From nothing, a process of making
performance works in collaboration with Soheila Azadi, Jason Charney, and Jenna Lyle
Defibrillator Gallery, Chicago
This project began some time in Spring 2016 as a way to seriously think through Helmut Lachenmann’s work Dal niente, one of the landmark pieces by German composer and theorist written in 1970 and from which our ensemble derives its name. (Dal niente translates to “from nothing”, a musical direction that tells the performer to control their instrument’s sound to emerge from silence into being.) Having a secondary title Intérieur III (Interior III), he was particularly interested in externalizing an internal process, or enabling the listener an opportunity to understand how his sounds were being constructed. Revealing the man behind the curtain, Lachenmann’s Dal niente is a work that points to the instrument as a “filter for the player’s breath as controlled by the composition and its interpretation.” In this work, he wanted us to hear the body before the instrument and to recognize that the sounds heard would always be different based on which body was performing them. For Lachenmann, he wanted us to recognize who that person was behind the curtain, and to allow us to always be mindful of their presence.
Drawing from this work as a point of departure, I began to consider how the breath could be activated aside from its mere recognition. I wanted the breath to have agency in a way that Lachenmann’s gestures of reveal couldn’t and to enable the breath as having its own theoretical potential. I didn’t just want to point to it – I wanted it to drive how new work could be made and to allow the breath to unfold processes of exchange embedded within the physiology of our collective bodies. The breath needed to take up space in ways that hadn’t yet been acknowledged. In this process, I wanted the breath to be a material and a metaphor, a poetic ephemeral thing that foregrounded process as an ongoing (though limited) method for making. Merely audible, yet immediately intimate, the sound of the breath was a way that enabled a strategy to open different situations of proximity and relation. Presence has been reestablished in its hearing, and in that hearing, we have begun to materialize the ongoing process of being, of becoming, and of sustaining.
Here, the embedded exchange inherent in the breath became a way of working and developing new work with the aid of another. Apart from musical models of commissioning, this project was an attempt to rupture the dichotomy of performer and composer and to restructure relationships in a truly collaborative fashion. The artists I chose to work with were invited into a collaboration that enabled us the space to build and develop different and unique ways of working. We were charged to make different works that catered to our mutual interests and initiate something that was in many ways shared but emerged from our own individual practices. While my own history as a clarinet player highly influenced the initiation of this project, specifically as I worked through Lachenmann’s Dal niente, there were no limitations as to how these works could be materialized, performed, or executed. With the audible breath featured prominently in all of these works performed tonight, the physiological form of gaseous exchange (aka, the breath) allowed for the acknowledgement and necessity of another in a process of making ephemeral experiences.