Finally blogging the workshop/performance
April 10th – Interactive Performance Workshop
Overall, I found the workshop quite informative. For one thing, Thomas talked about how he’d “built” the instruments he was working with (e.g. the guitar with all the sensors.) Although this is a pretty innovative thing to do, a guitar is still an object that is intended to be a musical instrument. It made sense to me that an instrument could be altered in the way it produces sound by putting a computer program between the guitar and the amp because it’s, essentially, the same principle that went into turning an acoustic guitar into an electric one. The thing I found so intriguing was when Thomas mentioned that one could just buy a cheap game controller, break it open and take out the sensors, then put them on some other meaningful object. Strangely, it hadn’t occurred to me at all to use a non-musical object to produce music, which is awfully limited of me since anything can be used to make sound. I really liked the idea of taking a random, non-traditionally-musical object and turning it into a kind of instrument, blurring the line that I’ve, apparently, been trained to think exists between musical and non-musical.
Along these lines, Jamie Jewitt talked a bit about the performance that would be given on Friday: “Melt.” In the piece, there would be large hanging blocks of ice, some of which had rocks frozen into them, and as the ice melted, the water droplets and rocks would fall onto some kind of sensor, which then transmitted signals that were interpreted visually and aurally using different electronically produced sounds and graphics. Again, what an inventive interpretation of “musical instrument”! I was pretty excited to see the performance the next night so I could find out how the rock/water noises actually worked into the piece, though he said that the audiovisual controls wouldn’t be used.
Another thing Jamie mentioned was a project he had done in which dancers movements cut through beams of light, and cameras detected the breaks in the light and triggered sounds accordingly. He said it was an exercise in getting dancers to think more about the sounds they produced through movement, since dancers typically respond to sound, not vice versa. It seemed like a neat experiment with awareness, taking people who’ve been trained a certain way and placing them in a situation that forces them to think and move differently from the way they normally would. (I found it amusing that this idea had seemed pretty original until he discovered that the Merce Cunningham Dance Company had done something similar in 1965. I guess it just serves as a reminder that, no matter how new something might seem, it’s probably not that new.)
One criticism I have for the talk involves references. The other people in the room didn’t ask, so I assume that most of the audience was familiar with “big names” in experimental dance and music, but I found that most of the references to various choreographers, etc, were lost on me. Because I didn’t get the reference, I didn’t really understand the context that was being laid to talk about Jamie’s work. Other than that, however, it was a really interesting experience, and definitely made me revise my definition of the word “musical”.
April 11th – Interactive/Multimedia Performance
The performance was actually really enjoyable. I do like that I’d gone to the workshop, and thus had some frame of reference for what I was seeing, but I wonder how my interpretation of the various pieces might have been different, had I not known what to expect.
Thomas’ performance with Curtis Bahn featured some really creative instruments, including what appeared to just be a bowl, as well as Curtis Bahn’s eSitar. I admit that, given what we’d heard in class, I was expecting to find most of the sounds somewhat grating. While I won’t say that the piece was entirely without sounds I didn’t like, overall I found it somewhat soothing. I was surprised by the number of people I saw covering their ears, though, since I’m usually more sensitive to uncomfortable sounds than others around me. My one criticism would be that, while I realize that the piece is interactive and changes every time, I felt it needed to convey more intentionality. To me, there didn’t really seem to be a direction that the performance was leading me (of course, I concede that that feeling may have been the intentional part) and I think I would have found it a bit more engaging if I had gotten the sense that there was more of an evolution to the sound.
As far as Jamie Jewett’s “Melt”, the ice/rock instrument was unbelievably cool. As that melted, two dancers moved slowly across the stage, interacting with one another with contact improv type motions as a visual display played on a screen behind them. I’m not exactly sure how the display was triggered, though it seemed to me that the dancers might have been wearing cameras and that the feeds from those were somehow being processed for the projection. The dripping rock sounds ended up providing a fascinating, arrhythmic heartbeat that seemed move things along more than the dancers did, though they seemed to be the focus of the piece. I was really impressed by the way everything came together: the graceful but almost achingly slow movements of the dancers, the present but inconsistent drips and drumbeats from the ice/rock, and the constantly moving visuals on the screen behind the dancers. Ordinarily, I’m not that fond of what’s usually termed “contemporary” dance, but I found the whole piece to have an appealing tempo that challenged my former opinions yet again.