To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Dylan Hester shares his perspective on Thursday night’s Sound Horizon performance by Holly Herndon. Agree or […]
Holly Herndon. Photo: Suzy Poling
To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Dylan Hester shares his perspective on Thursday night’s Sound Horizon performance by Holly Herndon. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
Holly Herndon breathes into a very loud microphone. Her inhale and exhale pan across the room. Scott Nedrelow’s Movie (Black Swan), a series of six video projections shot inside a cinema screening Darren Aronofsky’s film of the same name, plays on a loop in the background. Herndon’s voice is joined by disjointed, deconstructed beats. Her sharp inhales come so suddenly that we realize we are at her mercy: anything louder than breath would surely send a jolt through the audience.
The music grows dense, and a 4/4 rhythm emerges. Suddenly, we’re awash in drum machines. I briefly wish we were dancing in a warehouse instead of sitting quietly in a gallery. Black Swan continues to loop: an audience arrives in the cinema, watches a scene of the film, the credits roll, the audience leaves.The amplifiers shake. I wonder if the art on the other side of the wall is shaking too. She gasps. The rhythm dissipates. The focus remains on her voice, constantly manipulated, keeping us in suspense.
Holly Herndon’s work is somewhere between the academy and the club; the performance is at once confrontational and intimate.Her second LP, Platform, is due out May 2015 on the venerable 4AD label. She is a 21st century electronic artist who sits behind an array of computers – but it is the sound of her breath that fills the room, forms sonic sculptures, and keeps us on edge.
To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, composer and multimedia artist Noah Keesecker shares his perspective on Saturday night’s program of The […]
So Percussion performing Bryce Dessner’s Music for Wood and Strings. Photo: Jayme Halbritter
To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, composer and multimedia artist Noah Keesecker shares his perspective on Saturday night’s program ofThe Music of Bryce Dessner, co-presented by the Walker Art Center and the SPCO’s Liquid Music series. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
Let’s dispense with the obvious. Bryce Dessner is a sorcerer, Buke and Gase is a griffin, Ben Lanz is a cyborg, Caroline Shaw is a unicorn, and Sō Percussion is a machine.
Great. Glad we cleared that up. So if you had bumped into me before last Saturday night and asked what I was doing that evening I could have said, in metaphorical truthiness, “I’m going to go see a sorcerer play music with a griffin and a machine. Oh, and there will also be a cyborg and a unicorn. Wanna join me?” To which you would have said “I’ll grab my wand while you pull the brooms around.”
Seriously though. There was a lot of energy in McGuire Theater on Saturday night and I am not going to say it was all good. It was certainly well crafted, well educated, and well executed but there were some elements of the evening that I just couldn’t get over. Liquid Music is one of my favorite concert series anywhere but the more I pay attention the more I wonder if this trend of the Indie/Classical interloper isn’t simply a new version of orchestra pops concerts; Indie Chamber Music for Millenials. There. I said it. We’ve got Sufjans and Newsoms and a good line of bands working with top tier chamber ensembles and symphonies. Of course this isn’t a revelation, good old Pitchfork has tossed the Indie Classical label around for quite some time. And so what? The label is just the words we make up so we can talk about something that doesn’t have a name. And so what.
This overnight review has turned into three, four, five overnights for me. Like that old college friend that’s “just passing through” and crashes on your couch for a few too many days, I’ve been wrestling with identifying what it was about this concert that left me so, well, not impressed.
So I broke this down into my main observations (read: complaints) and a silver lining.
Do I really need to state for the millionth time that college degrees are not a magic recipe for making good art? They mean something but they do not guarantee quality. Correlation does not imply causation. I got hung up on the fact that everybody wanted me to know Dessner went to Yale for music. Yes, I just kicked that dead horse so let’s move on.
Silver Lining: The more I think about it the more I feel that my own bias is the problem here. The institution waves the academic flag because the institution needs it, not the audience, not the artist. The artist is going to make their work regardless of announcing their pedigree and the audience is going to like or dislike their music regardless of the artist’s pedigree. Dear Audience and Artist, you are free to go.
A Minimal Amount About Minimalism
Can we just admit that Minimalism is the Pop Art of the classical music world? That hocket is the audio equivalent of halftone and being functionally monophonic is an harmonic palette of just primary colors?
Silver Lining: There is some great Pop Art in the world and talented artists continue to test its boundaries.
It’s a structural thing. It’s about the construction of the work, specifically Dessner’s work. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that he writes straight into a DAW. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I would be the last person to tell another artist that he must suffer the misery of a quill and inkwell or that you should write your canon out by hand rather than click a couple buttons, trim the fat and call it a day. But I’m not talking about canons, I’m talking about being able to hear the tool. “And how, all knowing and curmudgeonly wizard, can you hear the tool of composition? Please, enlighten us!” Well, there was an overwhelming amount of blocks. A layer begins, another layer is slapped on top, then you pull something out for a bit, then you layer it all back in. It was as if you could just see someone punching tracks in and out on a sequencer. Lines did not blend, they were jutted up against each other like a mixture of hard geometric shapes. Melody was down played in favor of textures and process, nudge a loop, get a new permutation. Nudge it again, get another permutation.
Silver Lining: Electronic dance music and a majority of popular music idioms have ingrained a very satisfying appreciation for blocky layers and abrupt change. The reason is because time is difficult to parse when things move slowly so the more you repeat with a frequent change the more you demarcate time for the listener. It’s pleasing to hear, it’s jarring, it’s well crafted, which all makes it exciting.
