Let’s go back to Adult Party Games.
We’re fortunate to be up here in Mt Tremper for two weeks. Rather than spending only a week getting ready for Perfect Lives, which while immense is familiar to us, it was part of Matthew Pokoik (MTA’s Artistic Director)’s vision that we also come on residency to make a new work. He’s be very articulate in framing this place as an artistic laboratory, a space where new materials can be tried out without the pressures of a premiere, a demanding audience, etc.
We knew that we wanted to find a project worthy of this opportunity. That was a harder task than it may seem. Varispeed has decided that we are at heart a group that interprets the works of others. We all have groups and projects through which we write our own material, but the sort of imaginative, unorthodox performances of unheralded, existing work is right in our wheelhouse. For the first few months of this year, we wrestled with which piece should inspire our next effort – some of our ideas were operas, some TV shows, some books, some conceptual art. Adult Party Games emerged as the winner because we all liked it – it’s conceptual, but it’s cheeky, yet serious, and somehow accessible all at once – even if none of us loved it.
With a few months of parsing APG‘s scores under our belt, we arrived last Tuesday. We had structures in mind, we had instruments and props, but we had no idea of how we’d make the thing a coherent, singular performance. That’s not how the collection was conceived, but we were determined to connect the ideas within these pieces into a unified, compelling whole. This challenge is double because many of the pieces themselves were not written with an eye towards practicality, and Arthur Jarvinen, the composer, called them impossible. My favorite example is below:
And so here we were, trying to realize impossible scores not only singly but in conversation with one another. In four days, with an eye towards performing Perfect Lives the following week.
Now, if we had been following more concrete score, or even if one of us had written these scores and had that certain authority of having composed it, this task may have been easier. But as it was, both the micro and macro visions we each brought with us were constantly and wildly divergent.
I want to say that I think our performance was very successful given this context. We came up with treatments for individual pieces (eg setting texts of conceptual pieces in 5-part harmony, or heavy use of contact mics on surfaces as monitored by the great Ian Munro) and a clear trajectory leading through the evening that I’m quite proud of. But it was a real slog. It was damn hard work, and not in the way that our previous pieces have been. It was exhausting for all of us to have to so often run up against the dissonance between our visions, other people’s visions, and the practicality of performing our ideas. If we didn’t have the facilities, time, and support of Mount Tremper Arts, it would have been for naught. But we made it through, all still upbeat and ready to collaborate again. We have to figure out what our next moves are with this material, but for me this has been a fascinating week in the practice of conceptual art and the possibilities of collective art making. Now I’m off to wrap my head around the next week of turning ideas into experiences!