Artist-in-Residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts for the past two weeks, what an incredible place to get some work done. I laugh when I think of the extraordinary hardships someone like Mary Kingsley suffered in the wilds of the forests, scaling some uncharted West African mountain in the pouring rain, or wading through crocodile-infested swamps. Here, I feel more like Snow White … on the walk to my studio every morning I am greeting by adorable critters, popping out from behind some coyote bush or a rock, or a hole in a tree….. hummingbirds, flickers, butterflies, woodpeckers, a wrentit, a fairy ring of mushrooms, and more just this morning. And at night, it’s coyotes and deer and frogs and owls singing to each other. There’s a turkey that visits me daily and hangs out pecking at stuff under my studio window, he’s either a very fickle muse, or maybe my therapeutic comfort turkey, here to provide emotional support as I try to get this first batch of music figured out.
This short period here has mostly been about trying to figure out some ways that all the ideas, disparate material, different voices who are part of this work can come together to become one coherent (and compelling?) piece. It’s interesting, some of my collaborators prefer to keep things open and work within a sense of possibility with few constraints. Others seem to need more structure, and a sense of the whole, to imagine what form their component will take. I can relate to both experiences, and am trying to maintain a sense of both things simultaneously, at least for now. Planning is great and structure is important at this stage, but also we need to be able to stay flexible enough that we can surprise each other, and adjust course to latch onto some great new idea if one emerges as we are all working.
I am super inspired and amazed at how different everyone’s process is thus far … from Kathleen, I am getting these fantastic text storyboards, framing the scenes in her animations…. “ a gloved hand holding a lantern comes into the frame (flame flickers)…more animals go by (high altitude ones: goats?)…” … because with hand-cut animation, there are no preview clips to send me – she preps all her materials for weeks, and then shoots the animation sequences, meticulously, over many many hours, like a long, laborious performance – it happens just once. Alfonso has been sending me these gorgeous studies of layered, manipulated footage that he has shot – one of a filmed “reading” of the text of Ida Pfeiffer’s “A Lady’s Second Journey Round the World,” and now some studies in motion on bicycles inspired by Annie Londonderry’s crazy bike ride around the world at the turn of 20th century. Janis has been working with the National Archives to get some digitized footage of Louise Arner Boyd’s Arctic trips.. Boyd was a meticulous documenter of her travels in film and photographs. And Janis is combining this archival film with her own footage of the Arctic circle that she shot while on a trip to Norway some years ago….which is kind of amazing.
The other thing that’s great about being up here, is I’m having to get better at talking about this beast of a project. Pretty much every night, there’s some new (super intelligent, informed, creative) person at the communal dinner table asking you, “so what are you working on?” If you answer that a dozen times in a couple of weeks, you are bound to get better at the answer…it’s a good process for me, since this thing just sprawls and sprawls in my mind the deeper I get into it, and that’s just not possible for someone who is not me, to grab a hold of. It’s a funny thing needing to work on these really specific things like, writing out a harmony for a section with four wind players, or notating a complicated percussion part, and then needing to zoom back out to 10,000 feet to check in on the whole shape, the duration of one thing compared to another, the flow from one section to the next.