story itself is painfully simple. Writer/director/producer Luke Comer may be many things, but a master of subtlety he is not. Before the show begins, a collection of three looping slides repeat over and over on the screen. The slides tell us that the protagonist’s name is Dante, elaborating that he is “the archetype of the everyman,” and telling the audience that by participating in The Portal, we are all Dante. The slides also explain the acts of The Portal and what they mean in roughly the same fashion.

To illustrate Dante’s shamanistic journey, Comer spends nearly five minutes of screen time depicting Dante walking in a desert. To preach a doctrine of peace, love, beauty and freedom, he has Dante point a spear at a symbolic adversary and repeatedly scream, “peace, love, beauty, freedom.” When I left the theater, men with televisions for heads were chasing Dante, spouting corporate philosophies and screening commercials where their faces would be. One cannot help but taste the blood of irony here, if we are to consider The Portal: A Cosmic Rock Odyssey’s $30 admission fee.

Occasionally this blatant form of expression works in Comer’s favor. On stage, the singer mimics Dante’s lines and motions in passionate dedication to the story. The technique effectively connects the onstage presence of the band to what happens in the film, a tie that lasts for the length of the production (or at least what I saw of it).

However, this quality alone is not enough to keep The Portal afloat. The production fails to deliver the existential breakthrough that it promises. The aforementioned pre-show slideshow boasts that, “The Portal does not bid you to enter its house of wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind,” yet after more than an hour of watching men in priestly white robes play guitar, mash on djembes and moan, I found little of the insight that I figure was intended.

The Portal combines the fun of having to listen to your friend’s lame jam band with the excitement of an iTunes visualizer. Add to this mixture the discomfort of watching culturally sterile Boulderites dancing to djembe beats and pseudo-messianic vibes from the singer and you get a rough sense of what went down last night. Examining the varied and intricate work that went into The Portal, it’s clear that Comer had bold intentions. Unfortunately, these intentions don't quite make it through.

Here's a taste of the experience:

Correction: This review initially misidentified djembes as bongos. Also, the estimated time Dante spends walking on screen has been changed.

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From Luke Comer (the director and producer of The Portal):

       I personally encouraged the Boulder Weekly to come to our show at the Boulder Theater and want to thank them for being sensitive to Boulder’s artistic community—and obliging.

     Ever since running our test-shows of The Portal last summer, I have hired objective, marketing people to survey our audiences about their experience and have found the reactions ranging from favorable to ecstatic—with the occasional “bounce”—that is, someone who just cannot relate to the show at any level.   Clearly, Eli falls into the category of the bounce—which to be precise, accounts for about seventeen percent of people who have seen The Portal.  (I define a “bounce” technically as someone who does not recommend the show to a friend or scores it below a five on a scale of one to ten).

     We have to keep in mind, too, that The Portal does not have a clear identity in the market, so we have people wonder into our show, knowing nothing, thinking that we are a movie or rave—or some kind of peaceful, New Agey sort of thingey.

      In other words, we respect Eli’s opinions; however, from our objective and factual data, we find that his opinion represents a small fraction of our attendants—so small, in fact, that we just consider them people for whom The Portal was never intended. 

     I am happy to share this data with The Boulder Weekly—most recently, in the form of forty questionnaires that were completed at the end of the show that Eli attended.

      So we respect that everyone is entitled to their opinion; however, Eli misrepresents The Portal in some pertinent and major ways that strikes me as just reckless, if not libelous.  Here are the examples:

     1)  Eli seems to acknowledge that some seem to relate to the show—but then added: “Others, myself included, left within the first hour and a half.”

       I have a problem that someone is assigned to review my show, leaves before it is over with a headache, then broadcasts to the public his opinion, pointing out that he failed to understand “little of the insight that I [he] figured was intended.”

     Well, how could you?


     2)  As for the “others” that left....I was in the sound booth more or less all of the night and, I estimate, that maybe five or ten people left the show over the course of the evening—many, perhaps, because they needed to leave for some other reason. 

     In other words, “other,” to me anyway, implies in this context some substantial number—but I am reasonably certain that is incorrect and I assume that Eli did not stay around to verify his insinuation. 


