Thursday, March 25, 2010

Performance Aggression

L - R: Emma Lipp, Elie Charpentier, Robert Burns, Theo Holdt, Sara Mapelli, Kelly Rauer.
Ideas have been slowly gathering since November for a new performance/video/sound work. A session last week allowed me to try out some ideas for using recorded prompts as a score, with vocal performers listening and responding to prepared parts. Research will continue on how best to utilize this tool, which I think must recognize its mechanical, isolating aspects.
My inspirations for this piece have circled around the connections between children's stories and horror cinema, and ideas about violent imagery. Some of these concerns were starting to emerge in Bandage A Knife - certainly the relationship between cinema and performance, issues of cinematic violence and the division of style and content. Linda's playful sensibilities tempered my darkness in a way that was right for that project. Now, working on my own, I find myself increasingly drawn to the gothic... I'm wanting to make a piece which is overtly, even relentlessly dark. Much of this feeling is based on a forgetting of various "pop culture" sources - remembering things only as I want to see them, diverting things, or actively perverting them. And, like Catherine Sullivan, curious about the symptoms these artifacts reveal (and those revealed in my own process). At this point, I'm following many tangents which lead to various avenues of research: Suspiria to Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the Brothers Grimm to Grimm's law of linguistic drift, etc. But not the actuality of any of these single things. Each of them could easily be a dead end, one fully explored by other artists and other works. It's something else...

I'm interested in writing and posting more about this work in progress. I want to explore and reveal the conceptual substructure of this work as it develops. At the same time, I want to be careful about allowing ideas their unexpressed ambiguity. In the past, I've been fairly private about sources and materials, thinking that they would distract from the work itself. Now I'm realizing that even "stupid" details might help to invite people into the work. On the one hand, I'm thinking of, for example, the "post-breakup solitary Wisconsin winter cabin" narrative that is constantly told around Bon Iver's album. It's a story that is united with the materials, mood and character of the resulting music, but it's a sentimental story - an overlay. I'm interested in a narrative which might itself be generative material, a narrative that is definitely unsentimental.
An area I need to research more is the question of "distancing". One of things that fascinates me about some horror films is where they remain undeveloped and flat. They are not interested in the depth of inner space, but rather the use of sensations, and a material manipulation to create effects. The wonderful Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel mentions her appreciation of this aspect of horror films and, like her, I'm interested in work which allows the experiencer to sometimes think "I am watching this." To simultaneously observe the operation of affects, and to feel effects. I'm not sure where this might overlap with Brecht's ideas.
I want to strip the surface of the work, minimize the materials, concentrate the use of insistence and repetition, extend the span of attention, focus on physical rather than pathetic effects. I'm interested in making work that might be angry, even forcefully so, but somehow without alienating or insulting the audience. The aggression of horror films is often on the surface - I want to drive it inward, create an implosion.
I've been thinking about an aggression which is not (or not only) one of content but of form. For example, a piece like Morton Feldman's "For Stephan Wolpe" which is absolutely beautiful as a surface - soft and open, composed of delicate textures - but on a formal level is so aggressively open, unresolved and unsentimental. It rejects many of the assumptions about musical form, but does so with elegant materials. This paradox and the music's utter sincerity are (among other things) what makes the piece great.

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