Last night I told my friend Sean that I was editing video of a performance by the ensemble I’d co-founded. I guess I hadn’t told him about Bonn Feier, because he was surprised and wanted to know what we did. This made me realize that I’ve been relatively quiet about all the fun things we’ve been doing over the past year, so I thought I’d bring all my non-Bloomington friends up to speed about this business. I also did finish editing a couple of videos, so I wanted to share those as well.
(If you don’t want to read my blabbering and just came to watch some videos, okay, fine, click here.)
First of all, I always feel that I’m using “ensemble” pretty loosely. I guess we’ve earned that status at this point, since we had a real life concert about two weeks ago, along with a couple of side performances (one at a John Cage centennial celebration, where we performed a piece we collectively wrote involving homemade fortune cookies, and another more loosely affiliated event just yesterday, which I’ll get to in a minute). But we’ve been developing to this point for about a year. Bonn Feier started when my friend Paula had the idea to apply for an on-campus grant that would allow us to put on a performance of Pauline Oliver’s 1976 piece Bonn Feier, which we had encountered in Phil Ford’s Fall 2011 “Process Music” class. We performed Bonn Feier last year, in the middle of the madness of IU’s Little 500. (As a note: This year’s Little 500 is happening this weekend, making it our approximate one-year anniversary!) Then the next fall, Paula (who had the idea to apply for the grant that allowed us to put on Bonn Feier) and I decided to organize a group that would meet about every week and read through similar types of pieces and scores to Bonn Feier and others that we had encountered in the class–pieces that not everyone might recognize as music, although they often have sonic elements, because they are very dependent on the individual or collective experience of the performers rather than on the presentation of rehearsed musical material to an audience. So Bonn Feier (named after the piece that started it all) essentially began as a reading group, albeit a very experiential one.
We decided that we wanted to have some sort of performance, and the Technologies of Experience Symposium that Phil and Dawna Schuld from the Art History department at IU were organizing seemed like a good time to do it. So Paula and I started getting everything worked out…and then I realized that I had agreed to produce a live commentary on IU’s production of Falstaff on the same night we had planned for the concert. But that was okay. I did whatever I could to help out, came to dress rehearsals, and was generally annoying, I’m sure.
We had a really good variety, and both the first and last pieces on the program proper involved audience participation. The two at the bottom were more like installations; for the Stomping Piece, we set up various materials for people to step, hop, and stomp on. For the Poem, we had notecards set out for people to write individual words on and create a collective work of poetry.
I’ve uploaded two of the pieces to YouTube. I’m sorry for the poor video quality–it’s the best I could do with the source material–but hopefully the audio and the excellent performances make up for it. The two pieces are also probably the most similar of the concert, but they’re also the best suited to watching in video form.
The first piece is R. Murray Schafer’s Hear Me Out. You may know Schafer as someone who’s written a lot about acoustic ecology (or you may not, that’s cool too; the gist is that he’s concerned with noise pollution and with the particular qualities of local soundscapes), but he’s also a composer. Performing on this piece are Nathan, Laura, Paula, and Michael.
The second piece is Toby Lurie’s Sound Composition for Six. Here we have Laura, Liz, Nathan, Paula, Michael, and Gabe.
Finally, a quick note about the awesome thing that happened this past Friday. Bonn Feier had wanted to do a performance of A. M. Fine’s Piece for Fluxorchestra, in which performers are planted in an audience and begin to engage in all sorts of disruptive behavior, but we couldn’t think of a good opportunity to put it on this semester. Liz suggested that it might work if we performed it in M402, a lecture-style undergraduate music history course, on a day she was to lead the lecture. I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical at first, but my doubts went away as we put everything together (her way more than me, although I did get to help assign parts, which was really fun!). We (again mostly Liz, I’m not trying to steal her thunder here) got all sorts of people involved–students from her discussion section; the other AIs (associate instructors, IU’s term for teaching assistants) for the class, and Halina Goldberg, the course instructor; people from Phil’s seminar this semester; and participants in Bonn Feier, including Laura’s mom, who was in town for the weekend.
Liz started off the class by announcing the topic of her lecture (Varèse, Babbitt, and Cage) and promptly sitting down in the first row of seats–our cue to begin the piece. One of the next actions, after a minute had passed, was Dr. Goldberg standing up and exclaiming, “I was planted here as part of the performance, and as such, I refuse to perform!” She then left the hall. And all hell pretty much broke loose from there. Way too many events happen throughout the piece for me to recount them all, but it involved balloons being blown up and released or popped, Laura running around the hall being disruptive, and inaccurate excursuses on the nature of the fugue.
My favorite moment, though, actually happened before the piece had gotten into full swing. Two students sitting behind me had been talking to each other before class began, wondering if they were going to have a quiz (the AIs each told their students they really wouldn’t want to miss class that day, without revealing what was going to happen). When Liz sat down after announcing the title of the lecture, one turned to the other and said, “Is she really doing 4’33″? I can’t believe she’s doing 4’33″.” Well, no, not quite, as was clear within the next couple of minutes, but she was using it as an intellectual lead-in to explain how some of Cage’s ideas had been taken up by later composers, so close enough.