3)  As for this comment: “While a theatric story is the overall intent of The Portal’s musical and cinematic elements, a majority of its screen time is dominated by seemingly meaningless fractal animations.” 

         I have never stated to my knowledge that my intent was a “theatric story;” in fact, there is not really any sort of theatric story at all—perhaps cinematic, perhaps not.  The overall intent has always been stated clearly in my communication to the press and public: to create a “ritual or ceremony.”  In simplest terms we describe The Portal as a concert as a way of steering people away from the idea of a movie or “theatric” or just "story" experience.

       Secondly, as for “seemingly meaningless” fractal animations.

I kind of feel that this comment is so ridiculous that I am not sure what to say—but to answer as best I can: fractals are supposed to induce a state of “journeying” that, as established by scholars, is not only a part of the Shamanic but other, deep, psychological experiences as well.

      Also these fractals, in strange and, yes, “subtle” (excuse my sense of humor here) ways are continuing the themes of The Portal and, composited into them, you will find various symbols: arches and spires (figure the metaphor here), birds, characters, archaic symbols and these symbols, along with various color and designs patterns, are actually extending the line of continuity of the show. 

      And fractals are just beautiful; many that have attested that they induce “extra-ordinary” states of mind—and that is the main reason we used them.

        Also, Eli explains the fractals as “trippy doodles” which is haltingly ignorant.  In the most basic and simple terms that I can possibly conjure, fractals are way complicated mathematical formulas that were created originally by one of the greatest minds of our century: Benoit Mandelbrot.  Again to be simple, these formulas, which are then plotted to create designs, are actually “rough approximations” of designs found in nature and, in that sense, they could be said to reflect some of the underlying architecture of the universe.

      Our fractals were created by Jonathon Wolfe, a PhD in neuro-science from the University of Pennsylvania

     Eli also explains the fractals as “head-ache inducing.”  Many people have seen some version of our show, and others still, through other outlets, have watched “animated fractals” in some cases for as long as one hour straight and, to my knowledge, I know of one person who has claimed to have gotten a “head-ache.”  Furthermore, head-aches are much more likely induced by our own physiology, so maybe Eli got a head-ache, from, say, the “great head-ache maker in the sky”—and somehow contributed that to our show. 

     And should someone write a review of a show while they have a head-ache and then broadcast that to the public?


4)  As for this comment:  To preach a doctrine of peace, love, beauty and freedom, he has Dante point a spear at a symbolic adversary and repeatedly scream, “peace, love, beauty, freedom."

      The Portal is definitely not about preaching a doctrine of “peace, love, beauty and freedom,” though we do chant that in the show.  We are definitely not doctrinaire—and I suppose he missed some irony here.


5)  On a couple of occasions, Eli refers to bongos: “mash on bongos” and “dancing to bongo beats.”  We do not have bongos in The Portal, nor do we have a single lick of bongo beats.

     Its called a djembe—and nearly everyone in Boulder knows this instrument cause they are lined up and down the Pearl Street Mall all summer long. 

     He himself is a streat musician, so he should know.


6)  As for this comment: “15 minutes of screen time depicting Dante walking in a desert.”  Actually, at the time that Eli left The Portal, Dante had walked in the desert, at the most, five minutes—and not even really that. 



7)  “The Portal combines the fun of having to listen to your friend’s lame jam band with the excitement of an iTunes visualizer.”

      We do not “jam” at The Portal; the music was carefully constructed and includes music from such famed Acts as Kan Nal and Lisa Gerard and, most of all, from Tierro Lee who, I regard, as one of the best composer today working to combine electonica with the feel and drama of epic rock.

     Much of our music is available to the public on our website: “” and I do not believe anybody, with any kind of knowledge of the structure and genres of music, would describe our music as “jam,” much less lame. 


