You are on page 1of 11

or: love is not a photograph or: take me like a photograph

Laonikos Psimikakis-Chalkokondylis


or: love is not a photograph / or: take me like a photograph

This is a site-specific cross-arts piece/performance which was organised and facilitated by myself, and which involved a number of active participants who contributed to the final performance of the piece, which will take place on Saturday the 16 th of April, 2011 at The Shunt, during its last day at the current venue. THE THEME The idea of this piece started with the word phraselengths. This is a word that Nico Muhly mentioned in a talk he gave in the LRR in October 2010 about his recent collaborations with dancers. He used it in the following context: You have to be careful with the vocabulary you use when working with dancers, because the same words mean different things a 'phrase length' means something completely different to a dancer than it does to a musician. This is a piece which has been a work in progress over the last few months. Our efforts as a collective culminated in the first performance of this piece on the 4 th of Feb at The Shunt, called or: love is not a photograph. The line-up was: string quartet, soprano sax + electronics (a custom max/msp patch), three dancers, and two poetry readers. We performed it once more at the ICA with a slightly different line-up (the performance was called or: take me like a photograph): violin, viola, soprano and alto sax with electronics (ableton this time), two dancers and two poetry readers, plus a zen gong bell to outline the different sections of the piece. This is the third and last performance of this piece, called or: love me like a photograph / or: take me like a photograph. The piece has evolved and changed since its conception and through working closely with all the people involved in each of the performances. It is a site-specific piece and the Shunt at the current venue is closing down this Saturday, which is why this piece has naturally come to an end. MEMORY This particular performance is largely focused on memory. I see memory as what defines us. I believe that a person who has lost all their memories has lost himself/herself. It is memory which allows us to experience the world around us memory provides us a context within which we can perceive experience in the present, and imagination is what allows us to extrapolate and engage with the future. The senses and our experience at any one moment (which only exist in the now) are what provide us with the moment-to-moment experience of life, of being. Memory (and forgetting) fascinate me as a person and composer. I am particularly intrigued in memory as it manifests itself in composition versus improvisation. I don't see memory as a mechanical storage facility which tidies unnecessary pieces of information away and retrieves it slightly dusted whenever we ask for it. Memory is something much more organic, and remembering things is an active process of re-creating those memories.1 For this project I was interested in the long-term memories of the performers and how they engage
1 See Loftus, Elizabeth, and her experiments in eye-witness memory). 2/11

with them during a performance (how memory can influence the engagement a performer has with the material they are performing). In terms of the audience, I was interested in how memories of a particular experience/moment during the performance of the piece can affect how the audience engages with the performance from moment to moment, when this material comes back in some form or when members of the audience return to the space where they had this experience in the first place. I approached this in various ways, including in terms of the material, the structure, the set-up, engaging with the performers, and engaging with the audience. THE EXPERIENTIAL ASPECT OF THE PERFORMANCE Ever since that summer school, I have been immensely interested in the context (spatially) in which the piece is perceived by an audience, and the relationship between audience, performers and space. A piece for eight-part choir I composed earlier this year (les toiles sont belles) focuses exactly on this aspect of performance and it is something that aim in exploring in more works, including this one. I am interested in the singular aspect of a performance (e.g. as in an improvisation, which is defined in the moment and only exists as it is performed) rather than the universal aspect (e.g. in Beethoven's fifth symphony, which can be said to be pretty much the same, if executed accurately, by any orchestra). In a traditional classical performance context, one can be said to have experienced the definitive version of the performance in question, if that person is maximally sensitive to what is considered musically essential in the performance/composition, and sits at the place in the auditorium which offers the best acoustic. In my performance, I try to bring this to the surface and distort/smear/smudge it, make it impossible by the nature of the performance for any single member of the audience to ever be able to experience the 'definitive version' of my piece. This is achieved mainly by making creative use of the space available, of amplification, and by allowing the audience to move around the performance space. One could say I am aiming at creating a meta-performance (a performance which is larger than its parts, but which can only ever be experienced through its individual parts), a performance which can only be experienced in its totality by a meta-audience. (The audience as a collective consciousness will have experienced the whole piece in its totality, but no single member of the audience will have done so.) THE SPACE The performance takes place over three floors inside the Machine. The Machine is a construction built by The Shunt specifically for MONEY, a play which was staged there until the 25 th of November 2010. Since early Autumn 2010 it has served as a replacement for The Shunt Lounge, which was located in the vaults under London Bridge station. The Shunt Lounge was a vast space, extending for hundreds of yards, which had many big (and small) rooms and halls which could feature separate events. It was a space where lots of things could take place horizontally at the same time. The Bermondsey St. warehouse where they built the Machine was a lot smaller, but a lot taller. They responded to this by creating a space (the Machine) in which many different events could take place vertically at the same

