Monday, July 24, 2006

unmapped in the news, part 2, 3, 4, etc

Now that the show is done, here's a recap of some the press coverage...

Trey Graham at the CityPaper did two posts about the show on his Fringe blog. One preview video, and one short post-show comment. Thanks Trey!!! Here's the video:

and his post-show comment is here. Since it's combined with a few other things, here's the text:

I did catch one iteration of unmapped, the 24-hour improv thing with the dancer and the electric guitarist. It's done and gone, so no point in my going on about it, but I did think one thing was interesting: I don't pretend to know much about modern dance, much less contact improvisation, but the contrasts in the piece helped make clear what it is you're meant to look for.

Here's what I mean: When Matis (the guitarist) began to move, the sharpness and the strength and the clarity of Burkholder's choices were suddenly apparent; when Burkholder twiddled with the guitar--and then Matis returned to it, extracting a series of sounds that stacked up almost architecturally through the electronic loop he had going--it was likewise clear whose strengths were being played to.

It was fun, too, to catch myself interpreting, trying to impose a story arc on a piece that I knew was being invented as I watched. Slaves to the narrative are we.
The DCist had a quick note of encouragement:
In case you were wondering, we checked in with a few people who headed out to the Warehouse last night in the wee hours to see Daniel Burkholder and Jonathan Matis doing their 24 hour long performance piece unmapped, and the pair were not cheating or anything. Kudos to you, gentlemen, for bringing a dose of unhinged ambition. We hope you have a good night's sleep tonight.
The Washington Post had a big feature in today's style section including little capsule reviews of a slew of Fringe performances from this past weekend... The good news is that they ran a huge photo of us. Glance at the print edition if you get a chance. The bad news is what they had to say about the show... Here's what Nelson Pressley had to say:
A pajama party broke out at the Warehouse Main Stage Friday night at 9 as dancer Daniel Burkholder and guitarist Jonathan Matis, both barefoot and in soft, loose outfits, improvised a roughly 30-minute show every hour on the hour for 24 hours straight. Two reports:

10 p.m. Friday: Dancer Burkholder and musician Matis start in opposite corners but gradually share the space, swap roles, jointly fiddle with the guitar and pickup that feeds back the blips and pings they tap out on the strings, or that Matis creates at one point by patting the instrument on his face like a towel.

10 a.m. Saturday: Reportedly they made it through the night with only 7 a.m. as a show with no audience, and they danced anyway. At 10 a.m. there was an audience of two, plus two very-latecomers [ed: hey, those were my parents!], watching roughly the previous night's dynamic play out again, with the inventive Burkholder dancing in exploratory circles close to the ground and the less graceful Matis moving like a man trying not to fall over. They have a silent rapport, but the guitar is the invaluable partner, swirled and shared and placed on a stool as the lads whack it delicately with sticks. Boys with toys . . .
Ok, I guess it could've been worse. In any event, we seemed to do better than many Fringe shows, in terms of getting press. So, for that we are grateful. I'll post about the actual process and more about the piece soon. I think I need a little more rest - and probably a little more distance before I can sort through it.

We had a terrific crew of volunteers who helped out with the production - talking up the show on the street outside the venue, working box office during the late-night and early-morning shifts, tending to a "commissioning club brunch" on Saturday morning, etc. We owe a huge THANK YOU to all the volunteers and crew that worked on the show. You all totally rocked.

At this point, I'm simply glad to report that we did the show - all 24 hours of it, and survived. More details coming soon! In the meantime, hope you can catch some other Fringe Festival shows... I'll be getting ready now for the release of the new Fending/Matis CD (and little tour in August), DCIC on 7/31 at Fort Reno - opening for The Evens (yay!!), and preparing for our Eigenvalues show in September. That's coming along nicely... just you wait

Friday, July 21, 2006

unmapped in the news - part 1

There's a little interview with me in the Thursday arts preview section of the Washington Post Express... they ran the full version of the interview on their website. Click here for the feature.

(actually, that expanded version that they posted on the website is not the full version of the interview. Since I'm a sucker for completeness, here's the full text)

1) What the hell are you thinking?

Apparently not much!