Did anyone else notice that there were very few dynamics during this concert? Ben Ganz had dynamics (but some suspiciously flat sounding audio quality at times), and Caroline Shaw wins the nuance award for the evening with her clever, delicate, and expertly balanced work for solo violin and voice. The rest of the concert was mostly just… loud. Not uncomfortably loud but just consistently lacking in the use of softer amplitudes. This to me is something that really sets classical music apart from pop genres. It’s super hard to listen to Mahler, or Brahms, even Stravinsky in your car because the works are constructed out of a amplitude range that goes from bombast to susurration. The Saturday night show had very little whispering and felt more like any other rock show. One could argue that loud is a choice, and it can be, but when you deny yourself the expressive power of using a full dynamic range, I consider that to be a poor choice. Not to mention tiring.
Silver Lining: Loud is easy. Loud is fun. Loud keeps your attention.
You may be wondering if I have any compassionate or happy bones in my inner ear and the answer is yes, yes I have a few. Buke and Gase proved to be a fantastically quirky duo that write some really fine songs and Arone Dyer’s voice and melodic sense cannot be overstated. For two people and a pile of invented instruments, they produce a facile capriciousness of style and an amazingly varied color palette.
As mentioned previously, Caroline Shaw performed a felicitous little piece for violin and voice. It was a simple little piece and like great simple things it was deceptively complex. I call this easy complexity and it is a mark of artistry.
Finally, we come to Dessner’s Music for Wood and Strings, a percussion piece written for a mutated sort of dulcimer created by Aron Sanchez. I’m going to be totally honest and say that the dulcimer is probably one of my least favorite musical instruments ever created and a 21st century dulcimer is still a dulcimer. The one magical moment from the work was near the climax there was a sheet of resonance hanging in the air and then like some kind of magical creature, there emerged some of the most sparkling overtones that I have heard in person for some time. And it occurred to me that no sorcerer’s apprentice is going to make this kind of ethereal sonic event happen, only a full fledged sorcerer can pull that off.
Overall, I thought I hated this concert but as I wrestled with the lingering sounds and mulled over all these pesky details I came to really enjoy how persistent the music had been. I am not an advocate for liking everything that is made. I like to dislike things because it is in taking issue with work that we are faced not just with those challenges in front of us but the challenges inside of us as well.
I have no hesitation saying Marc Ribot is one of the greatest guitarists alive today. I know of no other contemporary musician who manages to merge experimental ambition, raw gutbucket emotion, and unmistakable beauty like Ribot. A vast array of collaborative contexts over the course of his career have led Ribot to develop myriad original […]
Marc Ribot. Photo: Barbara Rigon
I have no hesitation saying Marc Ribot is one of the greatest guitarists alive today. I know of no other contemporary musician who manages to merge experimental ambition, raw gutbucket emotion, and unmistakable beauty like Ribot. A vast array of collaborative contexts over the course of his career have led Ribot to develop myriad original guitar sounds, from the free-skronking blues of his performances with Tom Waits to the electrified neo-classical klezmer of his work with John Zorn and much more.
1. The Lounge Lizards – “Fat House” – Big Heart: Live in Toyko (1986)
Playing here with a top-form Lounge Lizards lineup, Ribot’s free-blues funk is a perfect representation of the jocular, disjointed, and visceral Downtown sound he would help define throughout the ’80s.
2. John Zorn – Live at Jazz in Marciac (2010)
One of the most fruitful collaborative relationships in either musician’s career has been the partnership between Marc Ribot and John Zorn. Ribot has played on everything from Zorn’s most outré compositions (“The Book of Heads”) to the “radical Jewish music” of his Masada songbook (as we see in the video above).
3. Marc Ribot Y Los Cubanos – “Postizo” – The Prosthetic Cubans (2000)
The music of Ribot’s Los Cubanos project may give us some clue as to what we can expect from his duet performance with Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo next Saturday at the Cedar. His distortion-laden take on Cuban music bursts with energy on this track and on nearly everything he’s put out with the band.
4. Marc Ribot (Solo Acoustic) – “Fat Man Blues” – Live at the Falcon in Marlboro, NY (2014)
In this breathtaking performance at a club called the Falcon in the small town of Marlboro, New York, we get a taste of one of Ribot’s subtler, more meditative takes on the blues.
5. Tom Waits – “Cold Water” – The Mule Variations (1999)
In a career that’s seen Tom Waits go from a lounge-rat court jester to a demented noise-making carny and everywhere in between, Ribot’s guitar has been one of the few consistent variables. His deep-in-the-pocket blues has always managed to keep Waits (somewhat) grounded in the basics of American popular music without dumbing anything down. Dig his solo here at around three minutes in.
6. Marco Cappelli – “And So I Went To Pittsburgh” – Extreme Guitar Project (2006)
Ribot’s remarkable talent for composition is on display with this tune, a cut from Italian guitarist Marco Cappelli’s album of guitar pieces written by a number of accomplished contemporary avant-garde composers.
7. Ceramic Dog – “Your Turn” – Your Turn (2013)
With bassist Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith, Ceramic Dog is the closest Marc Ribot comes to playing straight up rock ‘n’ roll. On “Your Turn,” he’s out for blood with a blistering four minutes of hard-nosed, prog-inspired post-punk.
