Enter, Manure Monster: Externalizing the Voice

Wednesday, May the 15th

One of the collective aims for the Living Machine is for Sonja, Michael and I to work in closer interdisciplinary communication throughout the entire process of production.  In accordance with this aim, I have been planning music and performance workshops that relate thematically to other workshops happening in the same day or week.  Sonja’s design plan for Wednesday, May the 15th was to continue constructing the visual ‘peep-shows’, or pop-up books, that we started a couple of weeks ago.  This theme led to me to the question of how a ‘peep-show’ might be translated into music or physical performance.

Last week we started to investigate the voice as a collection of physical objects, or a series of psycho-physical relationships.  This theme stemmed from Michael’s desire to prioritize object over idea, and from the theme of ‘curio-shop’ that has appeared several times during participant-facilitator conversations. We drew pictures of what we imagine our voices look like, and then we added colours that represented points of tension or release.  Following the drawing exercise, we brainstormed for words that described these feelings of tension and release, and we translated the words into onomatopoeic sounds.  We were left with some beautiful drawings, as well as a collection of words and sounds.

A ‘peep-show’ brings to mind a something that normally isn’t seen because it is grotesque or fantastical, or because there are cultural taboos against it (ie. nakedness and overt sexuality).  A ‘curio-shop’ is also a form of peep-show, in that it displays objects that are simultaneously terrifying and enticing.  Building on last week’s theme of investigating the physical voice, I thought that we could regard the voice as something that we don’t normally witness.  If the voice were seen outside of the body, it would be grotesque.  As a performance activity, I thought that we could create some physical/auditory characterizations of our voices, building on our theme and also creating characters to work with later on.

I started the workshop with a vocal warm-up, followed by a ten-minute sit, and then we moved straight to movement exercises.  We began by walking around the room, relaxing our bodies and allowing our arms to swing freely.  A new member of our group is in an electric wheelchair, so she made large gestures with her arms and upper-body, while wheeling about the room.  I instructed the participants to make an arm-gesture that described the word, ‘globe’, which came from last week’s list of ‘release’ words.  Immediately, the participants began to say the word in a soothing manner, while making gentle, slow motions with their hands.  With the new instruction they stopped walking, and we came to stand in a circle.  Click the ‘play’ button to listen:

After the word, ‘globe’, I asked participants to create a gesture based on a fusion of ‘globe’ and ‘pool’.  The word that emerged was ‘glopool’ – a fast, jagged enunciation of ‘glo’, followed by a slower, smoother enunciation of ‘pool’:

We then worked with the words, ‘manure’, and ‘jagged’, both taken from the list of ‘tension’ words:

Following this, I created a drop-in scenario and we tried it out with different sound-creatures:

All of the participants are quite good at creating gestures that go along with sounds.  The challenge comes in creating a clearly diverse set of gestures, and also in creating more variance between sounds.  I’ve noticed that participants tend to create stunning gestures and voice performances on their first try, but then they want to continually repeat the gestures or certain aspects of the sounds.  This is a fairly typical challenge, in my individual practice and in my teaching/facilitation – it is hard to let go of something good.  I would like to find ways of communicating my intention so that each new sound-gesture carries very little residue from the one preceding it.

At the end of this workshop, I started to teach the group, ‘John Barleycorn’, which was the first song that came to mind.  Ideally, I would like to work on both music and performance within a workshop, but I don’t think that I can explore either activity very far if I try to split them within an hour (which includes meditation and a warm-up).  Starting next week, I will be hosting two workshops per/week, with Mondays devoted to music and Wednesdays devoted to theatre-based activities.  There is a possibility that this will attract new participants, because people interested just in music may not feel comfortable in the performance workshops, and vice-versa.

– RB

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About lilman

Leftist Cowboy.
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