time, and they achieved this by building two mezzanine levels, having a main performance area, an extra 2-3 rooms on the ground floor which could be used for performances, plus having glass floors throughout the Machine, so people can see what's happening below them and above them at any point. The performance takes place inside the Machine, but the sound is amplified and routed to the outside of the Machine. The ground floor (the sauna room) hosts the sitar player and the live electronics. The rest of the music and poetry reading are amplified and routed through the speakers. The middle floor (the bank) hosts the string players (violin and violoncello), while the rest of the sounds (sitar + electronics, and poetry reading) are routed through the speakers. Lastly, the top floor features the three dancers, who start on the top floor and then move across the floors as instructed. The two poetry readers will be located in the area outside the Machine, holding a microphone, and their sound will be routed throughout the whole space. The visuals will also take place outside the Machine. The idea is that depending on where the audience is they will experience the performance differently. If they are in the sauna room they can hear the sitar acoustically and everything else amplified through the speakers (including the electronics). They can also see the string players from below (through the glass floor) and potentially some of the dancers. If they move to the bank area they will be able to hear the string players acoustically and everything else through the speakers. However, they won't be able to hear the sitar as the sitar will not be amplified (directly) through the speakers in the other floors. They will still be able to hear the electronics (which will be influenced by the sitar) but not the sitar itself. If they walk away from the Machine they can still hear all the music through the speakers but as they move closer to one or the other poetry reader they will be able to hear their version of the text more clearly, thus highlighting aspects or versions of the poem depending on how they move around (or away from) the poetry readers. To see the visuals, they will have to distance themselves from the poetry readers, the musicians and the dancers. ROLES The other focal point of this piece was the concept of roles. In a traditional conventional classical music concert there is a clear definition of roles in the environment in which the audience perceives the composition: the composer who dictates the musical material; the conductor who rehearses the material with the performers, ensuring it is being adhered to adequately and a satisfying representation of the notated material takes place; the performers who, executing the notated material on the page through the conductor's interpretation of it, arrive at a satisfying result; and the audience who sit there, still and quiet, attempting to maximally perceive the sonic result of all this effort (the other senses being widely ignored or suppressed). Orchestral players relate to each other according to what the conductor instructs them, or according to

the needs of the music. (If a part has a more clearly outlined pattern/rhythm, other more obscure parts can be told to relate to this part.) There is (usually) a clear sense of fore-, middle- and background, which again outlines a kind of hierarchy which I find largely irrelevant in my work. I am interested in the relationship between content (material) and context (form) rather than the relationship between important content and less important content. In this piece, due to the set up and location of the performers, each performer will relate to the other performers in a different manner. For example, the string players will hear the sitar and electronics and poetry readings coming through the speakers. Naturally, they will place their material in that soundscape and they will treat the other sounds as the context in which they perform their content. However, this is true for all the performers: the sitar player will perform their content by taking the string players' music as the context, and the poetry readers will read their poetry by taking the whole of the music they hear from the speakers as their context. The dancers are given various instructions with which to relate to each other and the music and/or poetry reading, and although they will constitute a more prominent role on the floor in which they are located, they will be part of the context of other floors, either below or above them. THE STRUCTURE I programmed a algorithm on the computer which generates a random string of numbers from 1 to 8 following the following rules: the first element must be 1 there must be ten numbers in the middle (in a random order) which must contain the numbers 1 to 7 at least once and either (randomly): 3 of these numbers repeated once more, OR 2 of these numbers repeated once more and one of those two numbers repeated another one time the last element must be 8 Here are some examples that this algorithm produces: 117365451528 123272657148 134562641478 etc. This algorithm was designed to serve my aesthetic taste with regards to repetitions of parts. As there are two part 1's, I wanted to have at least two instances of part 1, so both part 1's could be read. I wanted the piece to start with part 1 so it is clear that it starts, and I wanted it to end with part 8 so that it is clear that the piece has finished (since there has been no other instance of part 8 until the very end). Furthermore, I wanted the middle numbers to be randomised, but fulfilling certain characteristics in terms of repetitions I didn't want too many parts repeated, and I also didn't mind having one section repeated three times, but only as a random rule (i.e. some times this might be the case) and not as a definite rule. I generated a large number of these strings of numbers, and chose one which I felt would be provide

interesting results. These numbers refer to the parts that the poetry readers read. Prior to reading each part, they announce the part by calling out loudly (and outlined by silence) part one, before moving on to read that specific part. The musicians and dancers have been given different instructions as to how to perform their material depending on which part is being read at any one point. It might be the case that the instruction is keep playing what you were playing before so that there is no direct correlation between a change of part by the poetry readers and the rest of the performers, and performers are instructed to perform those changes gradually, as opposed to making sure they define clear-cut sections.

