Embiggening

Made this paper sculpture in today’s Bastard Assignments lockdown jam session. I like the scale of it (note sewing machine to compare!) – something like this might be useful for the tethering, and making them could be part of the performance? I’m liking the way light is moving on it – perhaps these bigger ones could be explored with torches?

Suspension, drawing, diagrams, tethering

Just plonking these here for whenever we’re both ready to think about this again. Don’t know what’s happened to my brain – the first month or so of lockdown, it was a wasteland and all I could do was play with things that weren’t related to much else; in the last week or two though it’s been All The Mad Ideas. Maybe the play was needed!

I FINALLY finished putting together a vlog episode getting up to 8 March which included the suspended paper sculptures and the drawings thereof. In response my supervisor (R) had this suggestion:

“Watching the video and photographic documentation of the papers suspended over the notebook brings up all sorts of possibilities. I’m just wondering, would it be possible to do something else with the drawing, approach the ‘marks’ less about ‘making’, or trying to respond by drawing in shadows, and more around drawing diagram-like figures on the notebook, or the suspended paper object, or both. Might there be a kind of drawing as diagrammatic score, or object choreo-graphic system? I’m thinking out loud here”

The idea of a diagrammatic score of movement intrigues me (and connects a bit with the piece I’m writing for Zubin that is probably going to have a score based on the game Twister so I guess my brain’s tinkering with that area already). That perhaps the arms could move independently of the rest of you and what that would do to the movement of the suspensions, or perhaps trying to keep the arms still while you moved away? I might follow this up with some more sculptures and thinking about how they move and how that might make you move to make them move. If that makes any sense. It might not. It’s late. I’m sleepy.

I’ve also been thinking about the ladder and feeling quite frustrated with that – I like the idea of it, but I think the logistics of it (transportation, limited movement as you go up it, can’t be too big a ladder if we have to carry it to gigs, limits the sort of rooms we could perform in because they’d need to have a reasonable height ceiling) are making it feel a limiting factor to the piece that isn’t going to make a big enough statement to make the limiting a real wow-element in the piece. We can of course experiment further – we’d only just begun in our last session, but I was wondering about reconfiguring this idea. What if instead of going up, you went back, starting at the very front of the stage and gradually moving towards the very back, with perhaps the extra length we were talking about on the suspended things then tethering you to the front of the stage or forcing you to ‘drag your anchor’ to move back (kind of having a vision here of there being so many attachments you need to gather them up as if they were a Victorian skirt, or they’d swish or scrape along the floor after you). This could also then provide a lateral spread of objects across the stage that might mean I could be bowing quite a long way from you (if we can find a way to amplify that). Possibly I could be attached too? Oh god brain. It’s like the eggs all over again.

Anyway, I’m not going to have time for much on this just yet and I know you’re completely swamped, but it’s good to note when the ideas drift in! Xo.

Fragile suspensions

No time to be thinking much about this piece at the moment, alas, but one of my shiny new Porthleven Prize friends just sent this round in response to a discussion about garlic. So beautiful! So fragile! More info here.

More shadow-drawing

I wanted to go further with the rough outlines from that last drawing from yesterday, so this morning I’ve just been working with outlines in graphite (2B and then 6B – 6B much better).

Overlaid shadow-outlines – the same object from different angles (sorry it’s a bit pale)

I think overall, I’m more interested in the actual suspended objects than the drawings, but the drawing helps me to think about the objects – like that they’re not static – as I move my hand to draw around the shadow, that creates a little breeze that moves the paper, and my breath moves them too, so I layered these up to think more about how the suspended thing them seems to be multiple rather than a single static thing.

My thinking now is that something like this could be used as a sort of ‘shade’ at the end of a copper wire, housing weights and an LED pointing down so that instead of shining on you, the lights shine through the suspended things and their motion is then amplified because it has another visible aspect (changing light direction, changing shadows).

Thoughts?

Shadow-drawing

Such a horrible stressy day today and everything was going wrong, so I chucked all my plans out the window and decided to just play and ended up doing a bunch of shadow-drawings of weird shapes made out of stapled bits of paper (these came from an Inventory of Behaviours behaviour that I found particularly pleasing last summer). Slightly different approach to the drawing on each one and I feel they get better as they go along. What does it all mean? I have no clue, but present these here…

Thoughts after vlog the 47th

So I’ve done another vlog, and talked about our first two Impedimenta workshops. That’s here (started at the relevant point because it’s a beast of an episode at nearly 30mins long!):

Quite condensed, but hopefully I’ve got the main points and haven’t misrepresented anything.

Anyway, while going through the bits and since I’ve just had a few little thoughts rolling about my wasteland of a brain that I felt I should note down here. At least one of them we’ve actually talked about but I don’t know that it’s been written down but some are new.

