Tobin’s Journal: May 13, 2005, Friday

Friday, May 13, 2005

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We just had a scratch showing of the work we have been doing, and will have another tonight, and I want to step back and write about the process since the 5th, which has been intensive:

May 6-this day was spent largely digesting the ideas we had been discussing, and editing. I approached the raw video in a very “painterly” way for this work period. I think I did this because I was viewing the video as “place holding” video, basically a placeholder until the through-line was more established and I could re-shoot more specific footage. I focused on texture, motion, composition, and color. The actual original subject matter of the footage became almost unimportant because I was using it as the rawest of material-the paint on the palette. Creation of image would take place within the computer, this being an ” inner canvas”, to became an element or layer in the “greater canvas” -which has been my main interest lately- which is the composition of the entire stage space (I will talk about this more later). In doing so much of the creation process is in the computer, I was very conscious of not letting the image look too “digital” (meaning, to keep it from looking computer generated and created) My objective is that the work should have a humanistic feel, so that is more like a breathing painting, and does not lean too much toward the video game/screen saver/lava lamp aesthetic.

As I worked throughout the day, and late into the night, I found myself really liking what was emerging. I do think when we are forced to treat material in a non-precious manner; it yields more naturally creative results. As color was stripped away, speed was altered; contrasts heightened, hidden shapes emerged. I am fascinated with these shapes. The images hidden between frames, the secret language of recorded movement. These patterns and shapes, because they come first from nature (in that the images recorded on video are natural and not digitally generated) contain the rhythms and patterns that only nature provides, with all its secret arithmetic and mystery. As they are uncovered on the computer screen, it feels like looking through a microscope and discovering the beauty and patterns hidden within a specimen on a glass slide.

As this developed I also saw that this connected directly to the ideas of saccades and fixations, and the process of vision. The process almost becomes a peering into the saccades, or those hidden, blind spots in our own visual/cognitive process.

I created four video “inner canvases” which I could build on in the coming days, and then add to dimensionally in the stage space on Tuesday.

I also talked to Amanda about generating a language of phrases or movement to the saccadic dialogue that I had found (I talked about it in the May 5 entry). I was thinking at this point I would like her to dance to this text, which I could then layer into the installation live, or film and layer into the video (these ideas changed over the coming days-as the project evolved and through her valuable input and ideas.)

We saw a show at Laban in the evening. Different choreographers working on the resident company, “transitions”. Nice pieces from Thomas Lehman, and Henry ____?. Two horrible pieces–but the good ones made it worth the trip.

May 7-9, Work with Pete in Brighton- Sat morning Amanda and I take the train to Brighton to stay at Pete and Tina’s. Pete had been unable to be at the meetings in London, so this was my opportunity to work intensively again with Pete, and have close contact with the composition of the music. Pete’s studio is in the house in Brighton, so we were really able to dig in to the creative process side by side and it was very interesting for me to see this part of the composer’s process.

It was beautiful and refreshing to see the ocean, and be near it (Brighton is on the sea side). We were both very happy for the new working location.

I talked with Pete about some of the discussion of the prior week, although he was well informed through phone conversations with matt. He had begun creating a canvas of sound in the studio, in what seemed to be a somewhat similar process to what I had been doing the day before. What was fascinating, and what I found related to the idea of the patterns in nature that I had been exploring, was his use of samples and sound recordings.

He had a recording, taken from outside Charing Cross station, somewhere near the water–which was a compilation of creaking, and chains, a boat (the Queen Victoria?Mary?I think) moving to the rhythm of the Thames. The sounds of the boat, he told me, were naturally tuned to c# minor–which he would compose to. He was counting the meter of the sound, finding what time register it was in. Tapping out the counts on his knee, “oh its in 11″ back to counting. This was inspirational to me–and exciting. He then proceeded to lay other sounds into this canvas, percussive sounds, beds of chords, guitar. I was set up atop a file cabinet with my editing gear haphazardly strewn-hard drive resting near my feet, cables and converter adapters snaking to overcrowded outlets. We worked side by side. Due to this side-by-side working a simultaneous cross influencing or synchronicity occurred, his sound influencing the feel and texture of the imagery and the imagery influencing the textures of the music. Pete would glance over at what I was doing and I was listening to the score grow through the studio speakers. We both acknowledged the mutual inspiration–it was a great process.

