We’ve been talking around it for a few months now, but we’re proud to officially announce that we’ll be in residence this August at Mt Tremper Arts, an amazing spot in the Catskills for presenting and developing new work. We’re fortunate to have two weeks to work on two big projects, one brand new and other other an old favorite. This work will produce two performances, here’s the info:
Saturday, August 10th, 2013, 8pm @ Mt Tremper ArtsArt Jarvinen’s Adult Party Games from the Leisure Planet
This is a wonderful set of conceptual pieces from over a thirty year time span, ranging from broadly comical to simple, specific, and meditative. Our task is double: finding ways to realize these pieces which were conceived of by their composer as being impossible to perform and putting together a throughline to link all the pieces together. You can get a feel for some of this material by watching Jarvinen’s Eskimo Piece as performed by thingNY a few years back.
Saturday, August 17th, 2013, 11am to 11:30pm, various locations
Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives (Catskills)
A new realization of this classic along the lines of what we did in 2011 in Brooklyn & Manhattan. Of course we’ll be tailoring our arrangements for the spaces we’ll be performing in and we’ll have some stellar guest stars like we did last time. Come up and watch our big city transposition re-transposed to small towns.
If you’re in NYC and are interested in coming up to either of these shows, let us know, we can put you in touch with the Mt Tremper folks. In the mean time, we’ve got a lot of work to do and will be keeping you updated on these projects!
We here at Varispeed would like to suggest that you familiarize yourself with the wit, wisdom, and unique sensibilities of Mr Arthur Jarvinen.
That’s all for now.
In getting back into a performance-grade understanding of Perfect Lives (what do they call it in boxing? hitting fight weight?), I’ve been thinking of some issues that have been baseline assumptions in what we’ve done with the piece thus far. Compared to the original, there are a few novelties central to our performances:
1. Locations are not evoked through performance, rather each section is presented in an archetypical space that matches the title of each section.
2. Rather than performing each episode in succession in a single venue, the time of day each episode takes place is taken literally. As such, the episodes are performed out of their original order (our order is 1, 3, 2, 6, 7, 5, 4).
3. The original scoring for piano, synthesizers, and electronic percussion supporting three voices is expanded into larger formations incorporating not only the instruments the five of us play but also working in outside performers as they are available and as fits the arrangement.
4. While we follow the beat structures as laid out in published materials in certain sections, our arrangements make use of many approaches to delivering the text. Much more of our delivery is in free time than the original, we also have made wider use of distinct spoken and sung phrasings than the more unified delivery Robert Ashley uses in the original (particularly in Private Parts). Part of what I’m saying is that there’s five of us, which necessarily brings a greater range of vocal stylings than Ashley’s original, even though he is extremely range-y in the various recorded versions.
In tweaking our plans and arrangements, we’re reconnecting with the initial inspirations and aspirations we had when we first took up performing the piece. As with our realization of Empty Words, we have chosen to look to the libretto as a guide – when in doubt go to the text. With Perfect Lives this can come into contradiction with certain information in other non-published versions of the text (which were generously shared with us by Mimi Johnson) and what is perceived in watching and listening to released versions, especially the staged version presented in the Greenaway film.
For our next performance of Perfect Lives, we’re switching up some lead vocal duties. I’ll be doing the Park, Aliza will lead the Church, and Gelsey will lead the Backyard. The Living Room will feature all five of us spending some time as the narrator. While we’re pursuing an idea in the Living Room that we highlighted in Perfect Lives Manhattan - that the narrator of the episode embodies many different characters beyond just Will & Ida – we’ll be dispensing with the literal reading of staging the episode as a conversation between two vocalists. We’ll still try to focus on duality, but we’re treating the text more as a single stream than as two.
These changes in part speak to issues of gender – speaking for myself I think there’s something, again something literal, in having a man speak to handling oneself in the morning, even though it causes sadness for all men. Aliza has often remarked on how illuminating it was for her to inhabit the description of a woman nearing 30 and not yet spoken for who stands in the doorway of her mother’s house.
This quality of literalness is, when you think too hard about it, a little cheap, but it’s behind so much of what we’ve done. When dealing with works so magnificently large and potentially abstruse, one of the best ways forward is to start by taking everything at face value. The story happens in the supermarket of a town at 3pm with some old people examining succotash? Great, let’s go there and see what that’s like. Our realization is about uncovering resonances in places you didn’t expect them. Seeing an opera set up in a bar or while jogging through a park. Listening to a curious song while in line at the bank or strolling through a supermarket. Getting concise philosophical presentations in a small town bar.
While we’ll have other obstacles to contend with (we don’t make great slightly seedy older men at present), there’s an awakening of the scenes that we hope to affect when we bring people to these places and tell them stories in this manner. It’ll inevitably register very differently than it did in 1983, but we’re okay with that. We’re not trying to display a museum piece, we’re trying to keep things vibrant. For ourselves as much as for you, making sure our assumptions about the piece are good ones is where we’re at now. In the mean time, we get to look forward to sharing all this reflection with you in the coming months!