8)  “Add to this mixture the discomfort of watching culturally sterile Boulderites dancing to bongo beats and pseudo-messianic vibes from the singer.  “By culturally sterile Boulderites,” I assume Eli was referring to some of my friends and perhaps his own readers who were dancing in the audience.  And I am not sure that someone who does not understand the difference between “opinion” and “libel,” nor the difference between djembe and bongos, who thinks that fractals are “trippy doodles” and “head-ache inducing,” who cannot count minutes, who cannot even read a press release or a website correctly or counterbalance any of his own wayward and deviant opinions with any kind of self-induced humility or second-guessing that informs most civilized and functioning humans....etc...etc...

      I am not sure you are in any place to call my friends or Portal fans “culturally sterile.”

      You are the one not dancing—and dancing is the ultimate and original form of culture and virility—if you know anything about anthropology and biology.   And, in general, I would consider your writing—and your skills of perception—akin to the level of a Facebook rant or late-night, “head-ached induced” Twitter.

     As a way of redressing the issue of The Portal, I would say this to The Boulder community: I have known, from the beginning, that The Portal was a highly-original and highly-risky undertaking, not only another “medium” of art in many senses but another “form” of art.  And as with anything new, you encounter people who do not understand, then slap around, sloppily, with lots of judgments instead of exploring deeper to find something of value.  In truth, I, as the director of The Portal, am trying to get the audience to think less about story, or concert or movie or “theatric” or any of the other “popular genres” and more about ritual as a way of expressing, dancing and, ultimately, loving—something that not many people necessarily understand at least in this day and age.

      Clearly, Eli did not have any sort of clue about this intention, nor the frameworks for understanding.  And we do not expect everyone to understand.

     We only expect certain people to “get it”—not the likes of Eli whose tastes in music are rather apparent from his Weekly reviews—no, but people with heart and movement and soul and wildness—and people who understand that The Portal is not consumer-based, spoon-fed entertainment but an imaginative, interactive experience designed to unravel frustrations, face fears, and make people dance, sweat, chant and ultimately love. 

     As a matter of course, we do have a substantial amount of people rank our show as an eight, nine and ten (on a scale of one to ten).

     As for the quality of the production—that is, the quality of the video, lighting-design, show-control, music and mix—I think it is generally regarded, by experts, as very impressive for an independent production.  

      Although Eli will likely never understand The Portal, I wanted to offer, if he is open, to share a cup of tea with him or his editors, share our recording of the show, share our music, share some of the comments from our fans.  Any exchange of information ultimately is only worthwhile if its results in the increase of understanding, not just judgment. 



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I am the director and producer of The Portal.

    This review was written by a sixteen or seventeen year old high school student, evidently posing as an adult, for a newspaper that claims its readership is eighteen and above, with nearly all of that readership over the age of twenty-five.  Furthermore, The Portal was not designed for people that young.

      As you might expect, the review badly misrepresented and misinterpreted the show to the public.

To clarify:

--The Portal does not have any affiliation with any religion.  We generally like to define our show as "mythological."

--We estimate that some tiny fraction of our audience left our show that night.

--The writer called a "djembe" a "bongo" and confused "fifteen minutes" for "five."

--And, overall, the writer's understanding and opinion of the show is strongly deviant: I, nor anyone to my knowledge, have never heard of someone who understands this show less or, accordingly, disrespects the show so much.

--Through our own, internal surveys, we can say that eighty percent of our audience either likes or loves The Portal--a percentage we consider extremely strong, given that The Portal is so revolutionary and innovative.

--In closing, I naturally do not have any problems with the writer.  But it is my opinion that the Boulder Weekly, through this review and possibly others, profoundly disrespected The Portal and the local, arts community--as well as its own readership and advertisers.  If I thought they used teenagers to write their reviews for adult productions, we would have never invited them--or ever advertised with them.

    We like to be as clear as possible about who is, and is not, the audience for The Portal.  If you want to learn more and see what others think about The Portal, then please visit here:

     Below, in another comment, are some long-winded and overwrought comments I made when the review was first published; at the time, I did not know the review was written by a child.


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Clearly, Luke Comer has never heard the saying about any press exposure being good exposure.  Critics are allowed to have critical opinions, that is why they are called critics.  Personally, i think Eli did a great job of reviewing the experience.


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