On breaks we explored Brighton, which is beautiful, and just enjoyed being near the sea.

This process continued through to Monday. We revisited the saccadic text, which I copied into my computer, then had the computer read into Pete’s studio system. I also gave him the monologue I had created for an opening “eye doctor” sequence. He manipulated these with a series of filters and studio magicianry and they were added into the canvas of sounds he was creating.

I did some more reading on Oedipus topic, specifically delving in to some history on the oracles of ancient Greece, and the seers. It was interesting to find out that the oracles would speak through sound (according to this text) with the oracle of Zeus speaking through the rustling of the leaves of trees and the beating of percussive drums. This was then interpreted by priests. Seers received their information through the entrails of animals and the flight of birds. This seemed important to our central theme of vision, and I started to think of some of the imagery as the information passing, un-translated, from the Delphic oracle—containing all the information of Oedipus and his tragic path. This would fit in well with the approach Pete would take with the setting of libretto, a sort of non-linear collective consciousness approach to the Oedipus myth. As if it had all happened already, existing as the ghosts of memory. An Oedipus looking back. This approach worked really well with the way I was imagining things as well.

I gave a chunk of the text to Amanda, with some words highlighted. We had talked about highlighting certain repeating phrases and words to map out the text. She took it and did much more elaborate and intensive highlighting, the first step of the process of creating movement to the text.

We had some discussion on how to link the script, which Stephanie is writing with the work we are doing. It seems she is taking a traditional playwright’s approach to her involvement, which entails writing everything that happens in the stage space. This of course doesn’t fit well at all with the way in which we work. Pete had typed the summary of our discussion over to her just as we received a bulk of new pages of script from her via email.

These pages of script illuminated a real difference in approach to the subject matter, even including some of our operatic and visual ideas translated into the world of romantic comedy, but no reflection of the themes we had been speaking of from the visual and representative strand of the work within the dialogue of the two characters. I had been hoping they would touch on ideas of sight or vision, so that the parallel stories would have resonance, becoming two angles on the same themes within the Oedipus myth.

We were all getting the idea that Tuesday would be interesting, as we tackled the merging of conventional play script and non-linear multi media opera.

We had a late dinner on Monday, and made plans for getting back to London for work in studio on Tuesday morning, with the whole group present.

May 10, BAC.- We had an early wake, and bus ride to catch the train from Brighton to East Croydon, then switch to Forest Hill, run home, change clothes, grab projector, run back to train station to catch train to Clapham and the BAC

We met up in the BAC lounge- Matt reading the script, we then had a quick chat in which we learned that a director who was friends of a friend with Stephanie would come in today to give us an outside eye.

Amanda led a warm up for all of us, which was fantastic. It really got the blood flowing and put us all in the same place. Matt has asked Amanda to come in and do this. He likes everyone working on a project to be in the same space (calling himself a “big thesbo”)–and although I would found myself slightly resistant to it on the 11th, when it was early and I felt nervous and cranky-it truly works, and I always feel great afterwards. I think this is a practice we should carry into Miro, with all collaborators getting into that space together, it is very valuable.

Following the warm up we pulled chairs into a circle and got to the discussion. We started with Pete and I presenting the work we had done over the long weekend, and then had some discussion as to concerns regarding the merging of opera and play worlds. It seemed difficult to get to the heart of the issue. There is not a lot of great language to discuss the challenges we were encountering.

