Often when I engage in a conversation about what I do, the topic of music comes up. I'm frequently asked 'how I find music to make dance to', which is hard to answer since I so rarely work that way.
My process typically begins with making movement based on thought; the generated material is soundless, or danced over something minimal to set a general tone. When I start this way I can clarify what I'm trying to say and determine how I can then use sound to develop and enhance the idea. I often end up either making the piece some sort of sonic environment to live inside, or listening to music endlessly - live, recorded, recommended by friends, stumbled upon by accident - to find a fitting match. This is not to say I don't ever work narratively with music, it's just less common in my methodology. When I do work from music, I gravitate towards work with certain character of its own that demands I create movement to it - it often feels like my current Bach piece choreographs itself - or I opt to work alongside a composer to make dance that compliments music and vice versa.
However there is a third way music comes into my work (and probably many more ways beyond that), which is music as strictly early-phase inspiration. I experienced this to a new level of intensity over the last several months.
In the early days of planning for Spektrel I was lucky enough to get to join the talented musicians of Jaggery on stage at the Museum of Fine Arts for a collaborative piece in their da Vinci inspired show. The opener was Rabbit Rabbit, a duo comprised of musicians Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi, and while at the time I was unfamiliar with their music, I was so quickly blown away by their gorgeous sound and lyrics. Towards the end of their set they played a song called Hush, Hush, and I fell in love on first listen. More importantly, the song catalyzed early ideas for a new work (coincidentally/tentatively already named rabbit hole cycles at the time) that had been slowly marinating in my brain.
Rabbit Rabbit's Hush, Hush is beautiful, an ambient acoustic lullaby that morphs into a creepy sing-song omen and then to terrifying rock ballad before returning to its original sound. Live, it was haunting, lush, devastating, lifting. (Possibly interesting to note: before I had the good fortune to be exposed to Rabbit Rabbit's Hush, Hush, I was struck by Timber Timbre's Run From Me - which also borders sweet and scary - as I thought about my new work.) Each transition to a new style in Hush, Hush is seamless, and unquestionably the right decision for where the lyrics wander. As for the lyrics, they paint very specific and familiar images through scenic metaphors; vague and yet incredibly universal glimpses into life. The music, words and flow to the song grabbed my interest in such an intense manner that I found myself painting mental pictures for several bits of the song. These in-head images started growing into the seeds of a warped piece that transpires across several separate worlds in the same stage space, like all of the events transpiring in one house, one life, that Rabbit Rabbit's Carla Kihlstedt sings of.
Now here's the weird part. After making a new piece that was so heavily fertilized by the composition, performance and overall feel of a song, there was no way I could use said-song in this piece (even if the artists obliged)! It is just too complete a creation of its own to think I could/should add anything to it. It should exist just as it is forever. Also, for all of the inspiration and thought Hush, Hush provoked, its sonic aesthetic didn't end up as the perfect fit for what I was making (I decided instead to utilize a lot of altered sound from varied environments to make a new world for this work).
While rabbit hole cycles has developed its own very specific identity as we explore, experiment and refine in the studio, I'm incredibly grateful to have snuck into the MFA audience before I danced that night as so much of the development of my new work is due to what my ears and brain took in in that seven minute song.
To the artists reading this post, how do YOU work with sound? What are your experiences of being heavily influenced by visual/auditory stimuli that aren't visible in your final product?
Side note: Take a minute to check out the musicians/groups mentioned above, maybe even more than a minute... I promise it'll be time well spent.