As you know I was starting to feel it was all looking a little ridiculous with the multiple pendula, but on thinking about that, I think it was the combination of the extreme motion plus you moving too and I feel that maybe we should explore ways of setting things in motion with you being as still as possible – perhaps I’m scurrying around you, messing things up all the time? Although I do want to ensure you get some fun stuff to do too. I know we tried out one iteration of this, but perhaps that experiment needs to go further. Maybe I could have a long hook so I could be crouched in front/to one side of you but tinkering with the objects?? I also wondered if there could be an additional trajectory of motion – that you start moving around, but as more things are added and the attachments become longer, you move less and less. I guess that would be a literal interpretation of the title there.

I mention in the vlog about perhaps weighing things and replacing the objects with more neutral (and controllable) weights. I think this might also help with the ridiculous – that the focus is more on the motion and the flute and the interactions than “what’s that tied onto there?” I know that then ditches the idea of the studio objects, but I think I’m OK with that. I’m glad we tried it, but the too-few weighty things is a problem, the non-functionality of the miniDisc players is a problem, and I find I’m more attached to some of these things than I probably should be!

Brain went off down a weird alley of “perhaps the weights could all be elegantly egg-shaped” – thinking of Nam June Paik’s Three Eggs (also Egg Grows) but also our conversation about your egglessness and corresponding egg-jealousy of the progeny’s dinner, and then there are the references to the World Egg of Dogon mythology in the Deleuze and Guattari I’ve been reading (which I don’t pretend to be even close to understanding yet, but hey, egg, and [according to sacred Wikipedia – it’s past 11pm and I just got home and have barely slept for the past three nights so can’t face finding anything more authoritative right now!] there are pleasing references dotted around to incompleteness, interference, rebellion, which I’m liking).

Not sure how but egg-shaped lights too? (OK, sleepy brain, you can shut up with the eggs now)

Teatre-Museu Dalí

(I said, shut up!)

(egg shakers? have you got any of those perchance?)

I’m a little concerned how the ladder is going to restrict movement – not just yours cos we don’t want you falling off and maybe that’s OK re: idea above about a trajectory towards stillness, but in terms of the pendulum effect because stuff might crash into it. I think we need to play with this to really understand what we’re up against and if it’s going to be effective. I’m having some doubts about the ladder, basically.

(side thought as I’m writing this – with the stillness trajectory, and if there are loads more attachments and the slightest movement sets something off because some are really long and heavy, reminds me a little of the control needed to prevent the motion-sensitive alarms of Panoptic #I by Stephen Bradshaw.)

Definitely want to try different weights and lengths of copper wires next time with the viola bow – are you able to source these? Let me know if not and I’ll see what I can do.

I think that’s it for now. Must away to bed. Will add to this in the morning if any more ideas that do not relate in any way to eggs should surface.

Cipher

Just a little cipher on the title, as promised. Something to tinker with, a starting point. I quite like it’s initial form but finding I’m not hugely attached to it. Ah well, maybe it’ll grow into something as you improvise while we play with the suspensions.

On Failure

I’ve just read Amanda DeBoer Bartlett’s article ‘The Failure of Music’ which you sent me. Interesting reading, but I feel it misses some aspects of failure which are important, certainly to me and doubtless to others.

I’m quite surprised that she doesn’t mention the aspect of ‘striving’ at all. I believe this is much of what is going on in Ferneyhough – that the complexity of the music is such that it’s impossible to be accurate, but the effort involved in trying to achieve it is part of the effect of the piece. I feel that this omission, as well as her general approach seems to miss that there is a difference – both in mindset and performance effect – between aiming to fail, and trying to succeed (but failing). The former is bound to be frustrating and feel like it is negating all that training, but the latter is about stretching that training perhaps to – or past – its limit to find different modes of expression.

The way she writes, she seems to have in her mind that perfection must be a goal, that the training for a full, rich tone is what ought to be the goal, and that pieces that don’t aspire to this somehow let her down? Are you reading this too? And related to this, she doesn’t seem to acknowledge that that traditional style of performance comes with baggage. Bel canto technique, or what we’ve been calling ‘flutiness’, have historical associations that the composer may wish to dissociate from, or compositional interests may be at odds with them – my interests, for example, are not in melody and harmony, but in timbre, texture, the performer’s physicality (breath, bow, etc.).

I find it quite disturbing that she describes a successful failure performance as resulting in “a silent, shaking performer in the corner of the room”. While there are doubtless some sadistic composers out there, and no doubt also many who are a bit clueless about what they are asking of their performer, it worries me that she seems to feel that she can’t succeed in the performance if the performance is to fail. This is what I mean by her seeming to have in mind that perfection ought to be the goal.

For me, failure can be a positive force – as fear can be a positive force – and a successful failure-piece can involve interesting loss of control, for example. When this is combined with amazing technique, the result can be fascinating – for example, those notes in Fortune Favours the Brave where I asked you to hold them until you had no more breath. Your breath control is incredible, so the experience of waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for the end of the note, and then to have that be out of control places failure in a context of triumph. If you were to choose to believe that every note must end cleanly, then yes this would be a distressing failure – except it’s decided, not accidental, the fallibility is desirable, just another sound in your arsenal.

