Synesthesia 2

Cross-modal improvisation performance for four people

Page created 22 March 2009, idea documented in blog 6 February 2009.

This is a larger-scale version of the synesthesia game. It is an exploration of the ways that we think and experience in different modes and media, building on associative links between movement, music, visual art and words. Can you picture a piece of music? What about playing music in response to a picture? How would you interpret a painting in movement? There is a logical association between words and both pictures and music, but how do words work in dialogue with  movement?  Potential points of confluence among the four modes include emotion, colour, rhythm, and sense/’meaning’. I’m sure there are more.

Process note: The idea for this piece originally came from the experience between waking and dreaming (theta state), in which impressions including music, words, and images suddenly emerge into awareness together, without any conscious control.

Synesthesia 2 is conceived as a performance piece with four people lined up across the stage:

  1. creator of sounds/music
  2. creator of movement/dance
  3. creator of visuals/painting
  4. creator of words/poetry/narrative

The piece opens with ‘Theta State’, in which one person talks the audience through a description of three brain wave states: beta (rapid – ordinary consciousness), alpha (slower – relaxed, meditative), and theta (slowest – taps into the creativity of the unconscious). As the piece progresses, the rhythm of speech and body movement mirrors the slowing down of the brain waves from one state to the next, with a near-hypnotic effect. The intent is to put the audience as well as performers into a relaxed and receptive state of mind. This takes about two or three minutes, after which the performance proper begins.

Process note: We tried this for the first time at the first Surrealist Salon and I was amazed at how effective it was. People were slumped on the settee by the end of it. It helped to have the guitar mimic the slowing down of the rhythms.

The performance proper begins as one person initiates a theme in their mode – plays a line of music, paints a few strokes, says a line of words, or makes a movement. Then another person picks up the thread and elaborates on it in a different mode. This could include repeating or reinterpreting it, amplifying it, extending it in a new direction. The improvisation bounces back and forth among the participants.

At certain points, there could be simultaneous  multiple responses building to a crescendo. At other points, two of the performers may change positions and modes, so that a painter might start to dance, or a musician might start to say lines of poetry. There may be ‘plants’ in the audience, people who are actually part of the troupe but seated among the regular audience members. At a certain point, a performer on stage swaps positions with the ‘plant’. The audience may or may not realise that the person coming up on stage has been prepared in advance.  If the audience is receptive enough, there is scope for authentic audience members to swap roles with performers on stage if they wish, making it truly interactive.

Preparation: This piece cannot be rehearsed as such, since it is an improvisation. However, in order to do this, the group will work together to practice and build up a collective language and group coherence. I estimate that it would take at least four practice sessions. The themes and details of implementation will emerge from the practice sessions – they can’t be dictated in advance by any one person. Cues will be worked out for how to transfer the performance from one to the other. The ideas for themes that are worked out in practice can then be drawn upon in the actual performance, so that we aren’t starting from a complete void.

Implementation: Details of implementation will be worked out by the group. Depending on what the artist(s) want to do, it could be a large sheet of paper (fabric?) on which something is painted with a big brush so that the audience can see it, or it could be something on a smaller scale with a camcorder and projection on the wall at the back of the stage. The words person could either just speak, or write and then read, or type, or speak and then be transcribed for data projection. We’ll have to see what works best – I’m thinking that simpler is probably better. The music and movement people just do their thing.  I’m picturing the guitar on the left, words person on the right with the artist and dancer in the middle, but that might change. Details are to be worked out collectively by the group.

Process note: Where I am at the moment is trying to assemble an appropriate group of interested people, for possible performance in early summer.

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