To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, composer Chris Campbell shares his perspective on Friday night’s program of The Music […]
Left to right: Stefan Schneider, Bryce Dessner, Richard Reed Parry, Caroline Shaw, and Laurel Sprengelmeyer. Photo: Jayme Halbritter
To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, composer Chris Campbell shares his perspective on Friday night’s program ofThe Music of Bryce Dessner, co-presented by the Walker Art Center and the SPCO’s Liquid Music series. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
The Liquid Music series, presented by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, is navigating some challenging and exciting terrain. It’s dealing with no-genre aspirations, or what Duke Ellington once called “the music of the future..when it will be boiled down and left without a category.” The series is concerned with the cross-pollination of ideas, scenes and personalities, and the physical draw of getting people excited to come out to concerts. The mixing of contemporary and experimental musical genres has, of course, been central to the Walker’s performing arts programming for decades.
Ultimately, last night succeeded on all these fronts. The show itself presented an obvious entry point for the audience to experience the music they came for. It also provided, whether intentionally or unintentionally, an invitation to explore the larger world of classical music that can often be intimidating or esoteric. Audiences need more cordial entry points to that world, not less. Which leads us to the actual concert. The penultimate show for Liquid Music 2014-2015, copresented by the Walker Art Center, was billed as “The Music of Bryce Dessner – Program A” (Program B is tonight) but the evening felt more like a collaborative effort between equal-share friends. Composer, guitarist and curator Dessner, who is also a member of The National, had two pieces performed which bookended the main program. Joining him were multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire and Pulitzer Prize winning composer Caroline Shaw, who each had several of their own works programmed, in addition to performing on each others’ works.
The show began with the piece Lachrimae. Composer Dessner, who acted as an engine and a rudder throughout the night, explained and gave context to the piece afterwards. The piece is heavily influenced by Renaissance composer John Dowland, whose works Dessner often played while studying classical guitar. Parry’s Interruptions followed. A suite of vignettes, Interruptions is part of a larger theme Parry is exploring, connecting performers’ heartbeats and breathing to their music making. Stethoscopes are used by the performers to link their biorhythms to the external rhythms being created. The piece is a series of lovely miniatures, like aural 2” x 2” paintings executed with a few well-placed and fully mindful brushstrokes. It was delicate, simple and balanced. Parry’s Quartet followed without much of a lull and was stutter-y, organically asymmetrical, and inherently inward-looking. Simple ideas executed well can be powerful, and Parry and crew executed well.
Dessner and Parry are both clearly interested in teasing out certain threads and tendrils that they might not be able to explore in a standard issue pop/rock song. A particular sonic image or texture that might only last a few seconds in a certain context was zoomed-in on, explored, and repurposed in the context of the evening.
Halfway through the main program, Little Scream (Laurel Sprengelmeyer) offered a sonic palette cleanser and built up the energy in the room with a quick two song set. Caroline Shaw’s two pieces were programmed next. Her work was the highlight of the concert in an evening chock full of good moments. By and By, her re-framed, stripped-of-all-varnish arrangement of gospel and bluegrass songs, took the energy of the room and transformed it upward and inward into an ethereal bloom. Shaw’s Entr’acte spun its web using small, motivic ideas. The piece churned along earnestly, with whispered asides and technical, snaky flourishes for punctuation. It developed with chorale progressions that were chopped, bounced and rotated through variation. The piece was smart and understated, with a clear and nuanced form. I saw the audience lean in toward the stage at certain points, which points to the piece’s impact.
Dessner ended the main program with a piece called Tenebre. It began quietly, fluttering while squeezebox clusters and chords lined up with lyric lines and gestures dancing atop. Tenebre’s language is pretty, with some sprinkles of dissonance thrown in like a well-placed swear word in a conversation. The piece reached its climax with a pre-recorded, disembodied Sufjan Stevens singing from the rafters. The strongest aspect of this piece was its kinetic qualities. The players gave the sound a corporeal property that moved.
After a 20 minute intermission, Parry’s new group Quiet River of Dust, which includes Laurel Sprengelmeyer, played a closing set. It was filled with Nick Drake-ish moments, but with a different color palette. In a song about rain and death knocking on one’s door, one of the amps started to break up and it created a weird radiating rain texture toward the end of the piece, creating a magic moment. The amp continued to break up for the next few minutes, which wasn’t so magical, but Parry handled it like a pro and the problem resolved itself without notice.
After listening to these three composers, I kept coming back to the breadth and depth of the classical ecosystem in terms of styles, designations, motivations, and vocabularies. If your view of serious contemporary classical music is Tristan Murail, Georg Friedrich Haas, Henry Brant, or even Heinz Hollinger (the linked piece reminds me conceptually a little of Parry’s quartet) this ain’t it, and it never will be. Good. The truth is, this gracious and approachable (gasp!) modality of classical music must exist as much as the most rigorous experimental classical music does. When in expert hands, both things are equally awesome. There’s no conflict when viewing it all as interrelating and informing one body of music. Having different schools, scenes and micro-genres help us evolve, converse, and adapt as listeners and creators alike. What was done last night was neither risk-taking nor groundbreaking from a certain point of view, but the music I heard challenges and pushes in important ways. Isn’t trying to be understood a risk in itself?
The playing and performances were tight, and it was a great night of music from three talented composer-musicians. I’m curious to hear how they develop their own musical logic and language over the next few years. Walking out of the hall, I heard a stranger next to me say to their date that they “want to learn more about string orchestras”. Appetite whetted. Invitation to explore accepted. It’s Saturday now, and in the light of morning I really hope that person engages and absorbs what the many branches of the classical tradition have to offer. I hope they get to know this awe-inspiring ecosystem better, from the most anarchic sounds, to the most whip-smart and whisper quiet. I highly recommend you go to tonight’s show and see what new magic happens.
