Sleep. Dream. Study. Listen.

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.
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Dance Marathon Manhattan

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 review on 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)

The National Centre for Sleep & Exit Dream Strategy Studies

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.

The Sea Museum

Entrance to the tunnel at Atlantic Ave. and Court St., BrooklynA little while ago, Bluemouth associate artist Daniel Pettrow was invited by the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) to stage the first English reading of French novelist Marie Darrieussecq’s play Le Musée de la mer [THE SEA’S MUSEUM] during its annual Crossing the Line Festival of inter-disciplinary contemporary arts, presented this month in New York City. Daniel subsequently recruited Bluemouth Inc to help realize this staging in – of all places – the abandoned subway tunnel at the intersection of Atlantic and Court  Ave in downtown Brooklyn. Thanks to Dan and FIAF, I was able to fly down to NYC last friday morning and help prepare the sound design for the play’s readings on saturday and sunday afternoon.

Down the tunnel

Although New York designer Omar Zubair and I had already generated a nice collection of sonic gestures and textures over the past few months (including a generous donation of Icelandic soundscape recordings by Toronto poet Angela Rawlings) , the incredibly focused acoustics of this half-mile long tunnel steered us in a more austere direction. As over 70 people descended the ladder one at a time from street level down into the tunnel, I mashed up vintage Hawaiian music with the soundtracks of Jean Painlevé’s early aquatic documentaries. A large video projection of Jean Painlevé’s films spanned the tunnel’s curved brick ceiling and enveloped the waiting audience.

Pettrow reaches the endWith the actors leading the audience by flashlight, the play unfolds  down the entire length of the tunnel. Long, deep and slow moving wedges of sound slowly rise and follow the audience as they move towards a dead end. In setting and adjusting sound levels I would leave the mixer station and walk halfway down the tunnel, only to discover that volume level of the music was not changing at all. Higher frequency content would naturally disappear with distance, leaving only a juggernaut of low end to continue soaring down through the tunnel. Speaking and Ciara Adam’s singing at one end of the tunnel were clearly audible at the other end. We hardly needed amplification at all.

The Centre for Sleep and Dream Studies

The Scream Literary Festival 2010Last 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!)