“Notations” is a film by Vicki Bennett for live performance by improvising musicians and artists. It has been created using collected and edited found footage from hundreds of different films, where the content conceptually or literally portrays different kinds of ‘gestures’, ‘instructions’ and content that can then be interpreted by musicians and artists with unique audio accompaniments. Notations contains edits of the movies and sounds from the source films, separated into ‘sketches’ or stories that segue into one another, and it exists with a list of instructions (score) on how artist(s) working with this choose to work with these particular elements.
Notations references the fact that it is very natural, even primordial for one to creatively respond to visual stimulus in an “improvised” (natural) way rather than all responses being directed, set in stone. Within human communication it is part of our hard circuitry that for instance we use hand gestures to articulate our speech, which is essentially graphically describing/enforcing audio or spoken discourse. Even when spoken language is not present, a whole series of hand and facial gestures are available to us to communicate expressions. By making a film that both contains human gestures (hands, facial, movement) as well as gestures made by natural and mechanical occurrences we are setting up the conditions for a dialogue between the graphical elements on the films and the improvisers, both with the film as well as with each other.
When performed, the film is provided with a “score” (ie a list of instructions to be translated into sound) which consists of some basic instructions and a synopsis listing characteristics of the 9 different sketches featured in the film. The sketches are as follows:
The film is made in 9 sketches with titles that roughly describe the content/concept/theme. The themes move and progress with many tangents, although there is continuity of concepts and the pace even and flowing. There is intermittent film sound throughout, and lots of silence. Hopefully the sound will be no more surprising than any other performer on the stage. The maximum audio volume should be set equal to each participant.
There will be no instructions to be found beyond what is in the film, no written score beyond this text. The film will be provided to the players at least 2 weeks before the performance date, and should be viewed several times well before performing. For each sketch different numbers and combinations of performers are recommended, either spontaneously or pre-determined. All players should meet to discuss this before performing, and rehearsals are at the discretion of the performers.
Ultimately, whatever the film content suggests is what all should react to. – Vicki Bennett, May 2013
1. A Nod to Previous Players. Majority of footage sourced from old avant-garde and comedy films featuring people playing cards and chess, also doing things at tables. Very little sound added to the film soundtrack. 2. From A-B. Transport, trains, cars, carriages and things that move fast. Some typewriting and conducting too. This one is fast and also noisy in places! 3. Spin. Lots of spinning, vertigo, circles and targets. Zooming into eyes. Camera shutters. Not too much incidental sound on the film apart from towards the end with a piano. 4. At Home. Mainly footage shot in domestic environments – pans through people’s rooms, people eating and chopping food, ringing doorbells, broken appliances and acts of domestic destruction. Reel to reel tape recorders and record players. Fairly quiet, some incidental sounds with a few louder bursts at the end when woman finds a monster in her fridge. 5. Several Directions at Once. Part 1 A conductor conducts traffic lights and traffic. Incidental sound from traffic, but not conductor’s music. Radio dial turns. Hands waving, pointing and conjuring. Quiet to start with then bursts of sound around the time of the radio dial being turned. Part 2 Lots of punching, slapping and violence with incidental sound, cut in with a little conducting and hand gestures, bending and stretching. Quite noisy. Ends with car crash and bowing conjuror. 6. Dark. Hand movements signifying quiet/listening. Record player and film leaders flicker black and white. People in the dark with candles, thunder and lightning, lights on and off. Disconnection of power, suspense and fear. Incidental sound of storm. People walking on wooden steps in the dark. Radio tuner and typewriters/printing machines. Quiet incidental sound apart from necessary bursts of weather/explosions. 7. Ups and Downs. Record players, panning through people’s living rooms. Leisure – card playing and knitting. More panning and record playing. Walking legs/feet through many films. Very quiet. Desert scene, people run down hill making a noise, there follow many scenes from westerns, woman stops train, buzzers pressed, men with bells, all incidental sounds for this section. More walking, people waiting behind doors, quiet, suspense, just footsteps and door handles. Door lock gets shot (very loud) and then follows a lot of scenes of people struggling in train/horse carriages, to the sound of a carriage then train stopping. Ends with car sinking into mud. 8. The Suspense is Killing Me. Predator/victims leaning over/backing away or trapped. Retaliation, shooting. Walking. Snooker and more predators. Opening of doors to different scary people, hiding. Child making horrible noise with a pencil on chalkboard. Doors and wall banging intercut with silence and suspense, listening at walls. More doors opening and suspense, hiding and running. Screaming and fear, silhouettes with bright lights. Power cuts, darkness intercut with conductor and man stuck in phone booth. More power cuts and screaming, general misery. Sleeping woman, man walks up the stairs away from her, looks around, she looks up. He walks away. 9. Nothing Happens. Man walks down wooden stairs to men playing cards at a table. Intercut with other people staring at the screen or each other, no one does anything, they are just looking. Walking around wooden flooring, woman slams door, sits in silence, kicks floor and three people faint. LP rolls across floor, car runs over accordion. Birds fly up and down, mixed with dancing swimmers. Man sits and writes at a table, silently turning blank pages from different movies. Lots of panning over paper and big tables, mainly silent, man screams at faceless man. Lots more staring at one another, suspense, waiting. Nothing happens. Door opens to man in fez, everyone screams. More staring and suspense. Still nothing happens. Gust of wind, Harpo plays flute through window and scares all the ladies. More predators with weapons, people run away, roll credits.
