So Percussion: Where (we) Live

by Eric Beach with Adam Sliwinski & Ain Gordon

For eight years, So Percussion has made our home in Brooklyn amid two million five hundred thousand others. In our city, each of the group’s four members has constructed a personal ecosystem we call home. These homes are bound by space, time, sound and image. Equally, these spaces house rewarding, frustrating, supporting, damaging, tangible and never understood relationships.

When we leave those homes, our four members unite to create another artistic home, with its own unspoken rules and expectations; its own rhythm of interaction, its own banalities and mystery. Where (we) Live questions all these homes by purposefully inviting the unknown to “come on over.” We’ve asked video artists, songwriters, painters, choreographers, directors and others to substantively alter our process. The resulting performance contains a society of possibilities: composed pieces, chance elements, visual associations, and theatrical interactions.

For the project, we assembled a diverse group of collaborators. Songwriter/guitarist Grey McMurray performs together with us and has written a series of songs about our homes. Combined with compositions from So Percussion, these songs are featured on the album of Where (we) Live. Video artist Martin Schmidt heightens our focus on ordinary elements, bringing us into different homes and framing the un-noticed. Choreographer Emily Johnson performs with us live, dictating secret instructions throughout the show by passing notes to the performers. Director Ain Gordon functions as a fifth voice in the decision-making process, threading the project’s purposefully diverse elements and desired resulting chaos into a portrait of something that cannot actually be “seen” – home.

A guest artist in each town also collaborates with us in a short residency. We seek out people who are good at what they do – be it a craftsperson, writer, visual artist, or some other kind of performer – discovered with the help of the presenter in each location. We welcome the unusual dialogue of the unexpected in these more immediate interactions, giving ourselves only one day in person to rehearse with and get to know this individual. Our hope is to harness the power of new friendships and impending performance to spawn a different type of creativity. And as a consequence, each performance is substantially different, while still clearly building from the same material.

The awarding of an NPN Creation Fund grant has proven vital to the creation of Where (we) Live, both through funding and through the extraordinary help of the three presenters who supported our application: The Walker Art Center, the Myrna Loy Center, and Vermont Performance Lab. We have substantial history with each of these presenters, spanning multiple performances and, in the case of the Myrna Loy Center, our last Creation Fund project Imaginary City. It is this history that allowed these presenters to trust our vision throughout what became the longest gestation process of any project we have ever created.

Each presenter that took part in our Where (we) Live Creation Fund contributed something above and beyond funding. Ed Noonan at the Myrna Loy took on the role of lead presenter, helped us to connect the group that came to support the project, and headed up communication with NPN and among the presenters. At Vermont Performance Lab, Sara Coffey provided us with an absolutely vital residency that included a recording of the music (in collaboration with Guilford Sound recording studio) and three work-in-progress performances, where we explored for the first time the role of the ‘guest artist’ in the show. And Philip Bither at the Walker Art Center provided us three extra days in their hall before the premiere as a final production residency to finalize ideas about lights, sound, and video. Together with a weeklong technical residency at Juniata College in Huntingdon, PA, these three presenters contributed the majority of the support for the launching of this project.

Our choice to collaborate with the Walker for the Forth Fund was made with an eye towards the future touring of the project. The Walker provided us with the expertise of their in-house videographer to document a performance of the live performance. They funded a three-camera video shoot for one of our performances as well as video of our community outreach,  still photography, and multi-channel recordings of both performances in Minneapolis. The material from the three-camera shoot was supplemented with on-stage shooting during our dress rehearsal that allowed for extreme close-up shots. Mixed together with the live performance footage and multi-track recording, we will produce a high quality live performance film as well as promotional materials that describe the project. This project has proven to be one of the most complex we have ever created, and as such it can be incredibly difficult to explain to people (especially potential presenters). These materials will make it much easier to share what the performance is about.

Our initial run of the show included dates at The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, The Myrna Loy Center in Helena, and The Alberta Bair Theater in Billings. The next performances will take place at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater from December 19th to the 22nd 2012. Further touring dates are in the works and will be confirmed soon.

Additional information about the project can be found at:  Photos by Gene Pittman

The Forth Fund is supported by the Andrew Mellon Foundation. The Creation Fund is supported in part by The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
October 2012

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