Saturday, February 10, 2007

Notes on scoring for dance

(above photo - members of Racoco Productions peforming Recidivistas; choreography by Rachel Cohen, music by Chris Becker) One piece on the March 31st concert will feature choreography by Rachel Cohen (director of Racoco Productions) with video by Leighton Edmondson. The piece is entitled Thrown. Rachel has described Thrown as “a tactile excavation of the human body and its relation to earth and clay, mining the physical and metaphysical connections between earth and the body through movement, sculpture, and music.” One realization of Thrown took place in May 2006 at Harvard University (see below). Rachel is in India this month collaborating with clay artist Patty Rosenblatt and Kathak dancer Navina Jafa. In the meantime, Leighton brought me a couple of quicktime files of footage he shot in a pottery studio with Rachel and dancer Rebecca Ketchum to review. The March version of Thrown will include movement by members of Racoco Productions, live music by my trio, and Leighton’s video.

Rachel’s work is a crazy blend of contemporary movement, theater, film language and imagery (i.e. movie musicals and film noir), burlesque, clown and mask, etc., ...and music is a big BIG part of the whole package. In my experience, there are indeed choreographers who do not hear the music they are dancing to; they may have their dancers ignore the music altogether, or the music is simply there for "name recognition" with a disconnect being visible between the sound and onstage movement. In Rachel's work, there is a fussiness and attention to detail to the choreography that is often directly connected to sound cues its accompanying music which often in turn reveals musical gestures to me (the composer) that I had not been aware of! I've learned that we don’t listen with only our ears. We can listen with our whole body.

I have a lot of sound material for Thrown that I’m sorting through to see what might work for the March performance. I’m thinking some of the music will exist in a prerecorded form with live interjections from Lynn and Flip. But I would like to be able to do some live manipulation in performance of some of the sounds coming from the laptop. Some combination of the two approaches is probably best. If we have video going, I’m thinking that some of the sound cues should be really tight and tied to the rhythm of the edits. The live performance then can follow and interact with the live movement.

The simple fact that Thrown involves clay and mess has caused me to gravitate toward so-called “dirty” or “earthy” sounds for musical/dance score material. Such sounds will include vocals from sessions I did with composer/singer Sofia Koutsovitis - who is always game to improvise over top of ominous abstract tracks - as well as material from jam sessions with me and guitarist Lynn Wright where we worked to blend the sounds coming out of my laptop with his unique textures. Bringing Flip into the spectrum – playing trumpet sometimes through a couple of effects pedals – sort of glues together Sofia’s vocals at one end with perhaps the laptop computer at the other. Other sounds that are making it into the aural stew include recordings I've made of rocks, breath and vinyl noise. One incredible loop (or "clip" - see below for an explanation of this term) came from the sound of two small rocks being smacked together pitched down almost two octaves and drenched in reverb…the result being a sound like explosions happening underground. Even the sound of our amps humming and buzzing are – to my ears – a part of the sonic landscape that is Thrown.

Lynn described the music we did back at Harvard as “the Swans playing a Morton Feldman piece” and that’s one of the best descriptions of music I’ve ever heard.

More later…next time I'll explain what I mean by "dirty" sounds...

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