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December 6, 2011

If you missed Sunday’s Performers Forum, you missed a bunch.  We explained, described, picked at stuff, called each other out, performed chunks of the Bar, the Church, the Backyard, and the Bank.  We broke new ground on merging parts of the seven episodes into a slurry of informative stuff.  We sang, we responded to questions, we had some beers.  You get the idea.

This was done in Exapno, an arts space in a peculiar office building, founded by Ms Lainie Fefferman.  Sundays are usually pretty quiet unless there’s an Exapno event (although there were folks on the floor preparing large portions of food for OWS folks while we were presenting).  It’s not a terrifically big space.  As one of the six people who run Performers Forum, I can tell you that thus far in the five programs we’ve presented, no one’s used a microphone until Varispeed.  No one’s needed to?  No one’s wanted to?  Hard to say.  But we were trying to mush together the performing and presenting aspects of our forum, and we realized for intelligibility’s sake, it was a good decision.  It’s more than that, it’s not a neutral decision, and discussing that decision is something that could have warranted its own sub-heading in the forum.  So here’s MICROPHONE IN WHAT WE’VE DONE SO FAR:

The author of this post, hard at work in his apartment

There’s a lovely metaphor Robert Ashley makes in the notes in the back of the Perfect Lives libretto (the Burning Books one, still haven’t seen the new one) between performing the piece and reciting the Tibetan Book of the Dead – the latter text was to be applied to the deceased body that was gradually losing its hearing, so the reading of the text had to get louder and louder.  The Tibetan Book of the Dead, in my recollection, encourages the listener not to be afraid of the various demons s/he is no doubt encountering, how to get past them, and Bob makes an analogy with the content his opera as well – to perform it is to warn people about shady characters at a loud volume.

In June, we had no mics.  You could say we didn’t do the piece since we didn’t do our warning at the correct volume.  Everything was at a more conversational volume, nothing overwhelming.  We were there for ourselves & friends, and our audiences (& ensembles) never got so large that the text was in danger of being lost.  This allowed us do things like gather on the street or in a park, a definite no-no once you’ve introduced amplification here in NYC.  But it also is contra the idea of the original opera in a fairly significant way.  There’s a lot that changes when you amplify a voice – the throw away sounds you normally would ignore become huge, and your authority is instantly amplified.

The throw away sounds are more interesting to me, having recently performed Bob’s 2010 piece World War III: Just the Highlights, which is all about the seemingly mundane vocal sounds (a variety of plosive sounds in this case) and the lives they take on when you amplify & spatially distribute them.  Between this and She Was a Visitor in That Morning Thing, I feel pretty sharp in my ability to produce odd sounds with my mouth that become compelling when amplified (electronically or by amassing a lot of people doing it at once).  I dunno if I would have said that in June.  I have new microphone confidence, I know how to use them better.  That was definitely something I practiced leading up to November 6th, how to read my part and the amplification an asset.  Also, I think in the June run, we were paying much more attention to the text & the interaction rather than the sound, the form, the possibilities of the application of the voice in this work (lots to recap from Sunday if you missed it).

I’m sure we can all agree that we didn’t want the authority of the mic in June, it was easier to connect with everyone (and hence this is maybe it feels like we didn’t inspire the same connections in November).  The idea of following along is much easier when you don’t need a tool/instrument to compete.  We knew as soon as we started scaling things up for November that we would need mics… or knew isn’t correct.  We decided.  We could have decided to keep it quiet & unamplified, essentially saying tough shit to people who didn’t get there early, or perhaps tough shit to being able to understand the words.  But I think the bigger point is that we felt like we had a kind of authority that we didn’t have in June, having studied the text as we did, having made special musical  arrangements of the whole darn thing.  We wanted people to hear what we had to say about it rather than to simply come along with us.  We succeeded in that goal, but there’s something a little bittersweet about it.  The addition of the microphone is the clearest marker of this change to me.  This is coming from someone who can’t help but undermine his own authority in performance contexts.

It was also interesting when we did or didn’t use a mic on Sunday, who did or didn’t use a mic.  Ideally, a forum is about give & take, and some sections were more give & take then others.  If someone’s speaking into a mic, you’re less likely to interrupt, for better or for worse.  But then, if you can hear what someone’s saying, you might have more occasion to interrupt.  There may go my whole theory.  Well, it was something.



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