I had my second session with the quartet today. I didn't have a lot of time allocated (2 hours were scheduled for me!) and I ended up going over time.
We went from easy and free to EXTREMELY CHALLENGING today. We started with breathing and bending in rhythm to a soundtrack of Wax Tailor "Que Sera"... easy enough. I then introduced the idea of call and response in a movement context (we have that sort of device in music as well so it wasn't to hard to understand), and I took the call and response idea into our next segment of free-range stretching movements to a soundtrack of The Avalanches "Because I'm Me". The warmup ended with contact-help stretching, this time with arms and hands allowed to be used to help one another, but eyes closed, and no set helping pairs to a soundtrack of "Inutile et indispensable" by Little People. That was a little challenging and we had a few giggles because you don't know where you're putting your hands necessarily, but it was effective stretching and a good way to continue contact developments.
The next bit was our first group-devised improv. I gave us the task of having 5 minutes to plan a 5 min improv that incorporates vocalisations and movement, that uses a number of the techniques we'd been discussing, and has a beginning, middle and end. They took to task very quickly. I was surprised how long they spent discussing the vocal components when the movement components were going to be far more complicated... but all ground was discussed and covered that needed to be.
In the course of the next 5 minutes the quartet presented a very tight-knit, well thought out and simple game of vocal and movement tag - like they were tossing a ball between them, and each played with the solo material as they had their turn. They ended up in a flocking modality for the middle bit - loving it - but the difficulty of getting out of the flock was hilarious to watch - they didn't know when or how to break off... so instead of a sudden change, they simply started delaying their imitation of the leader, so suddenly a movement cannon took place - incredibly beautiful to watch. They had no idea this effect was taking place (it was only happening because of their uncertainty!).
Finally Anna and James seemed to make the bold moves to stop the group from continuing their flocking, and they ended up on the floor, quiet and still... until Alina vocalised, causing the others to respond - almost having the same effect as a perfect cadence.
We reviewed the work on video and they were surprised at how good it looked. The uncertainty of the task made them feel they were performing poorly when in fact from the audience perspective it was raw yet (to me) an exquisite starting point.
Then we put James in a blindfold and got him to dance solo. The day before I'd asked the quartet to bring in music that inspired them to feel something - and James brought in a Philip Glass work from the film soundtrack of The Hours. He was very nervous about moving to it but when he started it was obvious to me that this would be a special part of our residency. The 3 minute work ended with poignant introspective gestures, and the four others in the room (myself included) gave him our interpretation of his movements. Dan's selection was an excerpt of Barber's violin concerto, and his movements to it were remarkable to me in that it was like the music was his voice and his was gesturing his body like he was having a conversation with us, telling us, in sound, the secrets of his soul. It was very hard to emulate.
Anna and Alina will give their solos tomorrow. We were running out of time and I had two more tasks to do.
At the end of the previous session I'd asked them all to bring in a text that moves them or incites a 'state' - either something small, something long... a sentence, a paragraph... doesn't matter. We went through our texts and we were moved to tears. The task however was a bit more daunting than simply reading expressive text. I gave them 6 mins to prepare a miniature work (30 seconds to 2 mins) that presented their text with their instrument and movement.... so instruments came out and they each performed their compositions. It was such a great task, and so many wonderful surprises came from it, and I learnt a great deal about the possibilities of music/movement theatre with this group. It was the first time I'd asked them to incorporate their instrument in a performance exercise, which was a huge leap. But this was all preparation for the final big task which I knew would be beyond anyone's comfort zones.
I had prepared 4 cards on which I wrote musical intervals up to a perfect 4th. They each had to take one of these cards and re-tune their instruments down by the interval on the card. The idea was they'd not know who was retuning to what degree, however practicalities meant the intervals were all revealed. We then spent 10 minutes planning a scored improvisation; blocking, transitions, movement language, sound language, sound and movement textures, a form... so much. It was a lot to take in, and it was throwing them in the deep end to say the least. We ended up in hysterics as I was trying to get the ensemble to travel by sliding on their backs with gyrating legs whilst playing arpeggios but with the score that the further away from the centre of the room they got the deeper in pitch the arpeggio got (or if they were approaching the centre, they had to heighten the pitch), and the faster the movement they had the louder the sound needed to be (though the sound needn't be fast!). We paused, breathed, got through it, somehow re-centred and got back to our flocking techniques we feel most comfortable with.
In 2 sessions we've looked at movement 'modes', contact, composition devises of movement and sound, sound vs music, roles of the quartet emulated in movement, OH&S, instrument safety, scordatura, letting go of inhibitions, relationships between movement and sounds.... we were just scratching the surface with so much of this given the amount of time we had in these sessions, but we'll have to wait until we get a proper grant before we can do some heavy exploration and training. Tomorrow, I have to start making work on them.
But they get it. They understand the approach, they've had practice in their own solos and in group improvs, they see audience and performer perspectives are very different, they see what text can do, what movement can do with meaning, and how all the elements they can bring to a performance enhance the meaning and experience of it. It's rough and raw but tomorrow we'll have a look at Alina and Anna's solos to the works they've chosen to dance to, then we'll sit down and sort out the content we intend to base the composition "30/31" on.
"30/31" is part of a series of works I've been writing for string quartet, and it's all been self referential work. I think for this one, though, I'm actually going to facilitate self-referential work made by/with the quartet... so each of them have a part of themselves in the work. In many ways, it still adheres to the premise of the series (reflecting on that year/those years of my life), in that what has happened to me over those two years has been a period where my experience-making has extended to include far more than the sonic experience, and my vision in life has continued to broaden to be more inclusive than it ever was before.
Bundanon's a stunning residency. I went for a long run around to the river yesterday and came across about 20 wombat holes, 2 live wombats, some wild mint (which I added to the Gin and Tonic I served at the dinner party I hosted with James at our cottage last night... roasted chicken and veges with an entree of pumpkin soup!) and ran through herds of kangaroos. Being here has been very productive for my music writing and creative process development... and I've still been able to do work on Limelight and juggle my other responsibilities easily enough!