2) No, seriously, what goes through your mind while making music on the fly? Is it panic? Are you carried away by tides of inspiration?

How about "c) none of the above?" Hopefully it's not panic. I've been playing improvised music for quite some time and one thing I've learned is that something will happen. Even if I go into a situation with no ideas (and often that works best), something will happen. Especially if I'm performing with other people – there's so much information being exchanged that there's always something to draw from, respond to, or build off of. Even if I'm not particularly "inspired" at any given moment, there's always an unlimited supply of information coming in – which, if I'm really listening, equals an infinite number of artistic choices I can make.

3) You must interact very sensitively with the other performers. Is there a great deal of trust involved?

Yes yes yes. Loads of trust. Great big boatloads of trust. Daniel and I have been working together for years. Same with the people I play with in the DC Improvisers Collective. They have proven, time and again, that even if I give them something less than stellar (perhaps even "crap") they always seem to make it into something. Hopefully, that also works in reverse, although I can't think of a time when any of them played anything less than brilliantly.

4) Describe your role in the performance.

see below

5) And Daniel's.

One of the main issues we're grappling with in this piece is erasing the boundaries between our usual "roles." Typically, when Daniel and I perform together, it's my job to play music and it's his job to move his body. Ultimately, that approach proved to be frustrating. After performing improvised duets a few times, Daniel wanted to find novel ways to interact – beyond the constraints imposed by those roles. For example, we could influence one another with the choices we made – my musical choices, and his movement, but that ignored the fact that we're both on stage -- two people on stage performing together. Why is one of them doing all the moving, and the other doing all the sounding? For this piece, we've been working really hard learning skills from one another. Now I have to be in the space moving, and Daniel has to take the guitar and help construct the music. We have to explore all of the permutations of interaction as we perform together. Over the course of the rehearsal process, we've (hopefully) achieved this obliteration of our separate roles. Now we have the flexibility to work together in the space and in the moment: both in terms of movement and sound.

6) What's the atmosphere like? Do people come and go, fall asleep, get lunch whatever and you're still there, banging on a chair?

"unmapped" is going to be performed as a 30 – 45 minute piece, 24 times in a row. Our intention is that audiences enter and are seated. A performance happens. Then there's a short break, people can come and go, and then we do it again. The piece will be different each time – we're making it all up on the spot, but we are performing one show each hour – and each show will (hopefully) be a complete, artistic whole. At the same time, there's another "arc" unfolding that is the course of the whole 24 hours.

The ticketing is set up so that any ticket purchased is good for as many shows as you'd like to see during the first 23 hours, and all shows start at the top of each hour. For example, buy a ticket to the first hour at 9pm on Friday, and come back and see us as often as you like during the night, during the day Saturday, and see how things are progressing. But if you want to see the last hour, when we're totally delirious and insane, well you have to buy a special ticket for that one.

7) What do you think is the value of improvisation for the performer, for the audience, for the art forms?

Well that's the million dollar question – and I've been working on this for the last 15 years as a composer. Basically, in music, it's the composer's job to give instructions to the performer. We even have a highly specialized notational system for writing down these instructions. But what happens if I allow the performers to bring more to the table than just their capacity to decode special instructions? What I've found is that they contribute incredible things. There are so many wonderfully talented people playing music – why do I need to tell them exactly what to do? So for years and years, I've been trying to figure out – for each piece – how specific do I need to be? How much can I leave to the performers? Inevitably, they have ideas that are better than what I would have written. As a performer, this kind of freedom is truly liberating. How great is it that when I go to play a piece of music, I can actually be present to whatever is going on in the moment – and really bring that into the performance? I don't have to be attached to one fixed way of doing it. Of course this works against me sometimes too… I got some feedback from a grant review panel (I didn't get the money) and they looked at my scores, and listened to the recordings I sent, and they felt that the music would be completely different if it was played by different people, some other time. Exactly!!!! Different people, in a different place, at a different time – and they would bring something very different to the performance. That's kinda the whole point of what I do.

Life is improvised. We're all making it up as we go along. Every time you have a conversation with someone, you're improvising. I think making work this way allows us to really dig in and explore what happens in life, in the world. Our simultaneous existence in the universe is a truly chaotic system, right? No matter how much we try to plan, and work out all the details, things very rarely unfold as we planned. Now let's take that as a given, and explore it artistically.

