motione participant Arts, media and Engineering

computer screens

in the words of the creators

Roger Reynolds

The following portrays – as seems fitting in the case of 22 – a collaborative, interactive network at work. Heard from a musical perspective.

22 arose out of previous work that Dancer/Choreographer Bill T. Jones had done — a piece called 21. It used a repertoire of distinctive poses – each numbered and named – that constituted a kind of “vocabulary”. And it is a multimodal vocabulary by means of which Bill “speaks” in a uniquely resonant way. His strategy in 21 was to present an idiosyncratic set of poses, moving fluidly between them in cyclical fashion: first silently, then numbering in sequence, then naming, and finally passing through them as unpredictable, delicious nodal points in an otherwise freely evolving dance. Into this all he integrated (somehow) moving auto-biographical narratives. The poses, their names, and their implications were all smoothly, often revelatory, woven into the evolving dance experience: movement, narrative, sound, all emanate from one central figure. Given so rich a beginning it was nevertheless the aim of ASU’s Motione project to extend the resources and their implications.

When I went to Tempe and began interacting with Bill and with the visual artists Paul Kaiser, Shelly Eshkar, and Marc Downie on 22, I realized immediately that the central issue was vocabulary: of graphic images for them, and for me (and Pei Xiang who has been my Musical Assistant for this project) of sound elements. I like to think of the elements of my musical vocabulary as “sonic images”. The visual team and I (AME Director, Thanasis Rikakis is fond of calling each collection of individuals working on the project a “team”.) decided that seven was a more manageable number of items for the element sets we were to create than 22.

I listened repeatedly to the narratives that Bill improvised as he demonstrated (drawing from the background of 21), and read in his book Last Night on Earth. He had picked two riveting and disturbing stories for 22, and interweaves them as he dances so that they both evolve in parallel. His central concerns were evident in the stories and affecting, but the thing that got to me the most was Bill’s voice itself, and the way he uses it. I decided to base the music for this collaboration on sounds recorded on a bass clarinet (as performed by Anthony Burr) and percussion (as played by Steven Schick). The sound world needed to be near to that of Bill’s sonorous vocalizations, but retain a contrasting pallet that would complement rather than compete with his narration during performance. I recorded a diverse repertoire of sounds (after deciding on the sonic images enumerated below) and then subjected these, with Pei’s inventive and imaginative help, to a variety of computer transformations including a spatial choreography (that has its own principles).

Paul, Shelly, and Marc were at work earlier in time than were Pei and I, and their image repertoire solidified rather early on: ladder, table, photographer, highwire, window, door, and trunk. They anticipated that their figures would evolve from one to another in a fixed sequence, in a transformative series that would also feature a luminous yellow line that took on new formal significance in each image. It was to serve as a linking visual component, constantly reborn.

I thought about this for awhile and decided that, with a few adaptations, I could create a set of sonic images that would parallel their categories while remaining relevant to what I wanted to accomplish. My series, then, is:

Ladder (Parallel, arpeggiated successions rise or fall in pairs, sometimes accelerating, and at others ritarding. They lead the ear up … or down, and imply a variety of moods from antic to ethereal.)

Scene (This is an evocative montage of children’s’ voices. Rather wistful clarinet melodies weave in and out. Children are central to both of Bill’s stories. The lyrical thread, in turn, was modeled on two rhythmic and incantatory tunes that he kept coming back to in his improvisations. I linked them discursively, and they became the seeds of a continuously mutating, meandering line whose mood constantly shifts,

Window (Sharp, biting chords occur as single karate-chops, or in rapid, spatially dispersed barrages. These chords — whether singular or multiple — are spaced out in time in a rhythmic succession (“regular”, in fact, but not easily predicted). The individual notes of the chords are joined together by a web of rising and falling strands of sound. It is as though the resonances left behind by each chord somehow reformulate themselves in such a way as to predict the next.)

Door (Complex, multiple sounds, producible only on the bass clarinet [They are called multiphonics.] have a kinship with the complexities of the sounds we make under duress: howling, keening, desiring. Since a door is, after all, another kind of window — or vice versa — the idea here, also, is that the relatively stable multiple clarinet sounds are linked together by passages of evolving convolution which are richer, spatially immersive, sonically sumptuous. These auditory convolutions are the unexpected vistas experienced as each new “door” opens.)

Highwire (This is antic, even comedic. The sounds are brief, scattered, clattering, chattering, asymmetrical, jumping from one place to another. Occasionally, they are suggestive of an underlying laughter … but with an edge.)

Table (Here I made a surface of sound. Beginning as a dense murmuring in the lower register, a large family of percussion sounds permute constantly, gaining registral altitude. And as this “surface” rises, it becomes sparse as we come metaphorically closer to it — so close, in fact, that each sound seems an auditory molecule. The process reverses, but the elements have become multiple, and the descending surface density now accumulates greater force.)

Trunk (This is the darkest of the sound images: guttural, moaning, roaring, pressing in on one in a way reminiscent of Table, but now with a more extended, quasi-vocal fabric that rises to an almost demonic, drumming climax before subsiding.)

I decided that the sound world needed a linking function as well, and made an eighth category: Yellow Line. It is a line (though not yellow, of course) that is, in a way, a pair with Highwire. Less antic, more continuous, even obsessive, though continually undergoing changes in character: pulsing, writhing, whirring.

All of these above materials can be presented in units of different temporal size. They can be indefinitely extended and constantly evolving. Each is malleable, reinventing itself by various repetitive re-visitings of a structured collection of related sources. But at times, the sound images can be more specific and delimited: they can make, as it were, “normative” statements, like a pose, and each category can also appear in an “iconic” form: very brief — only a few seconds — like a memory, but still unmistakably calling to the ear its parent. Pei devised an “icon machine” that cycles through the iconic representations with a managed randomness, creating an aural landscape in flux: a montage of fleeting but evocative instants, recalling earlier experiences but then immediately morphing into new essences. The references are all connected now, and new possibilities are suggested.

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