Last Wednesday night I returned to The Centre For Sleep and Dream Studies by way of Levack Block’s front room bar in Toronto. This version of “The Centre…” took the form of a late-night, 4-hour interactive audio-lounge surreality event curated by Angela Rawlings for The Scream Literary Festival.
I first entered The Centre almost 5 years ago as part of a creative team assembled by Angela to help investigate how her book, Wide slumber for lepidopterists, might translate from page to stage.
Here is Angela’s own “Report on The Centre for Sleep & Dream Studies, + Somniloquixotic Questionnaire” from last week’s re-visiting.
… and here is an excerpt from the night’s audio highlight – an improvised performance by Angela Rawlings and Ciara Adams (vocally improvised sounds of breath, fricatives, song, and orgasm) and Richard Windeyer (live electroacoustic processing)
While the event ended well, I have to say this was a crazy (but insightful) gig.
Angela and I had met the week before to plan out what “The Centre” would sound like over the course of its 4 hour performance. We used the different stages of NRem sleep to create a loose temporal structure, collected a variety of audio sources (live interviews with audience members on the subject of their dream experiences, the nocturnal utterings of Dion McGregor, excerpts from Gordon Jenkins classic recording “Seven Dreams (A Musical Fantasy)”, pop songs of sleeping and dreaming and so on.
Now, we were expecting to perform this in the back room of the venue to a fairly captive listening audience. However, upon arriving at the bar, we found our gig re-located to the front room bar, which was now waist-thick in a very frantic and hungry post-reading chatter party vibe. Suddenly the room for the kind of sonic detail and nuance we had emphasized in our planning was gone. Obliterated by a crowd starved for party.
The sound system was basic and the overall noise level in the room intense. In retrospect, what would have really helped me take control of the room, was a free-standing DJ set in my back-pocket, with all tracks fully beat-mapped, warped and indexed – just to keep the party bouncing while our well-made plans started to self-combust. Unfortunately I had come prepared with something very different. So after dashing back and forth between my prepped tracks and stuff on my iPhone, I let the groove settle on a very stripped down texture of beats (built gradually by hand/mouse), oscillating low-end bass patterns, randomly looped and vocoded fragments from the dreamer interviews happening at the back of the room. In the end, this approach seemed to work, largely by establishing a rhythmic framework or counterpoint, through which, all the party chatter (and the surreal dreamings of Dion McGregor and audience members) could be heard. The trick was in knowing to leave (a lot) of space for every other sound in the room, working with it as a foregrounded texture, rather than pick a fight with it. I know many other artists and DJ’s who would have handled the situation with much more assertion (even sonic aggression). But this seemed to work – at least for this (nicely niche) crowd – evoking mostly positive responses (thanks everyone!)
I would love to try this approach again sometime.
(though I still resolve never to show up to the gig without something in my back pocket!)