8) Dumb but obvious question -- don't you get tired? Daniel must be a living wreck by hour two and a half -- that's a full-length warhorse ballet and it's not like the prince has to dance in every act, even.

Yes, we're both going to be very tired. I've been nervous about this, and working hard to get in shape so I have some ghost of a chance of still being able to move by hour 20. Daniel's in better shape than me, but this will be a real challenge for both of us – on several levels. Clearly, there is physical exhaustion to deal with, and then there's the artistic side of exhaustion. After we've made up six, seven, eight shows in a row, what are we going to do next? What happens when we run out of ideas and have to keep pushing? We'll see… Part of the challenge of this piece, and one of the main reasons we're actually going through with it is that we will have some kind of transformational experience – the structure is going to force us to. We have to keep crossing boundaries, of physical exhaustion and creative exhaustion. Where we'll be towards the end is totally unknown. We hope, of course, that this transformation proves to be as exciting to watch as it is exhausting to perform.

9) Is the capitol an odd place for the fringe festival? It seems so ... unfringy the rest of the time. It's like freaks descend on the city and frighten the horses and be-pearled matrons. Then they leave and the Capitol Steps come back and make everyone feel safe again.

Well, "fringe" is a hard term to define – particularly in relation to this festival. The vast majority of participating artists are, in fact, locals. The freaks aren't descending on the city for a special event. We've been here all along, but you just haven't heard about it because what we're doing is outside of the mainstream and we have very limited resources. As far as the festival, it certainly does present a great challenge to the conservative arts audience, but in fact, that conservative audience is probably a myth. This area is home to an awful lot of overeducated people who have wide ranging tastes and interests. There's tons of interesting stuff happening here all the time, it's just "underground," or happening in lots of very small, disconnected little "scenes."

And I'm not so sure how "fringy" most of the festival shows are really going to be. In terms of the festival, "fringe" just means DIY. All financial risk of each production is actually borne by the artists themselves. So, the festival is largely semi-pro, or amateur companies performing for the hope of getting noticed, but with the assumption that they're going to lose money. It's basically a sucker-deal for artists – we're all competing so intensely with each other for audiences – it remains to be seen what kind of draw this is going to be overall.

10) What does Improv Arts, Inc. do the rest of the year?

Well, it's like this: Improv Arts acts as an umbrella for our "core companies" i.e. Daniel's dance company, The PlayGround, and my music projects, such as DC Improvisers Collective. This way, we can set up one nonprofit and run all of our projects under it's auspices. We also have some other projects in the works, such as SPAN (the Spontaneous Performing Artists Network) which is a national network of improvising dancers and musicians, and we'll offer some classes and workshops in dance and music, after we move into our home at the New Joe's Movement Emporium in Mt. Rainier, Maryland (it's currently under construction). So our "upcoming events" look like this:

July 31: DC Improvisers Collective and The Evens at Fort Reno

August 4 – 9: Fending/Matis cd release mini-tour (a drums/guitar duo project of mine). We'll be playing in the Buffalo InFringement Festival (a sort of small scale fringe fest in Buffalo, New York), then two shows in NYC, and shows in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Our new disc, "three rocks" will be released by a local label called Sockets in a joint thing with Improv Arts.

The PlayGround will present a weekend of shows at Dance Place next spring, and Daniel is going to create a new piece – called "My ocean is never blue." All about water, and using the dancer / musician blurring of boundaries that we've started with "unmapped." Personally, I don't know how we're going to raise enough money to do that piece the way it should be done… but that's a different conversation.

Also this coming spring, DC Improvisers Collective (DCIC) will be releasing a full length album. We recorded it in early June at Silver Sonya. The session went so well, I'm thrilled about it… we still have to finish mastering, and then figure out how we want to release it, but I really can't wait to share it.

