Inuksuit has ended and the audience has spoken. It was spiritual, personal, and surprising. Performers are reflecting as well: eighth blackbird’s Yvonne Lam, who was in my group of conch/siren/metal/triangle players, seems to be positive that we upset the gods. I noticed that there was a rather serendipitous correlation to the amount of noise we were making in relation to the density of the rain pouring down on us. You can hear the various overtakings of the elements in the field recording of the performance above, courtesy of Andrew Crago. It’s both frustrating and liberating to recognize that no “definitive” recording of this piece can exist; if we are hearing documentation, we are merely hearing one perspective. Unlike a normally staged concert, Inuksuit is a soundscape that encourages physical interaction by mobility, both from the audience and the players. As a result, there is no best seat in the house, there is only the trail that you make for yourself.
Since I rarely get the chance to blog about being a performer, I thought I’d dole out a few observations from my side of the action:
-I spent most of the time on a concrete ramp just outside of the park, rubbing shoulders with passersby and curious (but not fully committed) onlookers. Being isolated from the more populated centers of musicians allowed for a more one-on-one interaction with audience members. For instance, as I moved towards my destination on the ramp, stopping to breathe through my conch shell, a little girl began to take notice of my choreography. She stopped walking with her friends to watch me as I inhaled while lifting the shell to the sky, then exhaled while bringing it to the ground. When I finished the gesture and began to count my rests, she quickly instructed me “do that again.”
-During another moment of silence in the section where I whacked a pot every minute or so, a woman came up from behind me to ask “what’s going on here?” She clearly did not realize that I was a performer, though even if she had, I’m not sure it would have stopped her from talking to me. I felt the need to maintain my “thoughtful” repose as we had been instructed, but I felt even worse ignoring the woman’s question. I answered as simply as I could: “it’s a musical performance.”
-Having nothing but a backpack of handheld instruments—as opposed to a full set of drums or cymbals—made it hard to distinguish myself from the audience. Especially from my location in the park where we all stood together, surveying the performance from a higher vantage point. But while my part afforded me as much silence as sound, I was still not able to give a true listener’s concentration to the music around me. When I wasn’t listening to others, I was counting my rests. When I was listening to others, it was to take cues and make sure I was on the right track. That was about it. I felt envious of those who after the performance told me it was transcendent, like nothing they had ever heard before. That’s not what I heard; I was mentally prepping for my seven-against-four rhythms or making sure my triangle wasn’t crescondoing too loudly.
Earlier in the summer, I recounted an eighth blackbird performance of Philip Glass’ Music In Similar Motion in which the players maintained their focus with a nearly robotic stance. After the concert, flutist Tim Munro explained that as a performer, giving your ears over to the beauty of the music at any point is deadly because it will most certainly result in a playing error. Their goal, he concluded, was to create that sonic magic for us, not for themselves. Therein lies the tradeoff between audience and musician.
-Fortunately, I was able to embrace the ambiguity between the two at the end of the performance, moving back to the center of the lawn where audience and musicians alike were scattered throughout. Now everyone seemed to carry themselves with that thoughtful repose, as if both listeners and performers had a responsibility to the present communal situation. But it loosened me up; I felt more comfortable turning my head to seek the last bits of glockenspiel and faraway piccolo rather than remaining stoic in my silence. For the final moments of the music, I was able to just be in the environment; be in Inuksuit.
Then the rain took over completely and the applause began. And people began to move around and compliment and thank one another, and crowds exited or hid under the bandshell, and drenched equipment was moved back and forth, in droves or in bits and pieces. And really, I didn’t get to say anything meaningful to anyone. It was like a giant graduation: the ceremonies had finally ended and it was impossible to wish everyone farewell, too crowded to find everyone you needed to—even those that you hadn’t spoken with, but had seen all day, had shared that momentous occasion with and now somehow felt something for them.
There’s just no way to conclude properly; the music ends and with it, the suspension of time.
I’ll be playing the above music with the above instrument today in Millennium Park. With nearly 100 other performers. And there will be over a hundred drums. And over a hundred cymbals. And birdsong.
John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit was written to be performed outside. Part of the concept is that this allows the music to blend in with the surrounding natural environment, if not activate it. Millennium Park will provide a peculiar atmosphere; a green landscape surrounded by the city’s skyscrapers.
There’s also a chance today that it might rain. Percussion gear safety aside, I think Adams would be pretty excited by that possibility. I know I am.
You can hear organizer Doug Perkins and eighth blackbird percussionist Matthew Duval discussing the piece and giving a bit of a demo here. They come in around 6:00:
We are excited to invite you to be a part of an incredibly exciting project this summer. On August 26th, 2012 eighth blackbird, New Music Chicago, and a consort of percussionists and musicians from around the Midwest (and the country) will come together in downtown Chicago’s…