Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Crippled Athlete

Band practice at The Mouth - with Taryn Tomasello and Gabi Villasenor.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Sebastian Healy recording the voice of the ghost child.

Tracing the Children's Games diagram to black fabric.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

3 weeks to go

Rehearsal photos by Hillary Murphy.

Crippled Athlete makeup and video shoot.

First rehearsal with video projection.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


A wonderful preview article by Ben Waterhouse here...
A work-in-progress showing of Children's Games will be presented at the Portland Actors Conservatory, this Saturday, September 17th at 2pm. I welcome your feedback on this still-developing work! Joining me will be Hand2Mouth, with an excerpt of their sci-fi meditation, Uncanny Valley.
You can learn more about Children's Games (and download free albums) at my website, and help support this performance at our IndieGoGo campaign.
Here again is the trailer for the performance - look for a new trailer and rehearsal videos coming soon!

Children's Games trailer from Seth Nehil on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


The Children's Games campaign has been launched! We need your support, large or small. The entirety of your contribution will go to the actors, singers and musicians. Please visit our indiegogo site to learn more and make a donation.
Come to a free work-in-progress showing SATURDAY, Sept 17 at 2pm: Hand2Mouth's Uncanny Valley + Seth Nehil's Children's Games - Portland Actors Conservatory, 1436 SW Montgomery.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Rehearsal spaces

In Mary Sutton's basement, Matt Carlson leads the trio in process-based scores: lovely rotating and hocketing phrases are locked into a steady groove held by the keyboards. Minimalism with slightly melancholy or elegiac tendencies...

Meanwhile, at the Mouth Studio, the chorus has been exploring vocal patterns and physical shapes. Some of these shapes are determined by the score or follow a simple geometry, others are taken from the actions depicted in Brueghel's painting. His dynamic clusters of game-playing children give us body configurations, and we can expand or contract into those arrangements.
The "entropic process" has been one of the most prolific techniques in Children's Games rehearsals - morphing a phrase through rapid and repetitious passing. In this recording, you can hear the development of a sound and its associated melody from the beginning of the process. Starting with the name of a game ("Bowling with Knucklebones"), Elie and Katy face each other, passing the phrase back and forth. Meanwhile, the other four performers take turns pounding rhythmically on the singer's backs. Through incremental change, the phrase mutates, ending in beautiful onomatopoeia bell sounds and trilled tongues. In this way, a melody emerges.

Bowling With Knucklebones by Seth Nehil

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Yo-yo, Mama, caca"

As I conducted research for Children's Games, there were texts I encountered which seemed to encapsulate one or several of the core themes. These almost always related to ideas of language, pre-language, repetition and signification. Finding a text like this, I could read it as a score - a set of sounds and actions. Thus, the theoretical leads directly into the practical...

From Formless: A User's Guide by Rosalind Krauss and Yve-Alain Bois (pp 219-220):
"Yo-Yo. We could see it as the relatively sophisticated, commercially produced equivalent of the little object Freud's infant grandson made famous, as he threw the spool onto his cot to make it disappear behind the bedclothes and then pulled on the string attached to it to draw it back into view, the first gesture accompanied by a mournful "fo-o-ort" and the second by a joyous "da!" And the yo-yo is servicable in this connection in yet another dimension, since its very name cycles around the field of linguistic principles that the "fort/da" instrument articulates.
For the yo-yo belongs to a whole series of childish terms - the very earliest being "mama" and "papa", and subsequent ones being "caca" and "peepee" - in which the wild sound if infantile babbling is suddenly articulated, or spaced, or cut out, not just into perceptible rhythmic regularity but into the freestanding condition of the signifier, through the act of repetition. For it is repetition that doubles back on the first sound to mark it as deliberately phonemic by the very fact of being repeatable. Thus, as Roman Jakobson says, the basis for the translation from wild sound production to verbal behavior is, precisely, reduplication, since it is the repetition of the first sound by the second that serves to signal "that the uttered sounds do not represent a babble, but a senseful, semantic entity." Thus, for Jakobson, it is duplication that is "linguistic essence", since it transforms sounds to phonemes by marking, or re-marking them, by establishing that they "are to be recognizable, distinguishable, identifiable; and in accordance with these requirements, they must be deliberately repeatable."
"Fort/da" is not, however, one of these redoubled vocables, although the game played by means of it - in both its verbal and mechanical guise - did involve constant repetition. "Fort/da" is, instead, a game of rhythmic separation and reconnection, in which something disappears from sight and is recognized again, both disappearance and return accompanied by language that penetrates this activity almost to the point of becoming its support. For Freud articulates the "fort/da" as allowing for the rise of linguistic representation in the negation of the object (throwing it away while simultaneously producing a substitute for it in the form of a verbal sign: "fort") and in the separation of the field of the represented (the sign, the fantasy image) from that of the real ("da!"). Indeed, it is in this founding act of negativity that Freud locates the intellectual feat on which language as well as culture in general would be instituted."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Movies within movies

