Posted by: Janice | February 4, 2008

Moving Music

I was very excited when classes started this week, because I knew that we would be going from the world of paintings to the world of music. Of all the different art forms, it has always been music that evoked the most direct, and physical, response in me. I could hardly wait to dive into the world of moving music.

What we ended up doing over the course of the week turned out to be a lot different than what I had expected. On Monday, we started off with Thomas, and he played us a Bartok orchestral piece, all dissonance and looming dread, a fountain that spiraled downward even as it erupted on the surface. Instead of asking us to move the music however, he asked us to think of the music as another presence in the space, and be moved by it. We did this exercise in groups, and honestly speaking, didn’t really quite get it. We either didn’t move, or, actually became the music in some parts. For me, I started out by thinking about where the music might be, where it is in the space, how it would move. Then I tried to be moved by it, to surrender control to it – but I found that I could not both think and be moved at the same time. So in the end I just gave in to the music, and somewhere along the way, I became the music instead.

Which turned out to be apt preparation for Michael’s class on Tuesday, in which he played us Michael Nyman’s “Memorial”. The music is grand and haunting, relentless, a taut mix of passion and will. We were to move the music as if we were the music itself – the insistent strides of double bass and cello, the strumming violas, the soaring violins. We took turns, trying out the different sections in groups. I volunteered for the middle section, the one that drummed like a heartbeat, and I was moving it, or at least I thought I was, until Michael came right up to me and said “Come on, you’re interpreting the music – listen, its not that fluid, is it?” Damn, I thought. I’d done it again, gone back to my old tricks. So I tried harder, throwing my body forward, literally throwing my pelvis and chest and heart and head, while my feet held me back, legs firmly planted on the ground, and suddenly it wasn’t me anymore, it was just my body, and it was trying to throw itself into space. And deep within me I felt this rage, this burning grief, a ferociousness that tore through my insides. I was so stunned by this outpouring of emotions that I couldn’t stop trembling, even after the improvisation was over. And though I was already exhausted, I volunteered to go up there a second time, to move the music alone, because I felt like I had started something, and I didn’t want to stop until I had finished going through it.

I lunged forward, over and over and over again, my body twisting, my arms reaching out. The rage and grief surfaced, and I could feel its power in my face, ricocheting along my skin, exploding down to the soles of my feet. It was a confrontation with the wild beast that lived in me, and for the first time, I saw its true nature. When at one point Michael turned the music off, I heard its breath in the silence – ragged, heaving, hungry, untamed. It was exhilarating to encounter this beast, and for the first time in my life, to become it.

When the music was over, I felt relieved, yet there was also the joy of having been this intimate with something that was a part of me. This was me. This was me as well.


After Michael’s class, I was expecting more of such musical encounters with Steph and Amy. Instead, we dove into the opposite end of the spectrum, listening to cartoon music from Looney Tunes, jazz music by Miles Davis, then constructing short genre pieces based on the scores. It seemed as if all of a sudden, we had taken a giant leap and gone into the second-year Lispa world of theater making.

The cartoon music was all about rhythm – delicious, surprising, technicolored rhythm. I ended up doing a story about the theft of a bag of money with my fellow classmate Louise. While we did not have difficulty coming up with material, we definitely found difficulty with its execution. Comedy has never been my strong point, and humor such as this – exaggerated, knowing, in-your-face – really tested the limits of my performance ability.

The Miles Davis music was just as hard, if not more so. The song itself was mysterious and smoky, conjuring up images of bars and lamplights and shadowy street corners; men in fedoras, women in slinky evening gowns; the air rife with deceit and criminality. Amy gave us the theme of “The Chase” to work with, but somehow, my partner Naomi and I could not reconcile the mood of the music with the thematic construction of a chase. Through improvisations, we came up with the story of mafia drug deal, but the process was incredibly frustrating. The two of us kept getting caught between trying to create ambience and trying to tell a story. It was the first time at Lispa that I truly felt lost in a class, and I could see that I was not the only one. In the end though, after we’d watched most of the pieces, and the ways in which Amy would manipulate them, we finally saw what she was trying to teach us – the performance states, spaces, pacing, and the drawn-out dramatic motions that are the style of film noir.

At this point in my time at Lispa, I feel that I have become fairly comfortable with diving into things and letting them move me. But as it turns out, that is only the beginning. As Amy said to us, “It is easy to move the music, right? But you have to learn how to move with music and against music as well. To chew on it, eat it and digest it…until it transforms into something else completely”.


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