Sunday, September 19, 2010
Binarium Sound Series
Khon's Bar / Mekong Underground
2808 Milam Street, Houston TX
Sound installations and music theater created by Chris Becker and Rachel Cohen
Chris Becker - Laptop
Rachel Cohen - Direction, Installation
Alexandra Marculewicz Adshead, Rachel Cohen and Michelle Yom - Performers
Saints and Devils (solo)
Chris Becker - Laptop
Rachel Cohen - Choreography, Dancer
Notes on Cornell Box (2007, rev. 2010)
“Creative filing, creative arranging, as poetics, as joyous creation…” Joseph Cornell, Diary, March 9, 1959.
Cornell Box is a theatrical and musical collaboration with choreographer Rachel Cohen that began with our very first meeting in New York City. The is piece inspired by New York born artist Joseph Cornell (b. 1903, d. 1972) who is best known for the glass fronted shadow boxes he created from1936 to the end of his life. I first encountered Cornell’s boxes in Houston in at a retrospective presented by the Menil Collection probably back in 1998 although I don’t remember the exact year. I did not know at the time that Cornell had spent nearly all of his life in an unassuming house on Utopia Parkway in Queens, NY. After relocating to New York, I learned much more about Cornell’s life and art and began to imagine some sort of musical and theatrical homage to the man. It is exciting for me to realize Cornell Box in Houston after at least three previous performances of the piece in New York City as the memory of that beautifully lit and arranged show at the Menil Collection has never left me.
As if by magic, the small sized dimensions of Cornell’s boxes offer the viewer a portal to the entirety of an infinite universe. This theatrical and alchemical manipulation of space and time is a point of inspiration for the box constructions, movement, and music for Cornell Box. The sound score – cued and manipulated in real time with a laptop computer in combination with a MIDI controller – is sent through four speakers placed to “box” in the listening audience. The order of sound events begins with an introduction of expansive “outdoor” sounds of New York’s urban landscape including subway trains, city traffic, and the crowded lobby of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
After this introduction, the aural environment is transformed by the appearance of several samples of piano performance by New York pianist Daniel Kelly improvising in an ersatz “Impressionist” style the results processed to sound like scratched and dusty 78 rpm records. Joining this collage of seemingly “found” objects are excerpts of some of actress Lauren Bacall’s most iconic scripted lines from Howard Hawks’ 1944 film To Have And To Have Not. Cornell created the stunning box Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall) after seeing Hawks’ film several times watching Bacall closely and noting in his diary what he described as the “interesting Javanese modeling” of her face. With the exception of a couple of lines from her co-star Humphrey Bogart, I have only sampled Bacall’s voice from the film.
The physical movement in Cornell Box is contained within the dimensions of three box constructions built specifically for this performance. Rachel’s hands as well as the hands of Houston musician/composers Alexandra Marchulewicz Adshead and Michelle Yom appear in the boxes manipulating objects we’ve collected and arranged in homage to Cornell’s interior world as well as Houston’s unique cultural landscape.
I hope that for the duration of the performance, the combination of sound, sculpture, and movement in Cornell Box keeps what the audience is hearing, seeing, and remembering in a constant state of flux.
Saints & Devils is the title of my 2006 CD consisting of ten tracks inspired by the music, history, and iconography of the Deep South featuring musical performances by players from New Orleans and New York City. The CD was mastered two weeks before hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast shore, and then delayed for release for another year as New Orleans and its citizens recovered. The CD’s cover and booklet was realized by New Orleans-based photographer/computer artist Jon Graubarth and directly alludes to the aftermath of that storm.
In addition to Cornell Box, Rachel Cohen will present a solo accompanied by one of the tracks from Saints & Devils. Her solo is part of a work-in-progress scenario of movement with each track from the CD that might be realized in a variety of forms including a dance performance, environmental installation, and film and/or photographic essay.
I’d like to thank Dave Garrett for building our boxes, Harry Roseman for the use of his 1972 photo of Joseph Cornell, Rachel Cohen for her friendship and creative vision, and Jonathan Jindra for allowing us to be a part of the Binarium Sound Series.