I keep thinking about how much happened with so few materials in Greg Stuart’s performance of Michael Pisaro’s a transparent gate with six panels last Thursday at Elastic. It’s by no means the first time that has happened in Stuart’s and Pisaro’s ongoing collaboration. (On that subject, I just found a lovely review of ricefall (2) here.) The sounds were quite understated. It seemed like they were barely articulated. I watched as many of them were played, but I had this consistent thought that each sound had been there in the midst of the live performance before it was actually produced. Its presence in the recorded tracks doesn’t go far to explain this reaction for me. The playing was incredibly unobtrusive–just there, as it needed to be.
Pisaro describes the setup succinctly: “The task was to create an eight-channel work, employing a set of small speakers that can be spread on a stage as an environment for a percussionist.” Stuart played five different instruments, one in each 10-minute section, until the sixth section, when there was some mix of the instruments. The pushes and pulls of the durations, how they could stretch and contract in perception, were fascinating to me. Some felt quite long and others quite short. Only once in my experience of the performance did 10 minutes feel like it might have actually been 10 minutes, though I’m sure everything happened as promised.
Pisaro and Stuart make a real commitment to each type of sound, and delve into it as its own universe. The live sound against the recorded and manipulated sounds of each of these instruments is parallel to a present/past relationship–the relation of a sound to (another version of) itself. I’ve been thinking quite a lot on this track since the performance because of my own circumstances that evening. It was the first day of my first visit to Chicago in two years, after having been at school here from 2003-2007. As I drove around and saw the street signs, revisited old haunts, talked with old friends, the pair of questions that kept recurring in various forms was, what am I now and what was I then? Don’t worry, I won’t try to puzzle it through in this post. I’m just pursuing the analogy. Being back in a city rich with reminders of the past highlighted the relationship between past and present. I’m considering it in ways that I never had before. I can (just barely) articulate some of those relationships, and others are just powerful impressions. I suspect that the impressions I can’t express will stay with me the longest.
It’s a similar dilemma with this post. The experience I had of this piece was a powerful one, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to put into words. Much of the power of it, for me, comes from the reduction of materials, and the degree of care taken with and attention paid to each. The rubbing of a sound against another version of itself, the pursuit of those small differences in space, in timbre, in pitch, opens up a microcosmos. Pisaro writes in the program notes of “the sense of multiple worlds penetrating each other without however coming into physical contact,” and of “the necessity of accepting flow and change.” The sounds themselves seem to barely be there–but they shine a bright light on the inner life of the listener.