Saturday, March 27, 2010

Children's Games (After Bruegel)

I'm interested in Pieter Bruegel's Children's Games of 1560 for several reasons. First of all, I love Flemish painting of this period and Bruegel made some of my all-time most favorite images. I like the way this painting balances the minor dramas of many small groups interacting within the architectural or map-like surface of the entire canvas. Each cluster is arranged within a network that both separates and connects. This painting supports extended viewing and can unfold like a narrative as the eye moves from one game to the next, but without any set order. Again, the idea of a network describes this structure, the evenly distributed clumps receding into perspectival distance.
A sense of detail and humor dominates, but with a strangely ominous undertone. The theme of children as adults/adults as children and that of game as life/life as game produce a distinctly resigned attitude toward the follies of existence. A poem of the time states: "Play, even if it appears without sense/contains a whole world therein;/the world and its complete structure/is nothing but a children's game." (Jacob Cats, 1622). This could be the epigraph for my new performance/sound/video piece as it develops.
Occasional bursts of violence punctuate the activities. It reminds me how, in my own childhood, games were closer to torture than pleasure. I was hyper-aware of the way that, just under the surface of "good clean fun", there broiled the dynamics of competition, challenge and disappointment.
Additionally, I'm attracted to the idea of treating art-making or art activity as a game. The research, the building of the piece, the sets of rules or limitations, the interactions with others to produce the work, could all be seen as an elaborate game (one that is ultimately very serious and totally absurd). Thinking of the work as a game attunes it with the experimental - there is no one expected outcome, many possible outcomes.
In a strange loop, I remembered reading about Inuit vocal games, just as I was finishing the score for the first vocal research session and searched through my archives. Listening to these lovely short, hocketing vocal interactions between women is a good reminder of how great work can be impermanent, primarily social, and basically "not art". The recordings I have (Ocora label) mostly end with laughter. A reminder of how art activity should perhaps be called "play" rather than "work". I love this video:

The very first attempt to use ipods as a scoring device resulted in something quite interesting, though raw. I know there's a kernel of something I like here, but I don't know yet how to refine. Is it better to have more different loops or less? More voices or fewer?
More silence? More "singerly" voices or more "ordinary" voices? The next step will be to record individual voices and to work with those recordings, both as scores and as their own result.
vocal research 3/10 (take4) by Seth Nehil

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