Stephanie then asked to present her new pages of script in the form of a reading. This included full stage directions attempting to describe the way the media intertwined. She had said on many occasions we could take these or leave them, but it started to seem as though she planned on writing out whatever stage directions would occur at the end of the day. There were funny moments, but the play operated purely within the realm of romantic comedy, and as I sat there, feeling as though there was no room to fit our work into this play, without entirely and severely adapting the play to the multimedia form, I became very frustrated. The height of my frustration came as the stage directions were read describing what was to be the dance to the text, transmuted through the romantic playwright filter to become Pamela, a comic train station worker that engages in a comical abstract dance at the expense, I felt, of the dancer, and the idea. The joke seemed to be on dance–and Pete was feeling, through other moments in the play, that the joke was on Opera. I had said early on that I did not want to make fun of dance or opera, so it was difficult to sit, and to see what our ideas had become. When we broke for lunch, immediately following the read through, I went outside to cool down and figure out how to best express my reaction.

lunch was the hard conversation – we were discussing how people felt but most of us were remaining very quiet. I said I needed time to really express what I felt, but it ended up coming together in my head, and I explained what I was upset about, mostly that the languages of dance, and visuals, and opera are very real to me. That these languages were as important as the language of words–but that in the script, they were diminished to comic parody. I asked what we were making. Was it a play with video and music? That wasn’t what I thought I was exploring, and although I have loved working on plays, and will do again–this was about exploring in the multi medium, about the combining of mediums within a new opera context. Stephanie really seemed to hear and understand what I was saying, and was very gracious in her response. Once I vocalized these concerns, some of the others realized they shared these exact feelings. The whole thing reminds me what a new arena we are really working in, and how the disciplines have really created their own walls and definitions. It is a very special practice–the combining of these things. Throughout the rest of the day we revisited these issues with respectful and intense conversation. Issues of the role of the various forms are addressed. What is the role of the writer? in the traditional sense, in writing conventional theatre vs., in the world of multi media work, and cross medium exploration, where various languages are speaking together.

Following lunch, Pete set up with piano in hallway-and scrawled out vocal parts on manuscript paper to a section of Stephanie’s re-translation of Oedipus,

In the studio I worked with moving the singers within the greater canvas, preparing some makeshift levels of projection with found objects in the studio and moving them within the environment. This was the moment I had really been waiting for, where I could direct the movement of the performers through the space. It was slightly horrifying at first. They stand there and say “what do you want us to do” and in that moment all of your ideas become shit. But I plowed on, and it was a great experience and the confidence returns. It was awkward directing over the gorgeous operatic singing, I kept thinking I shouldn’t interrupt–which is funny cause if they had been speaking dialogue I would have jumped right in.

We experimented with the TV (that early idea) and then without the TV, and then around it. In the end I decided it didn’t quite work, within the time frame and resources we had here. But I will add it in later, if not to this show, then as a stand-alone installation idea.

Pete returned from the hallway and gave the music to Matt and Helen. They then went over it and sang through it, I have video of this, so if it’s all right with the singers and composer I will post some here later.

We then returned to what we had started with movement experimentation, but now with them singing what Pete had written. Trying things within a rough multi layered projection environment, exploring the outer edges of what we could do with a movement language. Amanda did a quick intro to contact improv with them, working on passing of weight, etc (I am sure she will write about that). I asked them to play with the idea of attraction and revulsion, at the same time. We were exploring the libretto between Oedipus and Jocasta (his mother / wife) and I wanted to explore use of body and placement of body within the video environment to convey, along with the music, the complex levels of emotion, sexuality, loss, denial and power that were happening between the two characters–but to do this while really focusing on the two words–attraction and revulsion. The transition from ideas in your mind to ideas in the space offers up lots of surprises. I was finding that the simplest and most economical gestures could convey a great deal. In opera the music is dancing, so the performers -the singers-don’t bear that sole responsibility. Through this exercise the power of distance emerged. And touching without touching. Through this process I became more aware of Jocasta’s plight — losing everyone she loves–her baby, her husband, then her child again, and her husband. Everyone she had loved. Everyone loses in Oedipus. A true tragedy

Pete and I were talking about how to find hope in the story. Can you find hope in tragedy-(in opposition to nihilism, or fatalism, or resigned pessimism) It is something we will be exploring more and more as we move forward.

An outside director, an acquaintance of Stephanie, came in to see some sketches of what we were working on and offer feedback and suggestion. She mostly danced around the divide growing between the play script, which was personal and conventional, and the opera and video art. It seemed she also did not see them coming together-but offered up the idea of an evening of different works inspired by Oedipus myth–or different angles. As much as it was not new information, it was valuable, and it did spur on the discussion, which brought us to the end of a long working day.

