Nobody likes being put into a box – there’s something existentially horrifying receiving an email entitled something like “thought you might find this interesting” with a link to a website or article, only to find the sender was right – I do find it interesting! – am I that predictable? I think if I ever wrote an autobiography it would consist solely of the links contained in these types of emails – a portrait of how other people perceive me.
So there’s something similarly scary about Jennifer Walshe’s New Discipline moniker, most comprehensively laid out in the May 2016 issue of Musiktexte (http://musiktexte.de/MusikTexte-149/en). Walshe says:
“The New Discipline” is a term I’ve adopted over the last year. The term functions as a way for me to connect compositions which have a wide range of disparate interests but all share the common concern of being rooted in the physical, theatrical and visual, as well as musical; pieces which often invoke the extra-musical, which activate the non-cochlear. In performance, these are works in which the ear, the eye and the brain are expected to be active and engaged. Works in which we understand that there are people on the stage, and that these people are/have bodies.”
However, if one ignores the fear of being so easily categorizable, one of the great things about this type of genre-coining and artist-grouping, is that by putting everything in one place, it allows you to find out about people whose work you really should already be familiar with – for me, one of those people was Kara Feely.
The first example given of artists working in this genre, listed in the paragraph following the quote above, is Object Collection (http://www.objectcollection.us), the Brooklyn-based group run by Kara Feely and Travis Just. In Feely’s article in the same Musiktexte issue (http://musiktexte.de/WebRoot/Store22/Shops/dc91cfee-4fdc-41fe-82da-0c2b88528c1e/MediaGallery/Feely.pdf), she describes four concerns of her work: JUNK, VIRTUOSITY, OVERLOAD and WRONG – ideas which seem to be fully at play in her work for Object Collection.
But wait – full disclosure – I’ve never seen any of Feely’s work live and as Walshe points out, in this type of work “we understand that there are people on the stage, and that these people are/have bodies” – and Feely’s work seems to demand this live experience. This is one of the reasons we wanted to programme it, as well as there being something palpably exciting about some of the concepts and ideologies that occur in Object Collection’s vast output of operas that they’ve been creating since 2005 e.g. their latest opera It’s All True which consists of cut-up transcriptions of between-song “random bits of noise and chit-chat” taken from over 1000 hours of live concert recordings of a single post-hardcore band and “none of the songs”:
Wait, let me back up a bit more – I think I actually first came across Kara Feely’s work in the 2015 Experimental Music Yearbook (http://www.experimentalmusicyearbook.com/I-DIDN-T-REALLY-PREPARE-FOR-THIS-BUT-PROBABLY-THAT-IS-BEST) where the score of her piece I DIDN’T REALLY PREPARE FOR THIS BUT PROBABLY THAT IS BEST was featured. Not that I want to let facts get in the way of a good story. There was something beautiful about the thinking behind this piece – simple focused actions, layered over the top of each other, with an implicit tension built into the actions, as the score asked performers to :
“execute an everyday, mundane, household activity that is difficult to do quietly, as quietly as possible. The task can be executed very slowly, or repeated, in order to fill the time. The goal is to make as little noise as possible, but still execute the task.”
Kara Feely’s I DIDN’T REALLY PREPARE FOR THIS BUT PROBABLY THAT IS BEST
In a lot of ways it seems that the video above doesn’t seem to quite do the work justice as, in her essay in Musiktexte, Feely talks about the role of visual saturation and the agency of watching:
“Object Collection pieces are frequently an unrelenting, diffuse mass of sweaty actors moving furniture, rummaging through piles of debris, and looking impenetrably at the audience; musicians counting off on the side, ping pong balls in one hand, an instrument in the other; and lots and lots (and lots) of stuff. What is an audience member supposed to do when there’s too much to watch? I’ve always found this situation comforting, because when there is too much to watch, you get to choose what to watch. Getting to choose what to watch gives you agency, and thereby actives
how you watch. Nobody is going to process the piece in the same way, because nobody is going to be watching the same thing.”
Weirdly, this echoes some of Ferneyhough’s thinking behind the density of his own music (although probably with less ping pong balls), and perhaps explains why there are so few Object Collection videos online – video reduces viewing agency, it shows you how and where to watch, reducing the chaos.
Two of the works being performed at Weisslich tonight – New Names Not New Things (2011) and HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THE FIRES OF BROOKLYN (2012) – were included in Object Collection‘s New York Girls performance (http://www.objectcollection.us/projects/new-york-girls/ performance) and along with the work Map Piece I’ll be excited to finally experience this work with real bodies in a real space.