I enjoyed your show at Carter & Citizen and with luck (and a little focus on my part) I will make it back for a performance. I have to say that I was taken aback by the action of the breast pump. Um, I never supposed it would so… arousing and even otherwise attractive. Arousing first because the video so closely matches the movement and look of man, but – and this is the curious part – still kinda sexy once I recognized what was going on. Nice! Thanks for confusing me!
Can you tell me some of how you relate this work to music? Does the action dictate a score? Can a score direct the action?
Finally, congratulations. Good show.
Your questions have been really great prompts for me to connect some dots throughout my recent history- so thank you for providing this platform!
So, how does this work relate to music?
Discussions with Natilee Harren, a close friend, have been hugely influential. For the last 6 years we have been discussing her research on Fluxus scores- from Glass to Brecht- and I became interested in these histories and artists. In fact, my first public performance in 2007 was Brecht’s “Drip Music” (“a source of water and an empty vessel are arranged so that water falls into the vessel”). My interpretation of the score had my body, facedown, on cool concrete, breathing/drooling into a pillow until the “water” covered the surface area of my face (about 15-20 mins). And, interestingly enough, just last week during a studio visit with Natilee, while looking at several series of photograms made with plastic and breast milk, we discussed the choreography involved in making multiple pictures in succession in complete darkness (and of course the relevancy of terms such as “chance procedures”, “drawings,” “variations,” “multiples,” ect.).
In my video and performance work, generally concerned with embodiment (conflation of self and other) and mediation (via the camera and/or instruments), I push for a technological embrace. There’s a Merleau-Ponty passage I often think about in which he writes that the body “applies itself to space like a hand to an instrument”…
In July 2010, with a video titled “lullaby,” my work took a turn towards an examination of the maternal body, but also towards music associated with child-rearing (a knee pulled into a chest resembles an infant’s head and the subject hums while slowly rocking her clasped knee). The lullaby reference remains vague because the video is shown without sound (and hardly soothing because of contracting neck muscles). In this case, the action dictated the score, but the score was displaced. I started to work with the lullaby from this video in other sound pieces- when played backwards it still felt vaguely familiar, like a national anthem or a solemn lullaby.
When I first showed the breast pump video last December for UCLA reviews I was also working on an experimental performance piece with several violinists, hired with minimal instruction of Craig’s List. In this piece, I asked the violinists to come in at different times during reviews and improvisationally and repetitively perform pre-performance maintenance rituals (stringing/tuning/cleaning instrument) and nervous ticks (tapping/pacing with instrument) for hours on end. I wanted to draw a connection between these mundane rituals of the violinist with her instrument to activities a mother might perform with her infant in a public waiting room, on the periphery of another kind of performance.
One violinist decided to tune using the first few notes of the melody emanating from the sound piece in my studio. After hearing this melody, already mediated several times over by myself digitally and then mediated through another body and yet another instrument, it became clear that there was potential for a cross-over between the two pieces. The title, “sonata,” refers to a piece of music for one (or two) instruments (breast pump/violin). Taking cues from the formal parameters of a sonata in music, there are several “movements” of this video (thus far, I have completed only two- a silent movement, and a movement with a violin score). And, as you may have guessed, movement also refers to, well, food passing through a body.
So, back to your questions-
Does the action dictate a score?
Can a score direct the action?
In “sonata,” each movement, with it’s own score or non-score, is to some degree dictated by the action of the breast pump. In the case of “theme and variations (for solo violinist and breast pump),” the performance now on view and in development since May 2011, the relationship between action and score is harder to pin down, as it is in flux. First, there’s the theme melody, which is the melody from “sonata, second movement,” which anchors the score. Secondly, there is a sound track of variations produced by a breast pump. This track is fixed and serves as a prompt to the violinist to play certain variations- when the pump sound changes, the violinist moves to the next variation of the theme melody. There is also the score itself to consider. The theme melody is written out as musical notes and the breast pump sound track is written out as a time-stamp next to the titles of the variations. But, the variations themselves are only words/prompts for the musician. There are no fixed notes for the variations, so the score only directs the action to a point. The variations, echos, abstractions, and embellishments on the theme melody, are in constant flux from performance to performance, day to day.