As anyone who writes about Buke and Gase is obliged to do, let’s begin by explaining the New York duo’s name. The name Buke and Gase comes from the two self-made instruments that create most of the band’s sound. The buke is a baritone ukulele invented by Minnesota-born multi-instrumentalist Arone Dyer (right), and the gase, invented by Aron Sanchez […]
Buke and Gase. Photo: Grant Cornett
As anyone who writes about Buke and Gase is obliged to do, let’s begin by explaining the New York duo’s name. The name Buke and Gase comes from the two self-made instruments that create most of the band’s sound. The buke is a baritone ukulele invented by Minnesota-born multi-instrumentalist Arone Dyer (right), and the gase, invented by Aron Sanchez (left), is something of a half-guitar-half-bass. Running their instruments through an elaborate rig of homemade pedals, Dyer and Sanchez manage to achieve a seamless mixture of art-pop songwriting and experimental limitlessness.
On Saturday, April 4, Buke and Gase will join critically acclaimed percussion quartetSō Percussion on the Walker’s McGuire Theater stage to present a new collaborative work. The performance is a part of a weekend-long mini-festival copresented with the SPCO’s Liquid Music Series celebrating the music of composer/guitarist Bryce Dessner, who has worked closely with both Buke and Gase and Sō Percussion over the years.
Ahead of next week’s performance, Performing Arts Interns Sam Segal and Mark Mahoney had the chance to ask Buke and Gase some questions about their compositional strategies, their collaborative process with Sō Percussion, and what led them to invent their own instruments.
Aron, you built instruments for the Blue Man Group for a period, and Arone, you’ve worked as a bike mechanic. It seems that one thing that characterizes all of your creative output, mechanical and musical, is a certain spirit of invention. Why have you embraced this DIY approach? What does it allow you to accomplish musically that conventional instruments and approaches couldn’t?
Aron Sanchez: Well, we’re only two people and we don’t want to play to a track; we want to perform all our sounds because it’s fun and presents us with interesting challenges both musically and technically. The “DIY approach” is just a matter of course. I think most musical projects are “DIY”—artists have to figure out how to achieve their particular musical expression. Ours logically extends to the creation of instruments and other technical devices, because other people don’t already make the kinds of tools we need to create our sound.
Arone Dyer: Having been a bike mechanic mostly speaks of my desire to do work that requires manual skill and understanding of how things work. Ultimately, this way of thinking has seeped into every millimeter of my existence, and without it as a philosophy I would be someone very different.
When many people first hear your music, they assume it’s coming from a band comprised of several people. Is that kind of expansive sound something you strive for? How does that sound get translated into a collaborative context with a group like Sō Percussion?
Sanchez: Sure it is. We like expansive. We get excited by hearing ourselves sound bigger than the two of us (we also like sounding as small as we are). With Sō, we try to blend in and not take up as much space as we do when we usually perform.
Dyer: We strive to create music that we enjoy performing and listening to, regardless of how expansive it is.
Has it ever felt like the uniqueness of your instruments has overshadowed the other elements of your music in the press?
Dyer: Yes, often, although it can be considered to be a “Chicken Vs. Egg” complex; how could we make the music we do without the instruments we use, and likewise, why would we think to create new equipment and instruments without playing and noticing the need for change or addition to our sound palette? Some say “Boredom is the mother of invention,” but perhaps for us it’s more that our curiosities are the mother. The Big Mother. At this point our instruments are quite solidified in their virginal sonic range, and most of our invention/additions are along the lines of enhancing usability and expanding post-instrument sonic expression. As far as this being the pinnacle of interview and article content, it feels likely that since instruments and inventions are such tangible, material subjects, it’s easier for the press to focus on those, rather than questions directed more toward the intangible, such as lyrical content, creative inspiration, and intended direction. It bugs me, but I also understand that some bubbles just aren’t easy or comfortable to pop.
How did the Sō Percussion collaboration first come about? What can we expect from your performance together on Saturday night?
Sanchez: In 2013, the Ecstatic Music Festival in NYC approached Sō and B&G about doing some sort of collaboration. Ecstatic usually pairs different artists together to either create something new or collaborate on existing work. B&G and Sō took the opportunity to collaboratively write new material together over the course of some months, meeting and sending files back and forth. What we will perform at the Walker is a result of that work.
In an early iteration of Buke and Gase, you guys played with a drummer. What initially led you to pare down to a duo, and why have you now decided to return to using live percussion?
Dyer: Correct. We were playing with a drummer, and then that was simply no longer the case. We made the decision to remain a duo for many reasons, starting with the discovery that our music was just fine without one. B&G and Sō Percussion remain as two separate groups who come together to perform music we had created together, and we still don’t have a drummer.
Aron, you’ve said in the past that electronic music is a huge influence on you. Did you try to give this collaboration the feeling of a piece of electronic music played on organic instruments?
Sanchez: Yes, I’ve always been interested in the translation of electronic sounds and processes into the world of hands-on instruments, and definitely this is something we try to bring to the table. Regardless, our “organic instruments” are highly electronic to begin with, taking into account all the digital processing we use to add different dimensions – they sound completely different when un-plugged. Recently we’ve been taking that some steps further, actually using computers and synthesized sounds that we control with our instruments or feet.
