This is an excerpt from my recent narrative environment score, she/storm. Narrative environment scores represent a new aspect of my creative research, but one with which I’m quickly falling in love. I wanted to work through a few of these ideas here, fix them (rather informally) and mark this moment in exploration, especially as I finish this piece for The Nodes Project and begin working on earnest on another work in the series for the fiercely talented Shanna Pranaitis.
This new direction of inquiry is born of several desires: first, to situate the performing body of the musician and the effort of making sound. Second, to establish a shared aural-visual world for listener and performer that evolves temporally. Third, as a more explicit means of engaging with concepts of narrative theory, a primary organizing principle in my work over the last several years. And the last might still be too vague to discuss, as I am just beginning this research, but I want to try to articulate it: as a means of amplifying the plural causal associations of sounding objects.
While I find the world of ‘noise’ [loosely defined as extended techniques and found sound] to be breathtaking, rich, evocative, intoxicating, and engaging…(too much? not enough?), I realize the abstractness of these sounds, as they exist largely outside of the established semantics of western art music. It isn’t that we don’t have wonderful and effective means of thinking of the structures for tension and release, or the hierarchies of sound: I love the elegant sound/noise axis that Saariaho describes, and I find Lachenmann’s ideas of energy and assembling give amazing insights into potential taxonomies. But these concepts in combination with the non-linear narrative associations triggered by the video contexts seem to provide an incredible depth of meaning and life to the previously abstract (reduced) ‘noise.’ Not in service to a visual foregrounded element (as sight seems to take precedence for most of us), but as a treasure-trove of potential meanings that can situate these ephemera in time and musical memory. Perhaps….
she/storm‘s physical score was created on two 2’x11’ vellum sheets – it is a structured improvisation score, combining found objects, graphic notation, and text direction. The performers are given static (printed) copies of the sheets and detailed performance notes in addition to the video score. The video exists as triggered media which is controlled by one of the on-stage performers: four distinct files, each encompassing a formal section of the piece, triggered when the ensemble is ready to move to the next section.
We will start in Oshtemo Park (7275 W Main St. Kazoo, MI). Please remember to wear your masks at all times – consider insect repellent and wear clothing appropriate for hiking in semi-muddy conditions.
~Take a moment to be still, do not move / do not seek. Let yourself listen (perhaps taking a moment with eyes closed, to recalibrate your senses). Consider the sounds that come to you, give each its own space – gently shift between the immediacy of coded listening and the aesthetic qualities of the sounding objects. Slowly allow the sounds to intrude on one another, to let the soundscape of the park amass in your awareness.
~Begin moving at a pace that fits your listening practice. Travel east on the trails toward the arboretum, away from the playground and past the golfers at their games. Attend the change of perceived tempi as your body moves, and do not hide from the sound of your breath or steps, but let them fit within those external rhythms.
~Focus not only on what is present, but how the sounds change as they grow proximal or distant. In the Arboretum, head south along Old Field and Wood Frog. Please stop if a sound comes to you that is better heard when still. Move with empathy for the creatures of Batts Pond – tread lightly, making space for their delicate songs. The bridge shows the wear of time, but its cobbled aspects make for plural soundings.
~Continue south as the trail loops around, cross the clearing into Gathje Hill– move more quickly here, find a rhythm to reset your senses– likely your sight will again be foregrounded as you negotiate the terrain. Try stopping at times and quickly closing your eyes along the Marsh Woods loop – attend to the shift in your hearing and smell with the cessation of motion and the abrupt interruption of sight. Try slowing as you near the end of the Marsh Woods loop, perhaps taking a moment to sit at the edge of the water. Let your eyes grant substance to the gentle echos at the edge of the marsh.
~Dense woods give way as you turn north along Powerline. Can you hear the absence of those clustered trees in the tones of the wind? The channel of grasses bisecting the forest have their own whispering inflections, their own quiet inhabitants. Perhaps your body moves differently here, and the packed earth resonates more subtly beneath your steps.
~The Wetland Boardwalk will not only clump underfoot, but will grasp and gulp at every step. The impossibility of stealth may obscure the songs of marsh birds – please step softly, or still your steps momentarily, to make way for their warbled virtuosity.
~Fern Oak, Meadow Run, and Old Field lead back to the park.Here are discrete spaces in which to shift between modes of listening. The sounds of humans may grow more present – and it is often easy to recoil from these after quietude in a sylvan soundscape. But please remain open to the utterances of this environment, as well. The sounds of play and melodies of speech, the insistent murmurings of swing chains and patient motor drones, and their combined, complex tapestry hint at a very different type of beauty, one of which you are very much a part.