Friday, December 7, 2007

First Violin

The above image “First Violin” comes courtesy of sculptor Patty Rosenblatt (I’m not sure if she or someone else took the photograph). Patty is collaborating with me and choreographer Rachel Cohen for our February 2008 edition of Thrown - a mixed media performance piece that combines movement, music and clay. Thrown is realized as a new piece each time it is performed although the basic materials and concept remain consistent. Patty’s “First Violin” consists of a violin first submerged in wet clay then photographed over time as it slowly reemerges from the drying clay. I saw this image on her website while working on some initial possible music for the February edition for Thrown. One of these initial musical sketches is actually a pretty simple arrangement of directions inspired by Blind Willie Johnson’s haunting blues recording “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground.” Somehow, Blind Willie Johnson’s blues and Patty’s image exist in the same landscape. It may be that some of the movement in February’s Thrown will be very slow or even still with the clay actually taking on the role of a performer in motion (wet clay drying for example…).

Another early musical sketch for Thrown combines voice, electric guitar and trumpet with a simple yet unusual combination of rhythms cued and played via the laptop computer and Ableton Live. In rehearsals leading up to a performance, I often bring my work to musicians as an initial “sketch” in order to hear how things combine in the real world and as a result to hear the potential for the raw material to become something greater than the sum of its parts. The musical material I give them may only consist of a handful of tones, a few rhythms and a couple of cues. The musicians I work with are very sensitive and at each stage of the rehearsal process will offer helpful suggestions as well as their honest enthusiasm and support. I don’t have a problem telling a musician that I am not entirely sure what I’m doing. I guess I have a thick skin. Or rather, I’m not looking for anyone to pat me on the head in a rehearsal situation. By opening up my heart in such a situation, I hope to create a safe zone for the players so that they can try out their own ideas – to be who they are and not what anyone else thinks they should be.

The path where a large work like Thrown begins does not include a lot of signs indicating where to or where not to go. It's a (sometimes) scary place...where the ground beneath your feet may crack and bring forth a shattered violin and Blind Willie Johnson can be heard moaning a blues that sounds like an ancient incantation...

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