Arone, did you change the lyrical process at all when you knew you were writing for this collaborative effort, rather than another Buke and Gase record?
Dyer: No, although I may have subconsciously toned down the variety of the subject content. It was quite a fluid, of-the-moment process this time around.
In 2009, Bryce Dessner and other members of The National came to one of your shows in Brooklyn, and they were absolutely floored. What has your relationship with Bryce been like?
Sanchez: Yes, Bryce and Aaron Dessner came to one of our first shows that their sister Jessica had booked at a little venue in Ditmas Park called Sycamore. It was super early days for us, but they were nonetheless impressed and asked if they could help us out, which led us to releasing three records on their label. Bryce is awesome of course and working with his label Brassland has been a huge influence on our success as a project.
Finally, on the video for your NPR Tiny Desk Concert, YouTube commenter ‘travelswithcharley4’ opined, “If they collaborated with the red hot chili pepper, i think that’d be awesome.” Can you comment on this?
Dyer: Chili Peppers are spicy, and, no doubt, were we to collaborate with them, our faces would be red, beading with sweat, and our heart rates would be higher than normal due to the capsaicin receptors located on our tongues reacting to high amounts of SHU. This might not be a good idea…
Buke and Gase will perform withSō Percussion as a part of the Walker’s and Liquid Music’s The Music of Bryce Dessner program in the McGuire Theater on Saturday, April 4 at 8 pm.
To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, dance artist Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Tere O’Connor’s BLEED. Agree or […]
Photo: Paula Court
To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, dance artist Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Tere O’Connor’s BLEED. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
BLEED, Tere O’Connor’s newest work, an amalgamation of sorts of three other dances, sits well with me. About halfway through the work I remembered that this was the concept and then several mysteries were solved, for example, the austerity and import of many of the transitions. They seemed particularly loaded: introducing new dancers, breaking with the action and walking to a new location, building to a sentimental embrace, then journeying away into another choreographic land. Some of the costumes felt initially incongruous but then strangely cogent as the dance transpired. Remembering this notion of bleeding three dances into a fourth makes sense (not that I need it to make sense, but it’s satisfying to solve a mystery) and I dive deeper as a result.
BLEED begins with a woman in a green dress undulating, swirling almost, but not quite. Her balance is caught then abandoned, a constancy of the body catching up with itself. There is a quartet of onlookers who soon move into the frame. A quintet commences and I am reminded of court dancing, the roots of ballet, with handholds and tippy contortions that remain just upright enough to prioritize the vertical. Certainly the soundscape influences me here, composed and designed by James Baker, evoking the baroque.
More dancers enter and I am surprised. This is one of those previously alluded to mysteries that unto itself is jarring, but in the context of the concept makes perfect sense. There are eleven dancers total, a satisfying number. The stage feels very populated, and it is fascinating to see the many and varied stage pictures evolve with so many bodies.
There are many classical values amid the post modern: symmetry, awareness of front, a formal quality to much of the movement, all of which render outlier moments, like when all the dancers verbally shudder and stagger apart, more potent.
O’Connor is a dance-maker on the edge of discovery, investigating his own dances and previous choices to unearth something new. In the new are movements from those previous works but also subtle evocations, loaded embraces, powerful stillnesses (near the end, the dancers were in dynamic yet grounded poses holding hands in a giant s curve), and especially deliberate transitions. He is trying to reveal the negative and I see it in the mist, like Brigadoon.
The investment of these dancers is profound. They seem to reside simultaneously in the worlds of the previous dances and in this new terrain. Meaning is carried through, gathering mass like a snowball rolling downhill. This particular dance seems to be less about investigative movement than process. The vocabulary feels spare, complicating in terms of many bodies rather than in one individual. It is readable, then blurry, then discernible again.
The concept is a rich one and O’Connor’s touch is just right, just Midas enough. For me, it could have gone on longer. It takes awhile to get to know these wonderful people dancing, and just when I had my bearings, blackout.
BLEED continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater tonight (Friday, March 20, 8 pm) and tomorrow (Saturday, March 20, 8 pm). Tere O’Connor will also teach a Master Class at the Walker on March 21 at 11 am.
BLEED, an innovate work by Tere O’Connor, features eleven dancers at the forefront of New York’s contemporary dance scene. All are esteemed choreographers in their own right and involved in cross-disciplinary collaborations with visual artists, photographers, musicians, and other performing artists. Foregrounding the unique contributions of each artist provides a glimpse into the playful synchronicity that O’Connor achieves in BLEED. […]
Tere O’Connor’s BLEED. Photo: Paula Court
BLEED, an innovate work by Tere O’Connor, features eleven dancers at the forefront of New York’s contemporary dance scene. All are esteemed choreographers in their own right and involved in cross-disciplinary collaborations with visual artists, photographers, musicians, and other performing artists. Foregrounding the unique contributions of each artist provides a glimpse into the playful synchronicity that O’Connor achieves in BLEED. Read on to learn more about each of the dancers in advance of seeing the performance at the Walker (Thursday-Saturday, March 19-21, 2015 at 8pm in the McGuire Theater).
Tess Dworman. Photo: Simon Courchel
Tess Dworman is a Brooklyn-based choreographer who has produced work and performed in both traditional theaters and non-traditional venues, including galleries and apartments in Chicago and New York. Movement Research presented her recent choreographic collaboration with Laura Atwell, Stay at Home Prism, in September 2014.