I am now working on the "Horror Movie" section of Children's Games, a pseudo-narrative within a pseudo-narrative. As I've mentioned before, I like the idea of nested elements. I also like the limitations/freedoms that a diagetic mini-project provides. I am enjoying (self-created) pressures which require/allow me to try different forms, different textures, different senses of functionality.
To quote Chion yet again, "This embedding also paradoxically makes the film closer to a live performance; the time during which we watch the performance is not simply watching the past but also living in the present." (Film, A Sound Art, p. 275)

Language exterior

I have been considering the idea of a live narrator for Children's Games, specifically an 11 year-old boy at a podium, with a light. I've been writing a variety of texts for this voice. But now that I've edited a rough cut of the first two acts, I'm attracted to the mystery of a non-linguistic unfolding, a flow of sound. Going back to Chion's definition of "ritualized cinema": "a cinema where sparse and sober dialogue, as well as the minimal place accorded to music, frees the ear and allows us to hear how sounds and the movement in the image organize time."

Obviously, the conflict/layering/confrontation of texts with tangible images produces something entirely different from either element on its own. I'm interested in the capacity for parallel narratives, non-overlapping areals of information. ...but language is a powerful tool, with the potential to overwhelm. I want to retain uncertainty regarding the narrative, even amplify it, make it stranger - I want to avoid overdetermination. Narration has the possibility of turning dances into explanations and images into illustrations. So I am carefully considering a spectrum of options. What if the narrator uses only parts of words, nonsense, sounds, repetitions? What if the narrator is a disembodied voice? What if...?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Multi-focal music

The process of composing for (or within) Children's Games has been fragmented into multiple overlapping layers. 1) The entirety of the video soundtrack is being considered as a composition - including location recordings, vocal performances, foley sounds and music. 2) The chorus will perform vocal works, interacting with the video sound and occasionally on their own. 3) A trio of violin/viola/synthesizer will play music composed and led by Matt Carlson. These pieces will be mostly separate from the chorus, but will be associated with scenes or sections in the video. 4) The electroacoustic band, Crippled Athlete, will emerge in the third act and replace the other elements.
Each of these musical approaches has a different texture and approach. Each is being considered both separately and together. Crippled Athlete has been for me the newest and most challenging mode, as we've de- and re-constructed the material several times over the last year. As a trio playing computer, keyboard, lap steel, vocals, drums and effects, we've been finding a balance as collaborators between composition and improvisation. We've been developing mnemonic "mind movies" (see previous entry) to guide aesthetic choices, graphic/verbal scores and games... and most importantly repetition and improvisation, as a way to solidify tracks, attempting to give each a specific mood and structure.
Responding to the songs as they develop, we will create costumes, gestures and video projections. Here is our most recent recording, from yesterday's practice - the last of seven takes:

Northern Lights by Seth Nehil

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Layer One

Above: behind the scenes at The Camp and The Lab (Acts 1 & 2)
Below: the first trailer!

Children's Games trailer from Seth Nehil on Vimeo.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Stage One

Over the next two days, we'll be shooting the runaway camp sequence under a maple tree in the columbia river gorge. Here Alex, Fawn, Devin and Emily try on their costumes, artfully distressed by Lydia Rosenberg. On the chalkboard, a mirror drawing by Devin and Paul from Lab rehearsals. Above, a drawing led by the 'wild child', below led by the 'scientist'.
I'm excited to see the choreography/actions in the location, in makeup and costume, with the drifting smoke of a campfire... the opposite of the Lab which now has a fresh coat of white.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mnemonic narratives

Today in band practice we continued building stories around three of our songs. Because the songs don't have many recognizable landmarks, these stories are helping us to keep track of where we are and how to shape the voice. We listen to different versions and build the ideas together, sketching in details. For example:

The Tunnel

Two sisters seduced by a disgusting slimy slug

Standing on the slug, two sisters telling secrets

Hit the drums – hit the sides of the tunnel

Sighing sleepy pleasure

Trying to stay awake

Letting it go – getting seduced by aliens once or twice

Drum leading

Through the intestine

Take off child suit

Inhaling whisperings, back and forth

Build the melody by giving the next note

Then A: Ha… trading notes

Slug talk

Truth or dare

Listen to the crackles

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In the Lab

Alongside the Runaway Camp rehearsals, I have been working with Paul Montone and Devin Lucid as the scientist and wild child in rehearsals for the Lab. Whereas the runaways play games, these are a series of "tests"... slow exchanges of voice in demonstration and imitation. The correction of body posture, the marking of lines on a chalkboard, focused and careful. There’s something beautifully simple about these humanist exchanges – the intensity of duos and solos.

