This marks the first in a series of posts delving into the process of making It Comes In Waves, an immersive theatre production conceived by bluemouth inc., written by Jordan Tannahill with bluemouth inc., directed by Jennifer Tarver, and presented by Necessary Angel, bluemouth inc. and PANAMANIA (presented by CIBC) on Toronto Island as part of the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games.
With my days as a Toronto Island theatre performer over for the season, I’ve chosen to begin by posting some music created specifically for the show. Phantom Love first emerged from writing by Lucy Simic (bluemouth inc.) and a guitar riff by Stephen O’Connell (bluemouth inc.) — both generated during initial development stages of the show. I fleshed out the music and lyrics, and then recorded and produced the track which was subsequently given some nostalgia-inducing ‘vinyl treatment’. During the performances (in the ‘Fireplace Room’ at the Gibraltar Point Centre for the Arts), the music was diffused through an 8-channel surround-sound playback system placed around the periphery of the room. Playback began through two monitors located directly behind a vintage Califone portable turntable — which incidentally served as a fully-functional prop throughout the show. This effectively (though not entirely precisely) localizes the perceived source of the music, creating an impression that the music is emanating from the record player, until it gradually begins to rotate through the entire speaker system at a speed of 33 rotations per minute. The music accompanies choreography performed by Stephen and Lucy, which also travels around the room.
As some of you may know, I’m currently working on a new and rather uniquely immersive performance experience on Toronto Island entitled It Comes In Waves (produced by bluemouth inc and Necessary Angel).
Over the course of the evening, audiences canoe to Toronto Island, throw a surprise party, sing a few songs, play a round of strip poker, and help prepare a man for the greatest journey of his life. It’s the kind of theatrical experience which, for the moment, I can only really describe as “…if Frederico Fellini had made an Elvis movie”.
We’re in the last few days of rehearsals now. I will be updating this post in the coming weeks, looking at several aspects of sound, interaction and dramaturgical design as they’ve unfolded in this new work.
An excerpt from the soundtrack for Death by Water, a performance installation created in collaboration with Toronto/Brooklyn theatre company bluemouth inc.
Death by Water is a performance installation that places a listening audience with headphones in a small wooden shed in the middle of a city park in winter. While their visual focus is directed out through a large plexiglass window towards performers moving through the park landscape, their headphones are fed a real-time binaural mix of live and pre-recorded sources – signals from the performer’s (Lucy Simic) wireless microphones, fragments of manipulated found sounds (turntable noises, the voice and shamisen of Japanese-Canadian musician Aki Takahashi, archival recordings of Hibari Misora and binaural field recordings of the park made at various times of the year).
Like much of my headphone-based audio work, this project seeks to challenge the perceivable boundaries between inside/outside, actual/fictional, real/imagined from within poetic and environmental contexts.
…it’s that I need more of the island in me (and my work).
I’ve been working with Bluemouth Inc these last few weeks on the first breath of a new immersive performance project – so far a kind of hallucinatory take on ‘summer camp’ – through a short residency at the Gibraltar Point Center for the Arts, Toronto Island. I think the last time I worked on an art project here was with electroacoustic composer Darren Copeland (New Adventures in Sound Art). We were making a radio documentary about the history of Toronto’s soundscape, on the island, in the dead of winter, 1999. The island is an insanely beautiful place to come to work to every day. Everything about it – the constant surf crashing against the shore, the expansive blue sky, the wind that rushes through everything – it all insists that you leave what’s past behind you and move forward. Although a lot of the things we experimented with during this residency reminded me (perhaps too much) of many past (and in some cases very early) projects, the island itself insists that I am only as good as my last work and so would I please mind moving forward and not repeat myself?
There is no funding for the next Bluemouth project. Yet how else does one begin to make something for its audience to experience? To find funding and support you need a brilliant vision, a seductive pitch, a way into people’s imaginations, something they can hold onto, become inspired with. An act of faith or an act of foolishness? There’s no money and hey I really need a paying job, but…so…hey…
I’m about to head into my second week of Dance Marathon performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, presented in association with Traverse Theatre and Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. We (bluemouth) are getting some great responses and reviews while working with some really amazing and talented people. To follow all developments – including reviews, audience responses and photos, head on over to bluemouth’s Twitter and Facebook pages.
Above is a (slightly remixed) excerpt from the Rhubarb 2011 Festival performance of ‘Salle du Rêve / Centre for Sleep and Dream Studies’ with Angela Rawlings and Ciara Adams (voices) and myself (laptop). The first 3 minutes or so consists of an improv the three of us did at the end of the evening. The ‘sleep dream questionnaire’ heard throughout this excerpt was administered to individual audience members, one at a time, in an intimate setting next door to the bar/dance floor. Co-presented by Bluemouth Inc Presents last February (2011) at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto.
Doing shows in New York is tough for independent theatre companies like Bluemouth Inc. Competition for audience is relentless, equipment rentals are prohibitively expensive (it’s often cheaper to just buy the gear outright), and with such minimal institutional arts funding, it’s really all about cultivating the rarest of warm, fuzzy long-term relationships with deeply-pocketed people who share your inspiration and passion for giving audiences the wildest, craziest immersive experiences anyone can imagine.
Dance Marathon aspires to be that kind of experience. Manhattan is a tough market, so many thanks to Martin Denton for his reviewon nytheatre.com(January 6).
Dance Marathon NYC was presented by Incubator Arts Project’s Other Forces festival and the Performance Project @ University Settlement. Dance Marathon was originally created with support from the Harbourfront Centre’s Fresh Ground new works commissioning program (Toronto, 2009)
Avoid the compartmentalization of creative impulses by throwing an office party. Encourage all creative ideas from all the different projects to mingle, flirt and mess around with each other on top of the photocopier. A rainforest brainstorm session begins.
Developing the sonics for a new Salle de Rêve / Centre for Sleep and Dream Studies performance at Rhubarb next month (Feb 26 @ 9 pm, Buddies in Bad Times). Lots of pushing and pulling and stepping through impulses, textural changes and scrambled checklists, line by line, clip by clip, sample by sample – until an impulse to release the accelerator in mid intersection occurs. Turn the car around (when did we leave the office party, by the way?). Head for a road you almost went down years ago. A National Exit Strategy re-mix set planned for a gig at the Drake Hotel 3 years ago, but which no one ever heard due to last-minute MIDI trigger failure – an old framework applied to new materials; new materials tossed into a speeding cab with old materials, tearing off across town in search of address scribbled in crayon on bar napkin. Beautiful cross-pollinations, co-adaptations and rainforest metaphors come spewing out of the photocopy machine.