As with many of Dworman’s dances, props are a key element in this piece. Dworman and Atwell begin by running around the stage with long wooden planks extending out of their sleeves as arms. They kick a transparent, inflatable sofa back and forth to each other. The two dancers sit together on the sofa and have a conversation using only their hands. Dworman’s interpretation of everyday gestures in her own work resonates with Tere O’Connor’s continued exploration of gesture through movement.
devynn emory. Photo: THEY bklyn
devynn emory’s company, devynnemory/beastproductions, has presented performance work at venues such as Danspace Project, Movement Research, and Philadelphia Live Arts Festival. emory has received grants and residencies and spoken on panels about their dance-making process and how it is influenced by cultural and gender identity. In emory’s own words: “i want performance to insist on another version of reality. i want to contribute to a queering of a performance aesthetic that invites a closer relationship to the ways we actually see and experience the world. i want to not only move from a queer lineage of resistance and outrage–i also want to, as a mixed-race native american person, welcome this queer movement on staged ground with peace and persistence.”
The artist recently presented an evening-length work, This room this braid, at the Actors Fund in Brooklyn, a project that developed from a year-long residency at Issue Project Room and received funding from a successful Kickstarter campaign. emory, who overcame severe dyslexia, creates works that playfully navigate issues of order, perfection, and formalism. This willingness to take creative risks makes emory a natural fit for Tere O’Connor’s ensemble.
Natalie Green. Photo: Courtesy the Artist
Natalie Green’s work has been presented by Dance Theater Workshop, Danspace Workshop, and Movement Research at the Judson Church, among others. Her first evening-length work, I’m building a shrine., was created as the result of personal research and a collaborative rehearsal process with the dancers, performed at the Chocolate Factory Theater in 2013.
Describing how the dance came out of her recent life experience, Green said, “I started to feel like all I wanted to do was bury objects in the earth to try to make peace, to let go. More recently I’ve realized I want to build a shrine, abstractly and kinetically. I want to honor, adorn, love, and then burn a version of my life. This dance is a way to both build and shed, harness and destroy.” In the work, she invited audience members to select from a host of occult items, among them bone fragments and voodoo dolls, for use in her shrine. This attention to ritual finds resonance with O’Connor’s vocabulary, one comprised of “gestures both ordinary and obsessive” (The New York Times).
Ryan Kelly. Photo: Courtesy the Artist
Ryan Kelly has been working collaboratively with Brennan Gerard for the past decade within their interdisciplinary visual and performing arts organization, Moving Theater. Their most recent project, P.O.L.E. (People, Objects, Language, Exchange), created in residency at the New Museum, transformed the museum’s fifth floor into a laboratory for movement research about cultures and pole dancing.
Hyperallergic called Gerard and Kelly’s project “politicized pole dancing,” discussing the artists’ goal of providing a space for both experienced and inexperienced dancers to play and explore. They worked with two dance crews that had frequented their open, pay-by-donation sessions at the New Museum to incorporate the political language of the Black Lives Matter movement. As Vic Vaiana explained, “many members of the participating dance crews have had run-ins with the police while performing on the subway, influencing the narratives told during their performances”.
Michael Ingle. Photo: Courtesy the Artist
New York-based performer and choreographer Michael Ingle focuses on creating site-specific works in and around the community with his company, Michael and the Go-Getters. Ingle says he is drawn to “challenges, contradictions, wide-open spaces, and also trees.”
In addition to performing in Tere O’Connor’s BLEED, Ingle performed in O’Connor’s Cover Boy (2011) and Undersweet (2014), a duet performed by Ingle and Silas Reiner, most recently at American Realness. Ingle also collaborates with Megan Sprenger and performs with other nationally-renowned companies.
Oisin Monaghan. Photo: Courtesy the Artist
Oisín Monaghan’s recent collaborations with visual and performing artists have included performing in Xavier Le Roy’s Retrospective exhibition at MoMA PS1. He has been featured in the photography of Job Piston as well as in fashion photographer Kenneth Willardt’s 2014 The Beauty Book. Monaghan performed in the cast of the film As Rosas Brancas, which premiered at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival. He has presented work with visual artists at such venues as the Chelsea Hotel and Deitch Projects.
Cynthia Oliver. Photo: Valerie Oliveros
Cynthia Oliver is a Professor of Dance at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Along with her teaching, she runs her own dance theatre company called Cynthia Oliver Co., which creates performances that incorporate spoken word, dance, and sound, infused with Caribbean, African, and American influences. Oliver’s book, Queen of the Virgins: Pageantry and Black Womanhood in the Caribbean, looks at the tradition of beauty pageants as a lens through which to understand the culture of the islands where she grew up.
Heather Olson has won Bessie Awards for her performance of Tere O’Connor’s work in addition to her work in Yanira Castro’s video and performance installation at the Gershwin Hotel, Dark Horse/Black Forest. Olson’s own choreography has been commissioned by venues such as Dance Theater Workshop and The Chocolate Factory Theater, where she performed her much-lauded Shy Showoff. As theNew York Times said of Olson, “You could say she’s a deer caught in the stage lights, if the idiom connoted animal alertness rather than dumb paralysis. This deer has some De Niro in her: You lookin’ at me?”
One of Olson’s most personal and experimental works was her collaboration with Yanira Castro on a video installation project resulting from five years of work creating movement material. The movement in this solo was used as the basis for Castro’s The People to Come, during which the other performers created solo works based on Olson’s dance and contributions from the audience. The four-hour performance was comprised of new solo works that were created on stage using web-based responses from the audience and the general public to three requests (“give us a pattern; give us a portrait; give us a task”).” The website exists now as an archive of these audience contributions and the performances created from them.