So we’ve been a bit coy as to what we’re up to. Some of that has to do with things being finalized and not wanting to let cats out of bags before other organizations have a chance to unveil them. As we’ve said, we’re going to be working with Mt Tremper Arts again this August, but the specifics on that will have to wait. One thing we can say that’s happening pretty soon:
We’re going to be performing our arrangement of Robert Ashley‘s Public Opinion Descends Upon the Demonstrators (from 1961) at a benefit for Theatre as Theory at Glasshouse on Saturday, March 23rd. You can find out more info and get tickets here. This is a pretty exciting chance to apply some ideas that we’ve been kicking around to a classic that few folks have witnessed first-hand (us included). Stay tuned for more!
As I’ve written before on this blog, one of the main ideas that indirectly led to Varispeed coming together in June 2011 was the idea that reading a book you love out loud is the best way to connect with it. I’d seen this done by my friend Ben, reading Philip K Dick’s Valis. He was in turn inspired by readings of Moby Dick that happen every year in Mystic, CT. We did this novel thing with Perfect Lives, and the exploration continues through today. But today I’d like to write a little about reconnecting with this idea using another text, namely Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s.
I’m going to attempt to get through the whole book with friend of the ‘speed Woody Leslie this Monday, in public. This is not the first time we’ve read this book aloud, that happened last summer at the Wendy’s restaurant on Livingston St in Downtown Brooklyn. The idea there was the same as the first Perfect Lives attempts – see what happens when you place the words in the environment that it evokes. Take a story too literally. See what kind of emotional and observational resonances you find. Reading in Wendy’s, we could more clearly see the absurdities of the narrator – how out of place his lofty musings were in a place so devoid of uniqueness, character, or traditional ideas of beauty and on the other hand how out of place his eroticizing all people and some food on the premises were. It felt sillier but also more desperate. It made us blush and misted my eyes. You could see it more clearly as a call for help when a person is so out of step with his surroundings but you also felt how dead on the social observations were.
We’re not going back the Wendy’s though, we’re going to be in a free, public, indoor area – the LIRR waiting area in Atlantic Terminal. A place for people to pass the time. We’ll probably bring some fries and frosties. We’re inviting a few friends. This attempt is more about getting through the book, experiencing the trajectory of it as a public, verbal thing, as a form of storytelling.
There’s something in what Varispeed does that necessitates endurance. It’s about looking for insights in prolonged exposure to something, about resisting the urge to flinch and change your focus. Going against a particularly contemporary condition. We’ve taken on projects that come to you as a monolith, something not easy to take in in a single glance. Reading even a short book requires you to not be daunted by the number of pages remaining, something that I certainly struggle with (that’s to say my reading behavior changes a lot given my location within a physical or digital volume). One reason both Perfect Lives and Letters to Wendy’s seem well suited to this task is that both lay out to the reader the specific location at any given point – it’s 12:45pm and we’re in the Bank, or it’s December 3rd, 1996 and we’re in a Wendy’s. You can easily tell where in the arc (one day in PL and one year in LtW) of the hard-to-follow story you are. Being reminded helps take away the anxiety of getting through it, I think. Or helps speaker and audience member alike generate a strong mental image and keep it there.
Woody and I are working on a longer-term project of original stories, told through a variety of media and approaches. This endurance public reading, spiced up by Wenderoth’s often titillating text, is I’m hoping going to be a good mental kick in the pants and creative recentering. Something about the reading aloud in public of a favorite book just seems like the easiest thing to do. So I’m hoping this will be a new creative wellspring while reaffirming some of the things that have come out of artistic investments of the past two years. If you’re around and curious, if you want to participate or listen, this all goes down Monday night, 2/25/13, from about ~8-9:30pm, on the bottom floor of Atlantic Terminal, near the 2/3/4/5 and B/Q entrances. And if you curious about the material, this seems to be a grainy home recorded version of Joe Wenderoth reading some.
While we gestate the next wave of Varispeed-ing, we want you to know about a new piece of Gelsey’s a week from today:
This brand new song cycle features Gelsey (voice, metallophone) as well as Paul (percussion, voice), Aliza (euphonium, voice), Dave (clarinet, voice) and non-VSpeeder Jen Baker (trombone, voice) in material written by Gelsey and arranged with the help of the group. While it’s 80% of us, Brian approves of this performance as well. If you come, be prepared to explore the space with us and stay on the edge of your seat.
Hi internet! It’s been a while. We’ve been busy people as we are wont to be. But we return to you with news of the recent past and the not so distant future. Last night:
Gelsey and Aliza performed a short duet from our arrangement of Empty Words at Mount Tremper Arts winter benefit in Williamsburg. This duet was heard about 2/3rds of the way through Episode I at Roulette, and this time Aliza’s set up of homemade electronics was impressively beefed up with a variety of oscillators in plastic boxes and altoid cases. Gelsey, pictured in a chair, was a trooper and performed despite a leg injury. Many thanks to Matthew & Aynsley of MTA for inviting us to perform.
Along these lines, we are happy to let you know that we’ve been in talks with Mount Tremper Arts about working together to bring our work to the Catskills, with time there to both present established pieces and develop a new work. This is all part of bigger schemes we have for 2013, but we’re gonna stay relatively mum until details are finalized on that jazz. But you can expect that we’ll be bringing some durational, site-specific performance glee to those majestic mountains in the coming months.
We can also call your attention to December 15th’s SPAM 3.0 concert, performed by thingNY, which will feature Paul, Gelsey, & Dave performing and pieces written by Aliza & Brian. The full squad strikes again in Flushing! In the mean time, we leave you with this inspirational bumper sticker. A fine early December to you & yours, we’ll be back on the blog horn before you know it.