Stephanie decided to step out of the process for the last day of work (the next day). Stating it may be time for the writer just to go away–as is often the case in the last week of a theatre production. This was followed that evening with an email that stated she was not sure if her play fit into our world, and perhaps she would just take it off on its own way after the showing. After seeing how the rest of us worked together, I think she realized how different our process is. The silver lining of it —is that the rest of us work fantastically together, and when left in a studio–the work just explodes out of us–it is very exciting. We all had worked on Adams Apple together last year–and the new addition of Helen (the soprano) just seemed a perfect fit. The next day, some exciting stuff would come together.

May 11, Wednesday

No Stephanie on Wednesday.

On way to BAC talk to Amanda about my growing interest in systems and structure for non linear work, for audience understanding and relaying message clearly, (versus for personal academic interest or idea generating exercise.) sparked good conversation. She has been having similar thoughts.

Amanda leads a warm up for us all.

Based on the work of the day before. Amanda and I decided she would teach a series of phrases connecting to pivotal actions in the Oedipal myth. This came from her ideas around creating a dance to the academic text on Saccades and fixations. These phrases she would teach in the morning, would become the tools that I would then use to place the singers into the video staging. (Creating the “greater canvas”). This worked amazingly and Amanda was comfortable with me then taking apart and using the phrases (1-5) as the common language of movement.

For the morning, Amanda worked on the phrases with Matt and Helen, while I chimed in slightly at times, but this was basically Amanda’s time, and I worked on creating the set, hazing the glass for projection, creating a rough sort of texture, and sorting out the way the installation of the video could work.

Throughout this, Pete works with headphones on an electric piano in the corner of the studio, working on vocal parts

We broke for lunch at the BAC

Following lunch Pete taught the music to the singers in the upstairs studio while I moved into the theatre space in studio 2 (we had just found it we could use it for the afternoon-which was great because it was dark and we could work out the video.

It was finally in the theater space that I was able to start piecing together the look of this thing and how it would work. I set the projector up front and center, and then used the painted glass piece to create and extension of the projection into the center of the space, as well as frame out a part of the whole. It became a very simple square on square sort of look, which I was happy with for the scratch set up. I was specifically happy with the way the glass was reacting to the projection with the textured frosting.

I decided to let the TV set go by the wayside for this scratch performance. I really like the minimalism and clean lines of the framed glass (Plexiglas square).

Matt Helen and Pete came down to the space and played the music that had been completed. I then worked to set the video work I had done to each of these pieces of music, combining my composition ideas, with specific focus on the three dimensionality of the video (the “greater canvas”) with the series of phrases that Amanda created in the morning of the blocking into video. (I will insert sketches here later referring to the balance and composition.)