(The 30-minute version of the film excludes parts 7 & 9)
20 April 2013 (with the working title of Gesture Piece*)Tectonics Festival, Reykjavik, Iceland Performers: Skúli Sverrisson, Davíð Þór Jónsson, Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir, Hlynur Aðils. 8 June 2013 (with the working title of Gesture Piece*)Tectonics Festival, Tel Aviv Performers: Alex Drool, Assif Tsahar, Robbie Avenaim, Christoph Heemann, Eyvind Kang and Jessika Kenney. 10 June 2013 (with the working title of Gesture Piece*)Uganda, Jerusalem Performers: Eyvind Kang, Jessika Kenney, Robbie Avenaim, Christoph Heemann and special guests November 2013 Various locations in the UK, produced by Tusk and commissioned bySound and Music. https://peoplelikeus.org/2013/notations-tour/ : Bill Orcutt, Rhodri Davies, M.C. Schmidt (Matmos), Philip Jeck, Jaap Blonk, Steve Noble, Wobbly, Mark Sanders, Tomomi Adachi and Jennifer Walshe. September 2014 WFMU Monty Hall, NJ, performed by M.C.Schmidt and Jason Willett September 2014 High Zero, Baltimore, performed by Bob Wagner (drums),LaDonna Smith (violin), Jenny Gräf(electronics, guitar) October 2014 In Mute Festival, Athens Onassis Cultural Centre performed by the duo Acte Vide. May 2018 School of Music Studies Aristotle University of Thessaloniki May 2018 School of Music Studies, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Greece – A.U.TH. Experimental & Improvised Music Ensembles September 2019 at Digital Alchemy/Indexical at Radius Gallery Santa Cruz, performed by Blectum from Blechdom
* Please note – Gesture Piece is now a separate project, an online film with 7 artist soundtracks. We needed to change the name as the project split into two parts.
HISTORY OF GESTURE AND CARD-BASED WORKS
There is a tradition in experimental music of musicians responding to graphic scores and non-conductor-led direction. John Cage wrote scores that both directed the performer on what elements/structures needed to be used/responded to, but at the same time introduced chance elements based around personal interpretation and the use of random prediction techniques like the iChing. In the past 25 years some contemporary artist-composers have used prompts as guidelines for musical interpretations, following John Cage’s tradition.
Examples of alternative methods of conducting:
John Oswald “Rien Ne Va Plus” uses a roulette and coloured cards to prompt an orchestra to play certain tunes. Christian Marclay’s “Shuffle” uses a pack of cards containing his own photographs of various depictions of musical scores which improvising musicians then respond to live. In Marclay’s “Zoom Zoom”, the performer interprets his projected images of everyday objects with graphics contained within them. John Zorn index card/file-card composition pieces include “Cobra” and “The Big Gundown”: combining composition and improvisation in which Zorn would write down a description of what he wanted on file-cards and arrange them to form the piece. Zorn compiled his various thoughts regarding his subject on index cards, and then arranged those into a working roadmap for his band of improvisers. He described the process in 2003: “I write in moments, in disparate sound blocks, so I find it convenient to store these events on filing cards so they can be sorted and ordered with minimum effort. Pacing is essential. If you move too fast, people tend to stop hearing the individual moments as complete in themselves and more as elements of a sort of cloud effect…”.
Gesture Piece* will be performed by an entirely new set of improvisers at another edition of Tectonics Festival, this time on 8 June 2013 in Tel Aviv at the venue Levontin 7. The performers this time around will be Alex Drool, Assif Tsahar, Robbie Avenaim, Christoph Heemann, Eyvind Kang and Jessika Kenney.
*Please note: The film for live improvisers Gesture Piece has now changed its name to Notations
Curated by Ilan Volkov, Tectonics brings together musicians from different worlds and backgrounds for an audience that’s open and ready for new experiences and surprises. The festival will include young composers and pioneering figures, chamber music, orchestral music and electronic performances.
People Like Us are currently creating a new work entitled GESTURE PIECE*, which will premiere at Tectonics Festival in Reykjavik. This is a film created for accompaniment by live improv musicians, who in this case will be the following performers: Skúli Sverrisson, Davíð Þór Jónsson, Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir, Hlynur Aðils.