THE POEM The poem itself deals with memory, both in its content and its form. There are two versions, which are very similar but slightly different. This aims at confusing the audience slightly. There are two part 1's, which are within themselves similar but slightly different. Within some parts, there are mentions of other parts. The order of the parts is random, but as mentioned earlier, certain parts (randomly) keep coming back. This alludes to what is mentioned below, about the experiential aspect of the performance, and making it impossible for any member of the audience to perceive the piece in its totality. THE POETRY READERS The poetry readers each read one of the two versions of the poem, and read whichever part they're on simultaneously (but not necessarily synchronised). By doing so, the audience realise it is quite impossible to understand both pieces of text when they are read at the same time, but they can retain and filter certain words, phrases, and perhaps they will get a chance to remember some of this material when (if) it comes back. The poetry readers are told that each part is meant to last about two to three minutes, and given the fact that there are twelve separate parts produced in the algorithm, this gives an average of thirty minutes for a performance. The two or three minutes are not measured by a stopwatch (although they could) but are left at the discretion of the performers. They may choose to end one part sooner and let a part last longer, as long as it averages out to two or three minutes per part. The simultaneous reading (which inevitably will happen at different speeds) also reinforces the focus on memory, as it feels like a flood of memories, two versions of the same thing arriving at you simultaneously, which you need to filter in order to make sense of. There is an instant allusion of what one poetry reader reads to what the other reads a word that was just spoken out loud by one person comes again by the other person, only to disappear in a mix of different words. Words that repeat, words that don't repeat, parts that repeat, parts that don't repeat, music that repeats, music that doesn't repeat, choreography that repeats, choreography that doesn't, and the word repeat inside the poem itself (which repeats) are all there to play around with our memories, either recognising something we heard before, or recognising a space we've been to before (filled with different things) as the audience moves around the space.


STRING PLAYERS To arrive at a material with the string players, I asked them to find a piece or pieces which they feel close to, pieces that mean something to them and have an important space in their memory. Out of this piece, I asked them to find that one phrase which they particularly enjoy playing, and out of this phrase I asked them to locate that one note which they feel expresses that moment they enjoy most about this phrase. They chose four or five such pitches, and we kept working in arranging those pitches and adding double-stops to create more interesting harmonies. I then went on to create a simple arrangement of those pitches, simple cycles which went out of sync. For example, for part 1, the violin's part would say |: A B C :| and the cello's part would say |: A B C D :| (where A, B, C, D are symbols which indicate first pitch we chose, second pitch, third pitch etc). Each letter is approximately four beats at crochet = 54, and there is a short rest between the letters. The result is the following: Vln: |: A B C :| Vlc: |: A B C D :| so, as they repeat, they go off cycle, and the harmony changes slowly, but remains within a similar harmonic field.2 SITAR PLAYER AND LIVE ELECTRONICS The sitar player in this performance replaces the role of the saxophone. In previous performances, the saxophone's material consisted of a series of long, soft (occasionally loud) multiphonics (which occupied a similar harmonic field as the material of the string players) which would come and go like waves, underlying the rest of the soundscape. The sitar's role is similar in this performance, it provides the live electronics with material to work with, and responds to that material creatively. We are mainly utilising the sitar's great capacity for long sustained notes and sympathetic vibrations to create a rich and sustained soundscape. The live electronics consist of a microphone which is attached to the sitar, a microphone interface which is connected to the computer and the PA, and a custom Max/MSP patcher which I wrote throughout the winter for a project I was working on with Anglina Jandolo, the choreographer for the two last performances of this piece. It features four effects: delay (up to six delays); harmoniser (up to three pitches); granulator (working with up to four samples of five seconds each); and spectral delay (applying a different delay time to individual bandwidths of the input signal). Through the use of these effects, and with long, sustained (and harmonically rich, in terms of resonance and harmonics) sounds coming from the sitar, we provide
2 Note: I have not included any precise pitches or notation for their parts at the moment as the material is likely to change, due to the nature of the engagement the players have with it. Every time we meet with the players it is likely they will have come up with some slightly different materials, so the material we will perform on Saturday is likely to only be finalised within the few minutes prior to the performance itself. 7/11

