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photo: Willis Bowman

This is the third in a series of posts leading up to Skewed Visions’ remaking of the performance EX from 2014 called EX(remade) in June 2016. In addition to supplying some history and background from the initial production, this series may also provide some context for the current production, including how the current piece is being shaped out of what came before.  Last time I talked about how the process originally began out of loss. This post has a little bit about the whole deal with using a song to shape the performance.

If there is a black hole at the center of loss, then my challenge was to resist making “something” out of that nothing, and instead to keep from covering that hole with “meaning” and let it remain the “nothing” that it is.

In making EX, I returned to structure to help me out.

Back in 2007 I gave my part of Strange Love (device/performance) a structure that I thought was intimately connected to the content of the piece as I saw it. If the initial impulse of that piece was to bring the life of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove film into contemporary political reality because of a rhetorical echo between “communism” and “terrorism”, than the trope of cyclic returning was apt, and so a cyclical structure seemed appropriate for the performance — even though  there was nothing inherent to the material I was using that demanded it. The film isn’t particularly cyclic.

It was my impression at the time that the triple recurrence of the performance gave shape to what was essentially a self-destructive entropic dive. I hoped that it also helped make my point, such as it was.

For EX, I didn’t want there to be this kind of “positive” outcome, a shape that lent itself to meaning. But my experience with Strange Love suggested that using a very concrete structure was useful to give the audience something to hang onto when what there was in terms of “plot” or “narrative” was being destroyed along with language, images, and theatrical conventions. So it was very purposeful to take the structure of Radiohead’s song Codex and use it as the scaffolding that the material that we were making in the studio could live on. I didn’t want to “destroy” plot, narrative, conventions, in EX. I wanted to get along with the tattered remains that I was left with. I wanted the emptiness.

So the connection between the song and the performance would be arbitrary, but purposeful. (The echo of the name was coincidental.) There were repetitions in EX, but they occurred not because I wanted them to, or because the idea of repetition was thematically relevant to the content of the piece we were making, but because the song structure provided it for us.

I took advantage of my participation in Emily Gastineau’s project for her Art Is Easy in 2014 at the Minnesota Biennial ,,, at the Soap Factory to map out the song’s structure. I taped a very long sheet of paper to the wall, plugged in my earbuds, and made a lot of marks. At the end of this mapping I had a chart that more-or-less represented the sonic aspects of the song over time, with each kind of sound having its own track across the page. Each second of the song translated into 12.63 seconds of performance. Billy decided to call this sheet of paper that we’d tape up and take down at every rehearsal, the Codex. Then, after coming up with a lot of different kinds of things in the studio, I assigned them to different tracks on the Codex. Voila.

That’s why although there are a few seconds of the Radiohead song that are looped at one point in the performance, there is no need to know the song, or hear the song, or know about this process, to experience the performance fully. The connection between the two is arbitrary and structural, and doesn’t allow the imposed gratification or meaning of the song to shape the content of the black hole. But it does — if you’ll excuse this runaway metaphor — mark the black hole’s event horizon.

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