Sunday, April 26, 2015

"Embodied" for audience and orchestra

I recently submitted a text score to a traditional orchestra for the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute. The art is not in the proposed performance but in the review of the score by its "panel of prominent composers." The call for submissions specifies "works with electronic elements will be considered on a case-by-case basis." It's 2015, people!

So I call for musicians onstage to be separated by gender identity; partway through, all the white players exit, leaving their instruments and setting fire to kindling beneath a trough of water at the stage's edge. I instruct sections of the orchestra to play (passages of individual choice) or silence by gesturing from the audience. I interpret the audience through my body. This is hierarchy, racism, sexism, body essentialism, and climate change balled up in one dangerous, noisy motion.

The icing on the cake was a required recommendation letter "from a composition teacher or music professional" -- as of composers survive by being in school or racking up performance expenses. Here's an excerpt from mine, by Dan Schwartz, a percussionist coworker at the Exploratorium:

"As a professional multi-instrumentalist who has performed everywhere from Tanglewood to IRCAM to the Slut Dungeon, I have never felt more connected to or exhilarated by a single piece of music than when destroying a telephone during a performance of one of Li’s works. Cracking the shell, the interface, excited my salivary glands. Memories of the last time I had lobster. The fumes. The steam. The exhilaration of dropping it live into the boiling pot. Then prying out the buttons with a flat-head screwdriver. The splitting crack as sockets released their organs. [...] When we are thrown into a situation where we are allowed to realize our one shared desire: to go [expletive removed] ourselves. Omphalos."

Thanks, Dan. We wish we could be with the panel as they read our work. Distributive performance art forbids it, alas.

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