Thursday, November 23, 2017

Soft Red / Hard White

Photo by Ruta Nichols/Harcourt House

I had the chance to be a part of: Soft Red / Hard White by Jen Mesch. Jen is an Artist in Residence at the Harcourt House and created an installation that also has a live performance component to it. Jen embroidered graphic scores which are interpreted by the musicians and dancers to create a live improvised performance that is different every time it appears in the space. Explore this link to learn more about the different film, dancers, musicians, and scores.

Soft Red / Hard White was thrilling to be a part of with its experimental and collaborative rehearsals. Jen described her creation process and allowed the dancers and musicians to look in the close detail at her embroidery and sketches. We mused over the soft reds and hard whites in hand-made paper books and embroidered fabric. I watched with interest as each dancer would give different versions of their solos. They each had a red paper cut with symbols and their initials to inform their movement. It was also the same template for an accompanying musician to work with as well as responding to the live movements. Each dancer was challenged to expand or condense their movements into different time spans during the rehearsal process. During the dress rehearsal, we had a 45 min period where we had the chance to have dancers and musicians continuously responding to different scores. These scores come from rooms in the abandoned pioneer house installation which are then hung outside the house for the musicians and dancers to interpret. Meanwhile, audience members are free to move through the live performance space and visit some rooms inside the installation.

As a musician, it has been an incredibly freeing process to not be constrained by prescriptive scores that dictate everything from tempo, text, and volume, to sung vowels. Although that is the training and format I grew up with, and I do seek a certain amount of comfort in being told what I need to do, I am always looking for a challenge to go outside of my comfort zone. Vocal improvisation is definitely in the realm of challenge. On opening night, I found I was singing a sweeping minor melody that clearly wanted to be sung even though I have never sung those particular notes in that succession before. It was a musical motif cycling in my mind that wished to be expressed at that point in time. In the following days while I was warming up, I used that same lingering vocalise from opening night. There was also the welcome challenge of experimenting with how many vocal and non-vocal sounds I could produce with my vocal tract as a singing musician. Glottal fry, subtle I.P.A. vowel transitions, and overtone singing were some techniques I was playing with during the performance.

I look forward to performing once again in the Gallery. If you are free tomorrow, the last live performance of this work will be on at Harcourt House from 7-9 PM. There is no admission fee and there will even be prosecco and cookies. If that is not the best drink and treat pairing I have heard of to date, I don't know what is.

The Main Gallery . October 5 – November 25, 2017
Harcourt House Artist Run Centre, 3rd floor, 10215 – 112 St, Edmonton

Photo by Jack Bawden