Mary Read. Photo: Courtesy the Artist
Mary Read’s diverse educational background – spanning dance, masked theater, and psychoanalysis – emanates from her performances. She connects deeply with the intention of a work, as demonstrated through the New York Times‘ assessment of her performance in O’Connor’s Secret Mary, “Her hands betrayed a slight tremor, her big eyes on the verge of welling with tears. As she fluttered a hand, or stretched one arm almost out of its socket, this effort to dominate with her own body evoked a great internal struggle.”
In addition to working with O’Connor, Read has performed with Vanessa Anspaugh, Hilary Clark, Lily Gold, Molly Poerstel, Katy Pyle, Jen Rosenblit, Jacob Slominski, Larissa Velez, and Enrico Wey.
Silas Riener. Photo: Ian Douglas
Silas Riener’s accomplishments include a 2012 Bessie Award for his performance in Merce Cunningham’s Split Sides, a collaboration with Harrison Atelier design firm on an installation and performance featuring Riener’s choreography at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, and an ongoing creative partnership with former Merce Cunningham Dance Company dancer Rashaun Mitchell to make dances, site-specific installations, and immersive viewing experiences of performance.
The pair was featured in Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch in 2013,” and a short video introducing their work was presented by Imagista. The New York Times wrote of Riener’s performance of a duet choreographed by Tere O’Connor: “Mr. Riener has spent several years now determinedly avoiding the technical bravura he displayed with Merce Cunningham’s troupe; still, when he straightened a leg or inclined his torso here, it registered with classic impact.”
David Thomson. Photo: Sylvain Guenot
David Thomson has collaborated with artists in music, dance, and theater for over 30 years. He has received numerous artist residencies and fellowships, and has served on faculties and boards of some of the most recognized art and performance institutions in the country. Thomson’s list of artists he’s performed for and with is extensive and impressive, including Bebe Miller, Trisha Brown, Ralph Lemon, Sekou Sundiata, Meg Stuart, dean Moss/Layla Ali, Deborah Hay, Marina Abramović, and many more. Most recently, he served as Artist-in-Residence at The Invisible Dog in Brooklyn, developing a trilogy of site-specific performance works on freedom and surrender through voyeurism, to be performed this year.
A cursory survey of this all-star ensemble reveals the fantastic scope of O’Connor’s ambitions. Culled from across the contemporary dance world, these dancers share an orientation towards formal invention and interpersonal exploration. O’Connor’s resolute refusal to adhere to stylistic boundaries and conventions promises to push each of these artists in fascinating new directions, to the benefit of everyone in the room.
BLEED will be performed at the Walker’s McGuire Theater Thursday–Saturday, March 19-21, 2015 at 8 pm. Tere O’Connor will also teach a Master Class at 11 am on Saturday, March 21 in the McGuire Theater.
To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, photographer, writer, and radio host Bill Cottman shares his perspective on […]
Left to right: Roscoe Mitchell, Muhal Richard Abrams, Jack DeJohnette, Larry Gray, and Henry Threadgill. Photo: Paul Natkin
To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, photographer, writer, and radio host Bill Cottman shares his perspective on the recent performance of Jack DeJohnette’s Made in Chicago at the Walker. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
Jack DeJohnette’s Made In Chicago with Roscoe Mitchell, Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill, and Larry Gray appeared on the McGuire Theater stage this past Thursday night. If you were present, you heard IT. If you were absent, you will never hear IT. The creative natures of these musicians require physical presence to fully experience their work. Depending upon your exposure to them and their music, IT was terribly terrific. IT was the beginning, or IT was the continuation, or IT was the eve of another Friday the thirteenth.
From my seat in the back row, I could see the heads of the full house audience. After several minutes into the first selection, a listener stood and clapped his hands in no discernible relationship to the music. Roscoe Mitchell’s horn was sounding a rivetingly rhythmic pattern, relentless as the passage of time. IT reminded me of a preacher’s comment to his standing congregation, “sit as you are able!” Words are unable to make you hear IT if you were not present. This IT, declared dead too many times to cut flowers for. After several minutes Mitchell was satisfied with IT and stopped and we applauded and hooted as modern audiences are prone to do.
DeJohnette lead us into the next experience. We followed, listening for familiar hooks to hang our listening baggage upon. My foot was raised, waiting for the one. Whenever it came, I had forgotten I had been waiting. I think Threadgill’s horn was the sound introducing the next movement. My listening mate asked me something about the title of IT and I had nothing to say. Call IT what you will and wait to see if IT passes this way again. In the meantime the motion continued forward.
Writing about IT is somewhere on the continuum from intellectual analysis to emotional experience. When people look at my photographs and say, “I don’t know anything about photography”, I ask them to consider three questions:
What do you see?
How does it make you feel?
What might you do as a result of what you’ve seen and felt?
On Thursday evening I felt the need for my own questions. I was in the midst of something that was demanding more than my intellect was equipped to analyze. I needed to yield to the part of my brain best equipped to deal with IT. An engineer could not say how IT worked. An artist needed to express why IT was working. So to the readers looking for words to hear IT with, you will not find them here. My words are a ramble rather than a review. Thursday’s music came from the upper room of a full house. Gaining entry required effort. Effort of the intellect, filled with knowledge of the players and their stories. Or, effort of the spirit, filled with open space available for unexpected outcomes.
