Recorded October 2011, The Banff Centre. The mixing process is ongoing. This is a work in progress.
This recording project was the culmination of a series of fortunate accidents and snap decisions. It employed a hands-on-hips creative attitude that I learned from western films and jazz musicians, one that squints at uncertainty and says: “Hmmmm,” knowing that something can always be created out of two ingredients: The immediate moment, and an idea.
Leading up to 2011’s Wordfest and Banff Summit Salon, both of which I was attending as a featured artist, I was in communication with vocalist Malcolm Mooney. We tossed about the idea of booking recording time. What did we plan to record? Neither of us could say, though we were certain it would be an unspecified spontaneous vocal experiment. Malcolm proposed our experiment to The Banff Centre’s Director of Literary Arts, Steven Ross Smith. Steven was instrumental in coordinating our recording.
During Wordfest we met poet/singer/songwriter Tanya Davis and percussionist Luis “El Pana” Tovar, both of whom we invited to contribute to the session.
As the time for the session approached, the Occupy movements were reaching their peak. 2011 was exploding into an unrehearsed international communications extravaganza. From the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, dissatisfaction with economic inequality, corporate greed, and oppressive political regimes was being articulated. These articulations were being made across languages, national boundaries, and cultures. Some media observers complained that the Occupy protesters were exclusively focused on what they didn’t want. They had no clear agenda and weren’t able to achieve consensus. This may have been true, but it ignored the ferment and creative potential in disorder, the chance connections that can be made between ideas, the miraculous accidents. It also over-emphasized the idea that our present situation is indeed orderly.
As we entered the studio, an idea for unrehearsed poly-vocal performance germinated. The performance wouldn’t be in any dominant, or even discernible, language. I had lately been inserting gibberish into my own oral performances, and had been experimenting with moments of incoherence – incoherence in the sense of lacking any language-based meaning but also in terms of lacking musical fluency – no perceptible pattern. When we got into the studio our sound engineer was Tyler Fitzmaurice. It turned out that we had several acquaintances in common, as well as an interest in various types of sound-art.
We recorded three pieces which we were then calling “conversations.” Our aim was to have genuine conversations among three voices, albeit with all voices speaking gibberish and all speaking at once. Luis, the percussionist, would become the fourth voice. When we started recording, we discovered that Tanya’s voice naturally occupied the higher register, mine the mid, and Malcolm’s the low. Luis’ percussion anchored the work in a rhythmic grammar, and emphasized what we know about drums: they talk.
Included in this issue of boulderpavement is one of the works we recorded. It is a work in progress. It is still being ruminated upon and subjected to the manipulations and mojo-operations of the mixing process. It may seem odd to record an abstract sound-noise-work in a moment of cultural upheaval and explicit conflict between rich and poor, but I am fond of work that dares to do. I mean that I could have written a protest poem or recited a lyric that identified the enemy and inspired a moral victory, but I would rather record an attempt to do the same thing the protesters were doing, an attempt to genuinely communicate in the moment, in spite of differences of artistic practice, language, culture, conviction, personality, etc. I would rather record something steeped in the cacophony, accident, dissonance, experiment, contest, fleet time, grace, and uncertainty of the world.