And intensely magical moment happened when setting to a piece of music we referred to as the bed. I paired it with a section of the video work I had done, that was a sort of black and white disintegrative moving bitscape layered in with text-unreadably small-made up of the saccades and fixations academic text. It was a bit of video I was really happy with, and knew that it was absolutely incomplete without the performers placed into it. The colors and shapes move through the projection almost choreographing the movement on its own, creating fantastic paths and openings for the singers to inhabit. I set Helen upstage right, standing in profile. She is lit by the projection, with the hard edge of the projection severing her profile down the center-her head just dipped into the light. Matt was set upstage left, facing the audience on an angle toward stage center. Matt sings first, telling the story of the first king of the land, whose name was Liaus (Oedipus’ father who he is unaware of and unknowingly kills) I took the phrase Amanda had created to signify the killing of Liaus. The phrase involved a circular movement of the arm and then inward movement of the two hands to the chest. I asked him to make it very sharp, somewhat violent, and he made the choice to pair this with a stamping of the foot, which was alarming and fantastic. He said the best spot for this would be just following the low sustained final word “laius” in the singing. This worked perfectly with the libretto. I had him sing this as he moved forward slowly on a slight diagonal. Synchronicity of it was beautiful, as the video seemed to move to the right to make room for him, folding white light over his head as he sang forward towards the audience… I then turned to Helen, and (stupefyingly simple) had her walk across the back upstage so that we see her enter the distorted world of the hazed glass. The phrase I asked her to use was the one Amanda had created for the loving of her son, which we had all had some input into. This phrase rang of loss–with a downward movement to the floor from the loins, which came up to a cradling around the torso of the arms. There was something haunting about the end spot of this phrase, the resting of the arms across the midriff. A gutted,barren, sickening feeling of loss. I asked her to hold the positioning of the arms as she began the walk and stay in the position for the whole crossing of the stage. Her vocal part was a haunting melody that floated above the music like the ghosts of loss and fate and forknowledge of your own tragedy–if that makes any sense at all. Pete had approached the setting of the libretto in that matter. Saying that he was starting from the point at which everyone already knows what has happened and what will happen, so it is as if the ghosts of Oedipus are telling their story. This really resonated with me, and tied in to the idea of the way Tiresius must view everything–knowing all that will happen, the plight of the seer. So we went to play through with the music and the staging. I had imagined that Helen would do the phrase and then start singing as she began to walk, but what she actually did (either because she misunderstood me or had great inspiration–I will have to ask her) is that she began to sing as she did the phrase–so this high note emanated from her in this haunting manner as she sunk downward to the floor, as she begins her slow gutted walk the white strip of video riddled with blue text slowly traced her path across the space, and as she entered the glass, she truly looked as though she entered another dimension. It was a truly magic moment, and I think everyone in the room felt. It had all fit together. It had hit on some unspeakable emotional level. The three dimensionality of the video had been successful, with the video wrapping across the black wall, coming forward across the glass… it was just one of those splendid magic moments that can happen in the rehearsal process that makes us love what we do. These can often disappear, brief magical things. But this section of the scratch elicited a lot of comments, I think possibly the most, and it felt equally as powerful throughout the scratch run. One woman stated she was reached visually and aurally in a way she never had been before, and someone else said they did not want that moment to end, to make it last longer please.

We continued working in this way through the day and then had a meeting to discuss what we would show, and how we would show it, the following night.

May 12, Thursday, day of scratch showing

No break today. Trains cancelled so lost time in the morning, had to wait 30 minutes at station. Pete and I immediately jump in to getting theatre set up and loading in–the loss of arts council funding led to my volunteering us to run tech from stage–a better idea in theory than practice. I have my computer on tabletop, in front of audience on stage left, and the light board at my shins–on a lower shelf.

I had the Bac technical staff person focus the few instruments we used into a triangle of light surrounding the glass square.

Amanda works for some time on an improv for Matt and Helen to dance.

I work on editing the opening monologue into the eye doctor visuals

Once everything is set up, we work more on staging within the actual environment. We go through all of the sections of the opera we will show.

The improv Amanda worked on with the singers is placed on the stage right side of the triangle, and they perform the improv as they move downstage singing the final bit between Jocasta and Oedipus. It works very well, and ends up getting very positive feedback throughout the run. This is the end result of the initial attraction revulsion exercises we had done.

We then weave in the play pieces.

We have the soprano in the audience, back row, for the opening section. So people hear the vocals coming from stage and from behind them (or next to them, depending where they are sitting). This leads the first bit of stage dialogue to take place over the heads of the audience. (Pete and I both wanted soprano in audience–inspired by trumpets in audience for Wagner ring cycle)

We have a final run through what we will present from start to back, and then finally get a minimal break to grab some snacks and the show is on.

We get good and constructive feedback in show and after. People found it very interesting that we performed one section of text twice in a row, once as straight theatre, and the second time, after a quick break to explain what was happening, with musical underscoring. Everyone stated that they liked the musical underscoring much better, and that led to discussion as to why, and how it heightened the meaning of the text, and relayed the emotion better. There was then discussion as to why the man sang and the woman didn’t in the dialogue, which sparked debate within the audience. All this in the middle of the performance. It was fantastic (we had worried no one would want to participate in these mid show feedback breaks.)

After feedback in the bar for a while, a large group moved down the street for Thai food. It was a great crowd of folks. We talk at dinner with Dominick, an academic who will be presenting a lecture in DC on SharpWires Adams Apple (or using Adams Apple as the central example of discussion). He asked Amanda,” does dance happen in time or in space”…she replied quickly, “yes”. …”Both”.