This Friday, six of us will hold court in the very panoramic and sonically interesting tower at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park – more experiments and explorations with the music that will become Glorious Ravage, this time just strings and winds.
Friday’s event at the de Young Museum – four sets of shiny new music and film, on two stages – was pretty far out. Fay flew out from New York to join the San Francisco musicians in the band, and we tried some brand-new music for two pieces with Alfonso Alvarez’ video, and two different versions of a long meditative piece with Konrad Steiner. Konrad also brought some very short clips that we used for duo and trio improvisations – these were a lot of fun and I think will make it into the final Glorious Ravage as transitional material between the longer, more epic songs.
The audience members I spoke with seemed intrigued and compelled by watching the work unfold over the course of the night – the same film with slightly different music and improvisations, a different cut of a film screened earlier, with the same musical material … I felt like I could have talked for an hour before or after each set to prepare peoples’ eyes and ears and involve them in all the decisions we were making, struggling with, experimenting with – but it wasn’t a lecture, so hopefully they were able to figure some of that out on their own.
The biggest thing I’m wresting with, given this new information of trying some of the music live with projection (and only 8 of the 15 musicians), is the need to rein in some of the freedom I want to instinctively give to the musicians, so these pieces can be constrained by the length of the films. My impulse is to let things go where they need to musically, when a section is meant to be open-ended and things are cooking. But I have to always keep an eye on time passing… so that balance is something I’ll be grappling with … the music needs to breathe, but also needs to fill a pretty specific container.
header photo: Charles Smith / subsequent photos: Michael Zelner
This Friday from 6:30-8:30pm, I”ll be joined by Konrad, Alfonso and seven Glorious Ravage musicians for a work-in-progress event at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. This is part of the museum’s weekly Friday Nights series–admission is free–and we will open up our process of connecting with these brand-new films and also pretty new music, to the public, with people milling about and hanging out in the galleries. We’ll play four 20-minute sets, workshopping new material as we go, combining improvisations inspired by the museum’s spaces with excerpts of musical compositions that will be part of Glorious Ravage.
.. from Alfonso, an avid cyclist himself, who was inspired by Annie Londonderry’s bike ride across the continent:
…from Konrad, who visited the site of the Paiute battlegrounds near Pyramid Lake, in researching the life and experiences of the incredible Paiute woman Sarah Winnemucca:
… from Kathleen Quillian, who has gone deep into the natural world to excavate a series of hand-cut animations that explore the far-off locales visited by our lady naturalists, this one inspired by the botanical illustrator Marianne North:
… from Janis Crystal Lipzin, who has been combining her own footage and photos of the Arctic Circle with that of Louise Arner Boyed, Marin socialite and Arctic explorer – who also took some stunning photographs and fascinating video on her several polar trips:
Part two of my Headlands Center for the Arts residency wrapped up in late June – we had the largest group rehearsal yet up here, with Dina Maccabee joining from the East Coast, and Vinny Golia driving up from LA with a van full of obscure and extraordinary wind instruments.
Two weeks here just flew by this time, since it was a serious period to solve some musical problems and have a chance to workshop some ideas with the band. Late at night working in this cavernous barn of a studio, it was just me and the wind (the wind!) and the field mice just going about our business, hours flying by – and then the dark coyote-filled walk back to the house in the dead of night. Such an intense and immersive experience.
Also had a super fun photo shoot with Myles Boisen to create some promo artwork for the premieres, and spent the day with him tromping around in the greenery – all the while wearing the Victorian riding outfit Kathleen Quillian sewed for one of her animations, and also – get this! – a prosthetic bun and pompadour so I could fake a decent Victorian silhouette. The strange things we do for our art. I still have both prostheses if anyone needs to borrow them.
Alfonso and I headed to the Berkeley Hills to meet up with another new friend of the project, Yvonne Hagemann, a lovely woman who invited us into her home and consented to collaborate with us sight unseen (!). Alfonso filmed Yvonne writing out excerpts of Ida Pfeiffer’s travelogue to California (A Woman’s Second Journey Round the World) longhand, in the original German, with an ink bottle and quill pen. Then I recorded some audio of the fantastic cadences of her native German as she read from the original published text in its first German edition.
For Glorious Ravage, Kathleen Quillian is creating four hand-animated “postcards” from some of the faraway places in our Victorian lady heroines’ travels. Here’s a sneak preview of one piece of an animation she is creating about Isabella Bird – who famously made her own riding outfit so she could ride a horse straddled like a man would. The thing about Kathleen and why she is insane and amazing is, she sewed the riding outfit pictured here herself, from bolts of fabric and a vintage pattern – got her sister-in-law to pose in it, then Photoshop-ed the photo into this image you see here with a de- and re-constructed, and soon-to-be-animated, horse. Do you have any idea how much time and energy and thought went into this one image, let alone the hundreds that make up one of her animations? Astounding!
Super productive and inspiring first rehearsal in San Diego with the southern-most members of the ensemble – Mark Dresser, Kjell Nordeson, Michael Dessen, Nicole Mitchell – plus a visit with Mr. Golia up in Valencia. Apparently I’m not the first person to ask Vinny if I can come over and see just what all his instruments can do….. apparently, the answer is, a lot. New information – I prefer the wood contralto clarinet to the metal one, the bass flute is just as gorgeous as I remembered it, and the Basset horn is really an odd and interesting character.
With our new pal Rebecca Weinstein as our guide, Alfonso and I visited with collector and historian John Weiss at his Piedmont home this weekend, and had our minds blown.
John is a bicycle enthusiast, collector of CA Gold Rush-era and early 20th Century photos and ephemera, and all-around fascinating and generous person who invited us into his home to explore his collection and its potential connection with our research for Glorious Ravage.
He has photos, paintings, magazine covers, cigar box labels, prints, posters, engravings, stereoviews of people riding every kind of bike that has existed since the early 1800s… and also provided photos and research for Annie Londonderry’s biography that Alfonso and I latched onto early in our research.
Alfonso was giddy with all the bike imagery and history. Most compelling to me was John’s collection of “pictorial letter sheets” from the Bay Area around 1850… basically, printed letter-writing stationery that came with gorgeous, meticulous engravings of maps, scenes of Gold Rush towns and mining life.
Some of the maps and texts are so fascinating, I am inspired to use them in one of the songs for this piece, as lyrics and as visual information to inform a musical graphic score.