Put simply, it seems to me that a score, musical or otherwise, is always dictated by some action (in this case, rocking, pumping, violin-playing, infant-rearing) and that the score, as it moves through bodies and time, can direct the action, but cannot predict the action.
I’d be stoked if you were able to catch a performance (or two, since there are variations each time). Seeing the performance piece should strengthen the analogies made here and in the exhibition-particularly around instrument-body-score.
Just in case, here’s the performance schedule:
Sept. 10th-Oct. 22nd
Tues-Thurs: 12:00/ 12:30pm
Fri-Sat: 12:00 / 12:30 / 1:30 / 2:00 / 3:00pm
“Yes, I was among the Craig’s List respondees to Kelly’s call for violinists to “perform preparation rituals” during her thesis reviews.” This from Morgan Paros, who went on to tell me, “I responded very physically to the thought of a nursing mother as a bit of an analogy for my own relationship to my instrument. It occurred to me that, like a mother with a child, I would never leave my violin unattended, I get a sense when there is ‘something wrong’ with the instrument – this is communicated to my body rather than to my brain and I will find myself worrying and running off to the violin shop for investigation and repairs.”
“As I practiced in public for the art piece, I considered these things and I went all meditative: I was listening to the pulse of the pump and I paced and tuned and cradled my violin and suddenly I found myself faced by the artist telling me that I’d been focusing for three hours and needed to stop. I had been in a zen-like state – not noticing my discomfort, my aching feet, present only with my violin and Kelly’s piece.” Morgan Paros told me that she felt a little bereft and wanted to keep going.
A curious relationship developed over the ensuing months – Kelly Kleinschrodt had been working toward performance and composition in this work and in Morgan Paron she found a violinist who trained at the Cleveland Institute of Music and who is confident enough to experiment. Paros takes the artist’s cues as challenges and her commitment to Kleinschrodt’s practice allows the artist’s ‘baby’ (her artistic creation) to develop in the surprising ways that a child might.
I strongly recommend that you visit during one of the performances. There is nothing quite like sitting or standing quietly in a small room while a musician plays. The sound of the breast pump – which underlays the performance and on which the player bases her variations – moved in and out of phase, I’d recognize a beat and then it would split or reverse. As the piece moved through its eleven small movements, Paros’ variations played with that pulse and I felt like I was listening to classical violin wed to Steve Reich or Terry Riley’s pulse.
For violin-related fun, in coming weeks we’ll hear violinist Janine Jansen play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (LA Phil), and the Lyris Quartet playing Philip Glass String Quartet No. 5 (Jacaranda), and if you wait until April you can hear Leila Josefewicz playing John Adams Violin Concerto!! I swear you will just die and go to heaven. Also LA Phil.
All the while, I’ll be thinking about Kelly Kleinschrodt, Morgan Paros, motherhood, milk, the dangerous intricacies of developing a personal investment in performance, and crazy things like Mary Kelly’s early motherhood work, John Cage’s chance music, and how cool it is that I see a woman present work that doesn’t allow one to look away from female facts and acts: sexual, self-gratifying, nurturing, bearing discomfort, giving birth, demanding attention. That Kleinschrodt mixes this all up with music vastly complicates things and just makes my day.
There’s more you’ll see while you are in the gallery – objects, photographs, the installation. Ask for a copy of the conversation between Kleinschrodt and Natilee Harren – the two have enlightening things to say.
Carter & Citizen website
Carter & Citizen is at 2648 La Cienega Avenue, Los Angeles, 90034.
You nice people visiting from out of town are likely to find this gallery right away, and there is plenty of street parking! You will be using GPS or a driver or Google Maps and won’t be confused like your Angeleno/a friends who will tell you, “Oh. La Cienega. I know right where that is. Just follow me!” And off they will lead you to La Cienega Boulevard – “the art-filled street of dystopia” that leads generally from West Hollywood at the mountains, down through Culver City, south to LAX and whatever else. In LA we each have our own geographic lacunae.
(If you are visiting, challenge your LA friends with the question “Why is your city so divided?”)