|Jim Brashear with art from ATA|
photo by Camille Roy
Our opening day couldn’t have happened in a more vibrant way. ATA’s theater was nearly full. Jim Brashear inaugurated the season with a sound piece. He stood at the front of the room and began talking into a microphone as if by way of introduction. But soon, audience members became aware that other sounds were emerging from elsewhere. Music from other spaces in the building contributed an aleatory element to the performance. At first, I wasn’t sure what was Jim’s work and what was ambient sound from busy Valencia Street outside.
This “not knowing” actually activated some panic for me. I worried about the unfolding of the piece, how it related to all the sound around it. But then, it became clear that Jim’s in-person improvisation was in conversation with that emergent and increasingly audible timeline of sound, and I was relieved. Of course, it isn’t uncommon for certain performance pieces to begin without the performer marking the beginning. The audience understands retrospectively that the piece has begun and so in some strange way there is no beginning or there is indeed a very clear commencement but it is lost to us since we didn’t know to look or listen for it until later. I found the piece engaging. Jim’s rich, sonorous voice, accompanied by the timeline of sound filled ATA. I was conscious of my body immersed in the space and sound and of the fact there were other bodies in the room. Invisible to us, sound waves moved around us, bounced off us, made a sonic network of us all.
I asked Jim if he wanted to include some information about his piece here on the blog as a number of people were interested and how he did what he did. Here it is, ever so graciously provided:
I've done a couple of versions of this elsewhere, and each time the looks of surprise make it worth the effort. When you're using technology for performance (particularly for sound, I think), everyone seems poised for the beginning, for the ON button to be pressed, for the needle to drop. My particular program (Kyma) allows me to circumvent that convention so that the seemingly impromptu (or rather, improvised) speech at the beginning is pulled forward into the performance and blurs the boundaries between, so that you're always looking back, or listening back, over your shoulder in time, wondering
how you arrived inside the field of sound. This does include a familiar performance art intention of emphasizing the everyday, pedestrian quality of performance, but also an attempt to activate the musical qualities of even the most seemingly non-musical speech (and could that be a potential definition of "sound poetry?). The structure of the program gives me the option (among many) of fading in the effects very slowly, because the whole project exists on a timeline, the same software metaphor found in most audio and video programs, in which the user arranges events that a cursor passes over in real time and activates them. My particular arrangement of them focuses as much control and modulation as possible on the voice, so that every vocal gesture is amplified to more dramatic levels. Speaking might already be musical, but why not bring out as much of its music as possible?
|Montage from Sonbert films|
photo from Bright Lights Film Journal
photo by Camille Roy
“At this moment when anything can happen, narrative is at its most fascinatinog. (In my own films I generally try to include an image of a forward motin on train tracks in which several lines converge but cut before any actual track or direction is taken—it’s a metaphor for possibilities open.)"
“In my last completed work, A Woman’s Touch (1983), which lasts 23 minutes, there is a given and then a series of qualifications, almost like a Theme and Variations. The initial set is a number of images of women involved in solitary action. All is presented positively, benignly, almost too complacently: women at work, at play, constructing, striving, succeeding—a paean to their independence.”
Sonbert goes on to explain that in the end, the film closes this way: “The lines of the driveway converge in a path that leads to the door. The lines of the driveway converge in a path that leads to the house: but it is a cul-de-sac, a dead end. The man does have the last word. All the independence that the women in the film have throughout evinced, and as well the straining towards home and domesticity, here both converge in a narrative summation of tying together the threads within a devastating conclusive context.”
It is interesting to me that it is not the conclusion of the film that I recall. What remains for me is some of those images of the many women, among them, Johanna Drucker, Carla Harryman, Anne Waldman, Melissa Reilley. In some of the shots, their faces and bodies are radiant with pleasure and a kind of joy.
photo by Camille Roy
Warren Sonbert's Films by Jon Gartenberg
Brief Candles: The Films of Warren Sonbert