Last night I played a solo set at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center. After working on it and thinking about it nonstop for three months it all came together wonderfully at the end. This was most likely my only solo set of 2015. Here are a few thoughts as I look back at what happened…
Preparations – In the recent past I usually brought a box of preparations to the gig and would select which object to use as the improv developed. This would present too many choices and I would end up jumping from one preparation to the next. Also the audience might not be able to see what object I was using and the sound coming from my instrument would give no clue. On this gig I limited myself to only 3 preparations (a tin lid, a page of sheet music, a plastic cup) and suspended them from strings attached to a coat hanger to make a simple mobile. This was installed for all to see before I took the stage. This solved several problems. The three objects became familiar to the audience and they might have sensed that they were important (but they did not why or for what use). I had posted about 10 different photos of the mobile on my Facebook page starting a week before the performance. Each photo was in a different location and background. Because I had limited myself to only three preparations I could explore deeply the sonic possibilities within each. This reduction in material made all the difference in the world. The page of sheet music I selected was the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite #1, possibly the most well-known of all cello music. I could not help but wonder if anybody thought I was going to play it that night. I do practice it at home but I wanted to poke fun at the immense historical baggage associated with the instrument and at the same time find a new use for Bach as an object.
Disembodied Sounds – I wanted to present my version of the live laptop musician who sits motionless staring at the screen while sounds are emitted from speakers. When I see musicians perform in this way I can’t help but think “What is he/she actually doing? Are the sounds being creating or is a recording being simply played back? Could they be just checking their email?” I played the second track from my album “Studies and Observations of Domestic Shrubbery” thru the PA speakers while reading a newspaper and holding the cello. The newspaper was La Gazzetta dello Sport from July 5th 2006 when Italy has just won the World Cup semifinal against Germany. The track I played consists of five short events separated by longer silences. I sat motionless during the events and turned the pink pages during the silences. I made sure that the newspaper covered my face while I was reading so as to remove any performer presence that might distract from the music. Since this was a Cd release party I felt it fitting that I “perform” a piece from the album.
Silence – I made a big breakthrough last night regarding my comfort with the use of silence. The silences were many and they all felt relaxed instead of waiting nervously for the next sound event to start. There were moments when I felt the entire room being part of the composition. When I heard Sarah’s voice enter for the first time (“All known all white bare white body fixed one yard legs joined like sewn”) I was put at ease and I knew that all the sounds in the space were working together and the piece would unfold effortlessly. It has taken me several years to slowly erase the tendency to sonically fill the space when performing. It is easier to play than not to play when on stage. On this piece I considered the structure, which can be defined as “a function of event-density” (Dan Warburton), as an important element in addition to the material or sounds being used. I agree with Daniel Barbiero when he wrote “When we find ourselves listening to silence, we are in effect listening to listening”. This is something I always consider when performing nowadays.