Yesterday we tried working with recursive structures - video within video - using last week's rehearsal as the instigator for further chains of mimicry. I hadn’t previously thought of including a television in this section (it’s not exactly period accurate for Jacques Itard circa 1805) but I've always been a fan of the "Droste effect" and I like the stripped down, "video art" feeling of simple black and white footage playing on a television monitor. These chains will instigate additional actions among the live performers.

We recently visited the maple tree where the runaway camp will occur. Dicky Dahl brought his camera and we taped material for the opening credit sequence.
Here is the music for that opening section, which makes it like a kind of "theme". This will be one of the few places where fully-composed recorded sound is matched to moving image.

Blade2 by Seth Nehil

Monday, May 23, 2011

Simultanous time and sequential time

The activities in Bruegel’s painting Children’s Games exist in simultaneous time, but the viewer’s eyes pass from one game to another, through the perspectival space. This, of course, takes time, so the painting unfolds for the viewer in an indeterminate sequential time - each viewing can follow a different path. The thoughts and associations that generate the work in progress Children’s Games are also in simultaneous time. Rhizomatically linked, they diverge and converge, finding different connecting points, layering accumulatively or thinning into rivulets and cul-de-sacs. The actual performance of Children’s Games will exist in determined (on a macro-scale) sequential time, but should contain the idea of simultaneity. Cataloguing is one way of doing this, and Bruegel’s work is, in a sense, a catalogue. Another type of time that runs through the painting is cyclical – seasons of the year, ages of life, rituals of marking time, rituals of marking the age of childhood. Childhood activities are “timeless”, passing through time, oral tradition, changing but the same.

The story of the Wild Child of Avignon, on the other hand, is firmly rooted in a sequential structure of progression. The child begins as a savage and ends at civilization (or an approximation thereof). The system of training suggests improvement in a unitemporal direction. A telling of the story through words or images consists of a temporal compression – representing key moments in a series of transformations. Didactic sequential time…?

The horror film exists within screenal time – time out, mediated time. Repeatable time, re-screenable time.

The seance attempts to reach across time, magical time, the time of the written word.

This week in rehearsal we spent the time communicating non-verbally.

Photos by Lydia Rosenberg

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Building Children's Games has also been like generating and maintaining parallel streams. At this point, the streams can meander or form eddies as we try out ideas. Eventually they will all converge.
One stream is the video shoot for section one. I've started rehearsing with Fawn Williams, Devin Lucid, Emily Galash, Gabi Villasenor and Alexandra Ramirez as the feral children/runaways. In the studio, we've been working with the list of games from Bruegel, using it to generate both movement phrases and a spoken vocabulary. We've been playing with the language, breaking it into sounds or applying processes of rapid linguistic drift through repetition and distortion.
We've also been playing some of Augusto Boal's theater games (such as the one pictured above), playing a few of the games from the painting and playing games remembered from our pasts.
Running alongside is the live band stream, music that I've been improvising/composing with Taryn Tomasello and Gabi Villasenor. On April 9, we played our first "real" show. I trigger sounds on the computer, play a cheap drum machine, a broken mic and processing. Gabi sings, plays a lap steel through delay and drums. Taryn sings, plays keyboard and drums. These "songs" are deliciously dark and dramatic.

Here's an excerpt from the show, with video projections by Taryn.

Crippled Athlete April 8 2011 from Seth Nehil on Vimeo.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Rooms within rooms

Building Children's Games has been a bit like playing with nesting dolls - one piece fits inside another which fits inside another, etc. ...and the nested could at any point become the nester, inside becomes outside. Another example of chiasmus?

Two days ago I held an enjoyable recording session in the reverberant space above, with string players Tom Thorson, Jordan Dykestra, Morgan Hobart and Mary Sutton. These recordings will, after much studio manipulation, become soundtracks for video segments, which could become instigators of choral response, all of which will be embedded within the live performance. My task is to keep these multiple streams flowing - before they finally merge and co-mingle.
Meanwhile, the overall structure of the piece has been emerging from my year and 1/2 worth of notes. This amazing maple tree behind the home of Sara Mapelli and Theodore Holdt will become a central figure in section one, the Runaway Camp. It's hard to capture the gnarled girth of this tree in a photograph. There's a natural attraction one feels for such a tree, and the solidity it can provide for a tarp shelter, campsite, fire pit and video shoot.