a continuous slow-changing line, which acts similarly to how the saxophone + electronics acted in previous performances providing a soundbed for other sounds to be put in. Our performing, however, will (and is) affected by what comes back to us from the speakers, and we have devised certain rules for some of the parts, such as part 2: delay + harmoniser only, low notes on sitar or part 8: slowly fade out etc etc.3 DANCERS For the material of the dancers, we worked closely in finding a series of movements/phrases they have worked on in the past and engage meaningfully with. Each of the dancers (re)collected from their memory a total of four or five phrases (anything between one and five seconds). We then went on to re-arrange those phrases and re-contextualise them, in the space and with the music. We devised certain instructions similar to the ones for the musicians (so, dancer one would perform phrases |: A B C :| and dancer two would perform phrases |: A B C A :| etc etc), and also some slightly different ones. Examples of instructions for the dancers include: choose any one of the phrases and repeat it, each time varying the dynamics only one dancer is allowed to move at any one point (if no one is moving, someone must move; if someone starts moving, everyone else must stop) all the performers perform |: A B C D :| but at different dynamics at least two performers must be touching at any one time; choose two phrases and perform them once and so on. THE VISUALS The visuals are generated live through a Max/VIZZIE patch which takes live input (the camera of the macbook) and processes it through various effects. These effects are altered by touching the trackpad on the macbook being used. The video is altered indirectly by the electronic musician. As the electronic performer moves in front of his computer and touches the trackpad to affect the sound of the sitar player, these motions (of his/her body in front of the camera, and of his/her fingers on the trackpad) affect the visual projections. As the visuals are going to be projected outside the Machine, no member of the audience will be able to see both the visuals and the electronic musician. There is a literal embodiment of the music-making process in the creation of the live visuals.

I would not describe my role in this project/piece as a composer in the traditional sense of the word. The word composer assumes a hierarchy, an authority, ownership, an imposition (of the composer's
3 See above note these rules, for sitar and electronics, are likely to change and will only be finalised prior to the final performance. However, I will collect and put together an extensive appendix with all the written rules and material used for this performance for my final submission, as well as footage from rehearsals and previous performances. 8/11

score to the players). I feel that the traditional (conventional/conservative) use of the word composer does not give enough space for the active engagement that all the people in this project were involved with. Here is an outline of my roles in this project/piece/performance: organised the technical aspects of the performance and workshops. I took care of all the technical and logistical details (arranging rehearsals, meetings, workshops, techs etc) so that the performers could focus on the artistic side of the piece rather than get drawn away by the logicistical difficulties they would have encountered provided a specific context within which the performers could express themselves creatively and engage with the material that was found in the context (e.g. poem) facilitated the collaborations by getting in touch with all the performers, getting to know them, and being engaged in creating meaningful connections between the different performers and the space in which we were going to perform acted as a node between performers, communicating feedback between the performers and making decisions based on the feedback I received with regards to what form the piece should take. Lastly, I took a performer's role in the performances, performing as a poetry reader for the first and second performances and as the live electronics musician for this last performance (also designing and performing the live visuals). WHY? There are many reasons why I chose to work in this way for this project. Since the end of last summer, after I attended the joint music master's summerschool in Sklholt, Iceland, I have been a lot more interested in working creatively with other people as opposed to working with a piece of manuscript paper in my room. I have mainly explored this by assisting in numerous workshops in schools and hospitals around London. These workshops took the form of engaging with the children and facilitating the creation of music and lyrics. I was intrigued by discovering that I could be actively engaged creatively in such an environment, while not being responsible for the material itself, which was contributed by the children. Issues of ownership and hierarchy arose and a lot of lines separating roles were blurred. This music we were writing could have never been written if it wasn't for those particular kids, and these kids wouldn't have come up with this material if it wasn't for us facilitating their creative contributions to the larger structure we were working on. Whereas all a composer needs is the idea/notion of a violin (the kind of sound it produces, the manner in which it is played, the timbral characteristics, its limitations in terms of register, dynamics and articulation etc etc), 4 this is not the case with the kind of
4 If tomorrow all violins and violinists disappeared all over the world, one could still write a Violin Sonata, and as long as some time in the future a violinist was born and a violin was made, the piece could be performed. The musical material on the page is to a large degree independent of who performs it. (Even compositions which have been commissioned by a particular performer, or were written for a particular ensemble, are often performed by other ensembles around the world, and the material remains independent of the performers.) 9/11

