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Recap: The Backyard

July 7, 2011

“In Perfect Lives in particular, the whole, as the saying goes, is truly greater than the sum of the parts.”

– Robert Ashley, “The Magic of Collaboration”, in Outside of Time, pg. 250

The above quote refers to the original production.  We just can’t compete with that.  We were doing it more or less off the cuff.  But Episode 7, the Backyard, executed at 7 PM in Gelsey’s backyard on a Tuesday night in early summer with the temperature just so, was where it all came together for us.  We went somewhere else – I’m not sure where, but we all knew afterwards that that was the one.

It may be said that our Backyard was more Private Parts than Perfect Lives – a harkening back to an earlier model.  As Aliza has described on this blog, her initial connection to the piece was to Episodes 1 & 7 – for some of us the realization on June 7th was the first major contact with some of the episodes.  As was the case with the whole day in general, adjustments had to be made from the reference of the released version, and this was our most major change from the television opera.

Our biggest change: Woody Leslie sat in on tabla.  Woody recognized the playing on Private Parts as a common six-beat tala [metric cycle, more or less], and despite an ailing wrist, sounded great and was the skeleton for the rest of the music.  Gelsey added a one-handed drone keyboard part on the Casio, rounding out the Private Parts feel.  Brian added rhythmically slicing chords on melodica, which to me made the rest of the sound stick together.  Paul started on additional percussion but had the inspired idea (beforehand) to transition to the upright piano next to the window upstairs half way through, adding some of the pianistic flourishes of the Perfect Lives Episode 7 to our otherwise Private Parts realization.  The atmospheric affect of this unseen contribution is hard to overstate.  Gelsey’s backyard, a story below the ground and nicely canopied, has clear, narrow seating area.  When sound comes from above and joins with sound from one end, the audience is enveloped, with no place to turn.  This was by no means brute force however; everything was kept at a moderate level, so you still had to come to the sound to some extent.  Gelsey and I added occasional choral reading, but as neither antecedent makes extended use of chorus (while the text seems to suggest almost constant chorus), we decided our choral entrances would create punctuation between several similar paragraphs.  Aliza approached the vocal lead with a calm sureness, very much her own filtering of Ashley’s pacing on Private Parts.

But of course this recipe says little of what happened.  Our audience peaked during this episode.  The backyard was full, and there was an overwhelming feeling I got from this accumulation of listeners who no doubt found out last minute and came into a stranger’s home.  That funny gratitude you get when you’re performing for adventurous, eager acquaintances when you thought it would just be your close friends.  When I attempted this episode alone on DeKalb Avenue outside of Pratt (effectively my back yard at the time) in 2009, it was the low point of that realization.  There was no gathering to mark the passing of a lovely summer evening, and so nothing was marked.  But here we were, with Aliza, not exactly in a doorway, but something.  There is also something extremely evocative of the substitution of a middle aged man with a young woman in reading this episode – not a father reflecting on a daughter, something much more sisterly, or a daughter looking at a father looking at a daughter.  A somewhat off reflection rather than a loving portrait.  Something closer, something that might make the emergence of the moon, the presence of one’s breath, etc. feel more immediate.

When we got to Episode 7, everything seemed right there – at once in Illinois, in Brooklyn, in 1983, in 2011, whenever, a man, a woman.  It all kind of collapsed for me right then and there.  And no disrespect to the other episodes, but that was it, that was where it was.


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