In this section, the five runaways keep themselves entertained with non-linguistic games. Snow White stumbles upon the camp, an outsider to their outside. Hilarity ensues.
In section two, the wild child will be captured, separated from the camp, and taken to a Lab/Classroom by a scientist/teacher/film director. The chorus will come to the forefront in this section, rhyming and playing off the repetitive interactions between teacher and child.
The third section will dissolve into mediated abstraction and noise band. This section, the Horror Movie, will tell a story of acculturation and spectacle.
In the coda, we enter a home where a Seance is being held, in an attempt to communicate with the now-dead child. Here, games of entrainment and possession allow a message to be imprinted onto magnetic tape.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Games in Children's Games

Knucklebones Playing with dolls

Doll’s house Altar games

Owl and owl coop Pop-gun

Masking Swinging

Whirligig Blowing soap bubbles

Cap of rushes Play with a bird

Rattle Stone, stone on the leg

Baptismal procession Blindman’s bluff

Child’s stool Odds or evens

Paper scissors rock Hot potato

Hobbyhorse Hand seat

Playing drum and flute Stirring a mudpie

Rolling a hoop Girl’s hoop

Call down a bung hole Rocking a barrel

Running with a pig’s bladder Lift

How many horns does the goat have? Playing store

Making pigment from bricks A brick

Mumblety-peg Bricklaying

Pulling hair Finding fireflies

Run with a cake Round the blind man

Leapfrog Tug-of-war

Running the gauntlet Turning somersaults

Head stands Turning cartwheels

Climb over a fence Ride on the fence

Bridal procession Blind pots

Walk on stilts Blind hood

Skittles or marbles Twirl around

Walk on high stilts Swing on the fence

Hang on the fence Balance a broom

Pickaback Piggyback

Hide and seek Spinning tops

Spinning tops Who sits here in the blue tower?

Rattle Windmill tournament

Digging a well Jumping over sandbags

King of the Castle? Jumping over sandbags

Here we go round the mulberry bush Twirling

Climbing trees Swimming with a bladder

Bathing one’s feet Swimming along the shore

Before or after the swim Throwing a ball against the wall

Defecating Bowling with knucklebones

Hockey Skittles

Hare and hound Badger the bear

Frog in the middle Climbing a wall

Fighting Hitting the wall

Procession game Follow the leader

Go on a visit First one there

Follow the leader Push someone off the bench

Piggyback No English equivalent

Horse Bayard and the four Heemskindern

St. John’s Fire Dragging trees for St. John’s Fire

Carrying torches Singing at doors

Wandering Joy pennant

St. Nicholas baskets

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Seeking performers

I'm looking for actors/performers to play feral children/teenage runaways for the video sections of Children's Games.

Performers should be willing to develop material and be flexible in responding to a variety of methods, including scores, actions, sounds and scripts.

Auditions and rehearsals will begin in April, shooting begins in June.
Chosen performers will receive a modest fee and portfolio materials upon completion. Some performers may continue with the project, including the live performance in October 2011.

Please respond to with your performance resume (if any) and headshot by March 31st.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Films about children...

Watching all of the movies I can find about evil, possessed and feral children has been a strange and sometimes tedious undertaking. It has become something of an absurd completist hobby, but I'm looking for larger patterns, or for those moments when a flash of beauty or meaning is revealed. I've seen some arguably terrible films (Alice, Sweet Alice and Don't Look Now - horror films from the 70s can be pretty risky), some enjoyable classics (The Bad Seed, Lord of the Flies, Village of the Damned, Poltergeist), and I've revisited some beautiful and profound films (The Wild Child).

Many of the films contain a scene or two that inspires a connection, or moments that seem like they could be usefully misremembered (The Changeling). "Misremembering" is a helpful tool in gathering and developing material for Children's Games. Most recent movies are too stylized or self-aware to be used in this way (The Orphan).
Occasionally, a film is extremely close to my core topic, in a surprising way. Dogtooth (dir. Giorgos Lanthimos, 2009) is a film that approaches a feeling at the heart of my project, deeper than any surface features of scary children or identifiable genre.

This beautiful, risky film overlaps with many of the issues I've been exploring - education as violence, protection and risk, the borders between children and adults, narrative as control, the use of games and boredom, connections between language and perception. It also succeeds in feeling horrific without utilizing horror genre signifiers or clich├ęs. It achieves this through bizarre (but entirely possible) behavior, striking (but subtle) stylistic exaggerations, and perverse (but sometimes sensual) sexual energy.
A film like this is not "material", but rather a kindred world.
"...these things you might have seen in a different way, there’s something you might have recognized in them, but this thing gets distorted..." - Lanthimos, from this interview.

Some other movies I've checked off my list:
Kill Baby... Kill!
The Innocents
Children of the Corn
The Brood
Who Can Kill a Child?
Suggestions are always appreciated.