collaborative/creative work we were engaged in when working in these schools. You just can't imagine a classroom full of children and then go on and create a children's song by yourself, imagining how the workshop would take place, not in the same sense that you can imagine a violin and what sounds it can produce. This was further explored in my work with dancers. In the early summer I met Anglina Jandolo at The Shunt, a dancer and choreographer whose work I really enjoyed, and we decided to work together. Since then we have worked very closely, together with Chris Bartholomew on live electronics, for her choreography Aqueous Run which was presented at The Place on the the 20 th of January 2011. We also worked closely for the first and second performances of this project, and for this last performance we are working closely with friends of hers some of whom took part in other projects we've worked on. The more I worked with dancers (or, perhaps, with these particular dancers and choreographer), the more I realised that they have a connection to the material they are working with that composers don't. Dancers, perhaps due to the immense difficulty of accurately and meaningfully notating down a choreography5, are working directly with their material, instead of working with a representation of their material. A choreographer doesn't hand a paper to the dancers which describes the kind of move he wants them to do he says I want you to do this and then does it, and then the dancer does it. That direct contact with the material is something that I find is necessary and important to all musicians, and I have found very engaging in my own work. It has opened up a whole new direction which I'm only just starting to explore. This relates a lot to what Peter Renshaw calls connecting to context. Through reading his book (Engaged Passions, 2010) and in conversations with the author, the idea of connecting to context is the one that keeps coming back when dealing with issues of quality, and is one which I find very engaging. It gives a different dimension to whatever work one does, because a connection with the space, the performers, the audience, the materials, the structure, is what allows for conversation, a meaningful exchange of ideas and an interaction with the world around us, culminating in a much more meaningful experience for the people involved. This is the reason I focused in creating a site-specific piece, and exploring the themes of the piece by making use of the inherent properties and qualities of the space we were going to perform it in. Throughout the past few years in Guildhall I have been immensely interested in notation all my compositions have been exploring a certain aspect of notation in one way or another (about half my compositions engage in some form with indeterminate or graphic notation) and it is something I have learned not to take for granted and consider it in its own right. I have attended numerous conferences and seminars around the UK and London about notation and interpretation, and I even wrote my dissertation on the topic. I feel that in this kind of work my interest in notation is still there however now I see it more in terms of how I can deal away with notation and deal with the material itself rather than how I can communicate my ideas through notation. Notation has become a tool for recording what happened in a performance or as a memory aid for the performers during a performance, but not as the medium through which I work with material. It is interesting to note the paradox that arises when noticing that it is through the development and advent of electronic music (especially in more recent years, when electronic music interfaces have
5 There are, of course, notations such as Laban and Benesh, but it could take years before someone accurately notated a 30-minute choreography in Labanotation, and perhaps an equal amount of years before another interpreted that to a satisfying degree. The nature of dance notation is fundamentally different to the nature of traditional western music notation. 10/11

become more tactile and haptic than ever before) that musicians have finally found a more organic approach in dealing with sound for sound's sake. Perhaps this is because of the inherent difficulty (impossibility?) that creating a notation for electronic music would entail. I feel this is part due to the nature of (music) notation (not only Western) which deals with notating what is considered (by a culture, society, group of people) to be essential in that (music) tradition. 6 It is at that point that electronic music becomes like a choreography, staging sounds and silence across time (and space) just like dancers stage moves and movements across space (and time). (What is essential in electronic music is the sound itself, and if the essence of that sound could be represented/expressed in something else other than the sound itself, electronic music would have no purpose.) This is the reason in all of my collaborations with dancers so far I have worked in some way with electronics, but have also tried to apply this approach (of dealing with sonic material itself) to traditional instruments, and engage in the creative process of writing music from a different perspective that of the choreographs. I feel I have started seeing myself more as a choreographer of sounds rather than a composer of notes, although -of course- the process is a never-ending one and definitely something that I will keep exploring and learning from throughout the rest of my work in music in similar contexts.

6 See Watts, Alan. Coincidence of Opposites, recording of lecture, from Essential Lectures (1960), "Because what we notice is what is noteworthy. And we notice it in terms of notations: numbers, words, images - what is notable, noteworthy, notated, noticed is what appears to us to be significant and the rest is ignored as insignificant. And as a result of that, we select from the total input that goes to us a very small fraction" 11/11