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

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