She seems to also think that ‘failures’ of tone like this indicate an automatic inability to communicate, but what these changes lead to can be a richness in tonal variety that in itself communicates something. Much depends on how well the piece is written and how well the performer understands the intention – as she herself points out in the last paragraph. I think it’s worth asking a question of what is it that is to be communicated? Because I feel that much contemporary music is trying to communicate in a different way from, say, the 19th century. A bel canto aria’s mode of communication is very different from, say, Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King, and the content to be communicated is different too.

I also wonder how much of her dissatisfaction is to do with encountering poor writing for the voice… and I wonder how much of the desire for an ‘untrained’ sound comes out of a composer’s preference for pop music over operatic singing…

I’m not understanding at all what she’s trying to say about fear of the body and fear of the voice. I feel she may be reading more into this than is there, but then I don’t know what repertoire she’s been burnt by!

Where I feel she is absolutely right is about trying to produce specific emotional effects in the audience. I feel that manipulations like this are perhaps artistically suspect, and are something I do not attempt. I once had a woman come up to me after a performance and tell me she’d had tears in her eyes and it was one of the best moments of my life, to feel that my work had somehow connected so deeply with someone, but while it was absolutely what I wanted it was not something I had explicitly engineered the piece to evoke. I feel that we can only plan our actions, as composer, as performer, put as much into it as we can and hope for a deeply-felt reaction.

And finally, this reminded me of a conversation I had in Ghent where, after my presentation about putting my notebooks online, someone said that ‘vulnerability’ didn’t seem quite the right word, and I responded with something to the effect that there might be two kinds of vulnerability – one comes from a place of fear and the other from a place of opening up. I think these are not mutually exclusive, but the choice to open up to failure is quite different from just performing a piece that has failure elements build into it.

Hope all this makes sense. It’s quite late now!

Nam June Paik and eggs

OK, so you’ve asked me to write a bit here about what Nam June Paik means to me. This feels kind of daunting, to be honest. He’s such a huge figure! His work ranges from the very simple (e.g. TV Buddha) to the overwhelming and incredibly complex (e.g. Sistine Chapel).

(in the link above, I love this bit: “installing the piece in Venice was so taxing on Paik’s team, who had to haul 40 heavy projectors up onto scaffolding erected several metres above the floor, that the artist paid for each crew member to have an extra egg for breakfast each morning.”)

I find his work with technology inspiring, and his working relationship with Charlotte Moorman fascinates me. I love that he made a piece which consists of her clothes, suspended, after her death (Room for Charlotte Moorman) – it says so much about the depth of that relationship. He wrote and made and performed and his work ranges from composition to instrument-building to live broadcasting to installation. There’s just so much in there. While he trained as a composer, he clearly never felt that that created any boundaries on what he could make or do.

I find his work both inspiring and overwhelming – coming out of my second pass at the Tate exhibition, I didn’t know whether I wanted to get hold of All The Projectors, or hide in a cave and just make a piece that consisted of one note and have that be it for the rest of my life. Either seemed a fitting response.

(The annotation on this video at Tate reads: “Musician and composer Manon-Liu Winter plays her own composition on Paik’s Prepared Piano, Klavier Integral, which is now too fragile to travel. ‘I wanted to use the original sound of the instrument as closely as possible’ Winter explained. Klavier Intégral was originally connected to sirens, heaters, tape recorders and other devices which could be activated by playing certain keys. One piano key switched off the lighting in the room, while another switched it back on.’)

I like the messiness of much of his work – the bits of crap that he prepares that piano with, how he takes a TV that’s broken in transit and was supposed to be one piece, and makes it its own piece. I also like the humour. There’s much in there to aspire to, but at the same time I feel a bit uncomfortable saying that I might consider him a role model because his approach is continually so radical, I feel that the best way to reflect that is to actually do something that in no way resembles his work, but to learn from his perpetual experiments.

Three Eggs, by Nam June Paik
Three Eggs, by Nam June Paik

Three Eggs particularly delights me, as I mentioned in our last workshop. It is simple and beautiful, but offers so much to think about in terms of the real and the image, projection, technology, stasis and implied movement (the egg being filmed doesn’t move but video is a medium based on movement, plus there’s that aspect of eggs and life – a static form of a mobile state). Also the eggs just please me 🙂 I don’t know if I mentioned it or if you already know, but I have a series of piano works which are all ‘eggs’ because when I was working on my Satie thesis at the end of my undergrad degree, I was in the library one day and quite tired and I misread the volume of Satie’s ‘complete oeuvre for piano’ as ‘complete oeufs for piano’, which I rather liked, so I started writing piano eggs. I tinkered about with drawing them too but somebody said they looked like potatoes, so I didn’t persevere with that.

Two eggs

I do recall that I enjoyed the challenge of drawing them – the roundness of them, the shadows, trying to make them appear as if they had some weight and shape to them.

Cranes

Can you have a look at this and tell me what you think. I think the parallels are fairly obvious so I won’t say anymore than that haha.

This article/interview is also interesting I thought;

https://nmbx.newmusicusa.org/bonnie-jones-the-sounds-of-not-belonging/