People in the drama and theater world talk all the time about process. I never knew exactly how important that was until Sō Percussion started putting together our own evening-length productions. We have had two big ones so far: Music for Trains, a site-specific performance in Southern Vermont’s train stations, and Imaginary City, an exploration of the universal in city life.
For our newest project – slated to premiere in fall of 2012 – process is all. Tentatively titled where (we) live, this work is in its gestation period, “in-progress” in the truest sense.
One of the stated goals is to fling open the doors of creative possibility.
In order to do that, we have to question our assumptions, to be ready for a “Yoda” moment (unlearn what you have learned, young Jedi). Does a single author always create the best work? Can improvisation freely mix with written-down music? Can we introduce a wide variety of external inputs and still make something cohesive?
Initially, we are interested in how where (we) live can celebrate the personal and idiosyncratic. We’ve started asking our friends to make video of themselves doing something interesting and sending it to us. The instructions are that there are no instructions. So far, we’ve gotten dance improv, a man brushing his teeth, an improvisation with running water in the bathtub, and Jason’s infant nephew gleefully playing with objects as they are put in front of him.
One of our favorites so far is this video by the dancer and choreographer Emily Johnson. She calls it a “smile dance for two.”
We met Emily through Sara Coffey, who runs the wonderful Vermont Performance Lab in Southern Vermont. Sara produced Music for Trains, and is a frequent sponsor of Emily’s work as well.
We’ve started putting music to all of them, sometimes setting music to the action, sometimes letting compositions just collide with the video. In many cases, we find that the listener/observer constructs far more fascinating narratives when we do not dictate one to them.
Below is a description of where (we) live as it currently stands: half-baked, but full of exciting possibilities. In order to keep our juices flowing, I came up with a series of opposite concepts, a creative “choose your own adventure” which will hopefully spark new ideas. This list is a wholesale rip-off of Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategies,” which I highly recommend to anybody who is ever feeling stuck about what to do next:
We live not only in physical places, but also in symbolic ones. The members of Sō Percussion identify ourselves with many different communities: North Brooklyn, where we are based; the greater New York experimental music scene; a worldwide network of percussionists; an even broader community of music lovers. Often the values of those symbolic places become our own.
Rooms, buildings, and ideas enclose and define those spaces, often in very personal ways.
In our many collaborations with other artists, we have sometimes been surprised at what they have to teach us: The members of the electronic duo Matmos, for instance, are fantastically intuitive musicians who compel us to think differently.
For where (we) live, Sō Percussionisexploring the idea of using artists from different mediums as outside inputs to our creative process. We will ask them to improvise, dance, make video, or whatever else they can think of, and we will attempt to both fit them into our artistic world and adjust to fit into theirs. These artists may be a virtual “5th” performer, represented by video and audio onstage with us.
We are currently choosing a small group of key collaborators to each inhabit his or her own space, to show us what’s inside:
Martin Schmidt of Matmos takes us on a video journey of his house: a fantasia with toy instruments in the basement, a bathtub improvisation, and the minimalistic drone of his partner Drew (the other half of Matmos) brushing his teeth in the mirror.
Choreographer and Dancer Emily Johnson explores body and identity. Her “smile dance” videos fixate on the smallest changes of expression. Her work is extremely process-oriented, providing us with instructions to create in an entirely different way.
Our responses to this input vary from the loosest improvisations to the most rigidly structured compositions — from narrative play-along to abstract co-existence. Some music will bear the strong imprint of one author, some will come out of the hazy evolution of groupthink.
We have started a list of “creative oppositions,” decision points to act as yet another external input to our process. This list is inspired by Brian Eno’s “oblique strategies.”
Way to go! This is rally interesting. It reminds me of a performance I saw in Salzburg this past summer by the Ensemble Modern. They played Wolfgang Rihm's “Jagden und Formen” (Hunts and Forms) with the Sasha Waltz and Guests dance company. The title in short describes the hunt for form within the piece. There were never firm sections for the listener to grasp onto. The music just seemed to keep moving forward non stop and was even hypnotic in a way that a Steve Reich composition would be. Wolfgang Rihm said in his notes that the constant hunting for form is in itself a form of composition. The choreography was set to the music instead of vice versa. Eventually the players and dancers became one and co-existed in a united music making. The dancers and musicians interacted on stage to the point where the dancers were holding the instrumentalists in the air above their heads as they played their instruments! I feel like plugging into other artists creative “process” is a valuable asset to your own music making and inspiration. (Kind of like what you said with Matmos). It's so cool that you guys are at this sort of “Yoda” moment and are really able to evaluate how you want this project to turn out. I guess it's a great way to bring in the new year! I can't wait to hear more about where (we) live.
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