Perhaps the more honest answer to "what does Improv Arts do the rest of the year?" is really, we try to raise some money to make art. No easy task in this town, but hopefully this festival is a small step towards building an awareness of new and different art in Washington

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

unmapped - schedule and tickets

Only a few days to go until "unmapped" - my 24 hour crazy improv performance with Daniel Burkholder. (for more info, click here)

The schedule and ticketing is a little confusing – so here's how it's going to work:

The show starts at 9pm on Friday night. Each performance will last between 30 and 45 minutes. Then we get a little break. Then we do it again – starting at the top of every hour. So there's another show at 10pm., another one at 11pm, and so on – you get the idea. That means there's a show at 6am on Saturday, and at 7am, and so on – all day long! So I'm SURE there's a time when you can come see the show. Come see us late-night when the bars close on Friday night. Come see us at sunrise on Saturday morning. See us at lunchtime Saturday. See us at tea time Saturday. Whenever. There's a show time that's right for you!

If you want to see any show during hours 1 through 23 – just buy one ticket and come back as often as you'd like – to any show during the 1st 23 hours. If you want to see the final show, when we're delirious and insane, you have to buy a special ticket for 8pm on Saturday night.

The performance is on the main stage at the Warehouse Theater. 1021 7th Street, NW, Washington DC. Easy to get to by metro: Mt. Vernon Square / Convention Center stop is a block away. Gallery Place is a short walk.

Now about the tickets… You can buy tickets at the door before each performance. Or, you can buy tickets in advance at the Fringe Festival Box office (conveniently located at Warehouse Theater), or you can be totally high-tech and buy tickets online.

The Fringe festival is doing all the ticketing and our 24 hour performance doesn't fit their system too well… so here's what you do to buy them online:

click here to get to our page in the online ticketing system.

then click the big red button that says "buy tickets online"

then – for any shows starting between 9pm on Friday and 7pm on Saturday, choose "9pm on Friday, July 21." That ticket is good for any shows during hours 1 through 23.

If you want to buy advance tickets for the final show, click on the "8pm on Saturday, July 22."

It's strange that the ticketing website only shows two shows… but we don't have any control over how that's set up. So we hope that's not too confusing… and please help spread the word. The Fringe Guide also doesn't really list our show clearly as every hour, on the hour – but now that you understand you can help eradicate confusion and send lots of people our way (please). We really gotta sell a lot of tickets to break even on this show…

Friday, July 14, 2006

Commissioning Club

Earlier this year, Daniel Burkholder and I created the Improv Arts Commissioning Club, a unique opportunity for individuals to invest in the commissioning of new work. So far, the Club has supported a weekend of performances by The PlayGround at Dance Place, and a recording session for the DC Improvisers Collective.

The Club provides a means for broad participation in the cultivation of new work. We invite you to participate in this network of support by joining the Improv Arts Commissioning Club. Whether your gift is $25, $2,500, or somewhere in between, you will be participating in a new model for arts patronage - building a community of support for performing arts in the region.

This summer, the Improv Arts Commissioning Club will support the premiere of “unmapped,” a new duet by Daniel Burkholder and Jonathan Matis. This piece is a large scale, 40 minute structured improvisation that Daniel and Jonathan will perform every hour for 24 hours straight. The performance will be part of the upcoming Capital Fringe Festival, beginning at 9pm on July 21st and continuing until 9pm on July 22nd, at the Warehouse Theater.

Commissioning Club members will receive complimentary tickets to the performance, and a special invitation to a members-only brunch at the Warehouse Theater's café during the performance - Saturday morning, July 22nd.

For more information about "unmapped," including a podcast about the piece, visit:

We know that there are many organizations, individuals and causes that ask for your attention and support, just as we are doing now. We also know that you understand the importance of art in the lives of individuals, communities and nations. We invite you to join the Improv Arts Commissioning Club as we continue to create provocative and extraordinary performances.

You may give online using the link above, or by mail to:
Improv Arts Inc.
6003 44th Avenue
Hyattsville, MD 20781

Thank you for your support.
Daniel Burkholder and Jonathan Morris
Co-Directors, Improv Arts, Inc.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

unmapped - the podcast

Daniel Burkholder and I are working frantically to prepare for our most ambitious performance yet. "unmapped" will be performed for 24 hours straight, July 21 through July 22 at Warehouse Theater. In this audio segment we discuss why we're doing it for 24 hours, and discuss a few other issues involved in the piece. For more info, see