From the back row of a full house you can see the silhouettes of listeners. You can see movements microseconds after hearing the sounds causing them. You can see the restless bolt at the first opportunity they perceived as freedom to get out. You can see those who stay; the great majority, moving in ways suggesting individualized acceptances and realizations. This was not music for the masses. IT was selective, but not exclusive… unless you made IT so.
Remember the failed verbal communication between Threadgill and Mitchell? Both were sitting out a solo when Threadgill looked to his right and captured Mitchell’s attention and moved his lips to send a message. Mitchell didn’t get it, so Threadgill repeated. Mitchell didn’t get it, so for a third time Threadgill repeated. He still didn’t get it. Threadgill stood and moved toward Mitchell and reached beneath his chair to lift an oversized sheet of white paper to the music stand in front of them. Both men winked, nodded, and smiled! Surely, from this point forward, IT sounded better/different/worse?!
Larry Gray never touched his cello; did he? With ears wide open, I nodded several times. Gray stood behind his double bass and raised his right foot numerous times. But it was a raising like live yeast does in correctly baked bread. IT never fell! IT contained the capacity to lift and transport one above and beyond the inequities of daily life. The ancestors said they could fly!
See how he leads from behind. How does all the credit get back there? Isn’t all the credit up front? Perhaps there is sufficient credit to cover everyone. What if credit is not the objective? What if everyone knows the destination and the journey becomes the objective?
Technology enabled bootleggers or permission granted powers that be may have recorded IT. At some point in the not too distant future, we may be cursed/blessed with an opportunity to re-view, re-visit and re-hear something called IT, but that will not be IT!
Bill Cottman is a photographer, writer, and host of Mostly Jazz on Saturday mornings at 9am on KFAI Community Radio, 90.3 FM Minneapolis and 106.7 FM St Paul. Live stream and archived programs at www.KFAI.org/mostlyjazz.
Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with New York choreographer Tere O’Connor, whose work BLEED will be performed at the Walker March 19-21. You can find the podcast on the Walker Channel. The latest episode of Talk Dance is […]
Tere O’Connor. Photo: Natalie Fiol
Talk Danceis a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with New York choreographer Tere O’Connor, whose workBLEED will be performed at the Walker March 19-21. You can find the podcast on the Walker Channel.
The latest episode of Talk Dance is built around an error. I was a bit flustered and nervous at the beginning of my interview with choreographer Tere O’ Connor and forgot to push the big, super-important, red RECORD button on my Skype recorder. Luckily, I had a second mode of recording going, just in case anything were to go wrong, which it did. However that recorder only captured Tere’s voice and not mine. So, rather than re-record myself asking the questions, I decided to edit the audio I had to sound like a monologue.
As I’ve listened and relistened to this podcast (about 12 minutes of very compelling thinking about dance, a life in dance and the making of BLEED) I’ve come to love the way it mirrors my experience of watching Tere’s dances. From the first moment, I find myself in a highly constructed world where ideas are born and disintegrate in heartbeats, where landscapes become seascapes become portraits become abstract expressionisms become cathedrals and I can’t quite get my footing and I can’t catch my breath and I’m loving every minute of it. Yes, I’m a huge fan. That’s why I forgot to press record. So, I wanted the listening to be like the watching, that from the get go, you were, as Tere said in our interview, “aswim in what’s already gone by … and sifting through that as it goes forward.”
Tere spoke brilliantly about a ton of stuff and I cut quite a bit of the interview (from 45 minutes to 12), so there’s a lot of great material on the cutting room floor. Three (of many) bits I decided not to include were discussions of cooking (and its relationship to dance-making), Tere’s long time collaborations with composer James Baker, and some thoughts about the evolution of his choreographic practice. Here’s a taste:
ON COOKING: “You know, pepper … has all this deep background, that I can both sense and have also read about. It’s the same way I look at history referenced in my work. I’m not doing a critique of that, they’re just all there blended together creating this other thing and that kind of alchemy is really interesting to me in both cooking and in choreography definitely. There are connections there for me. And they’re very deep.”
ON COLLABORATIONS: “It might be interesting for people to know that I make my dances in silence and then the music comes later. And James and I think a lot about what should be the tone what should be the instrumentation, what should be the chord progression over the whole piece, should it be resolved or not … the way that tone and quality of music kind of finish out the work, its really braided between us and he’s a huge part of my voice.
ON HIS PRACTICE: “…at this point it’s like trying to … use the things that are coming from my practice – all the instability that is inside of a practice and the kind of relationship of doubt to certainty that is inside of a practice. And I don’t want to have a practice that says, ‘I’m fixing that and denying that,’ I want to have a practice that says, ‘I’m including that.’… And since I’ve decided to stay in this form, and not go into a commercial area, I want to really be a commercial, I don’t want deal with product production.”
There’s so much more to chew on in the podcast, and it illuminates not just aspects of Tere’s work, but dance in general. Take a listen and make your friend who says “I don’t get dance” listen to it too–then take them to see BLEED. I truly enjoyed talking to Tere about his work, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing BLEED at the McGuire. And, as my end of the conversation evaporated into the ether, I’d like to personally/publicly thank Tere again for taking some time to talk with me.
For newcomers, the voluminous discography of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) can seem daunting, if not overwhelming. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of this influential improvisational musicians’ group—founded in Chicago by pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams, pianist Jodie Christian, drummer Steve McCall, and composer Phil Cohran—we invited writer and Burnt Sugar […]