'Ballet 2' is, as it's name suggests Otium's second commissioned ballet, it was created with House of Makers for their performance 'BEING' at the Beijman's Museum in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands .
The following is taken from Otium's journals;
"House of Makers consists of three very talented people; Sterre Von Rossem (a poet and writer), Matthew Sky Pawlicki-Sinclair (a dancer with the Dutch National Ballet) and Peter Leung (a choreographer). The group approached me at the beginning of 2015, and were wondering if I would be interested in creating some music for a new project they were working on to be presented at the Beijman's museum in the Netherlands. The details were tentative but we began talking about ideas they had and the conceptual framework the museum had asked them to create within. That framework called ‘La La La Human Steps’ would be a look at the idea of the human condition. I was allowed to translate that in anyway I saw fit, so I began to think about how to approach such a large topic.
As explained to me, the piece would have three "movements" these being a ten minute opening section a ten minute dance section and a subsequent ten minute "cool off" section that would encourage the audience to leave the enclosure, where the dance had previously occurred. The piece would be for eight speakers, four speakers on the outside of the museum space, and four speakers set up toward the center of the space, signifying where the main ballet would occur. We decided to divide the speaker set up into two rings, the outer and the inner, so Sections I & III of the Ballet would be on the outer ring of speakers taking full advantage of the four different speakers and four different channels, while Section II would be played through the center speakers, in dual stereo. The speakers would transition or blend from the outer ring to the inner ring and vice versa in order to "herd" the audience from one iteration of observance and "being" (Section I & III a less focused and undirected experience) to another (Section II a more traditional and directed form of viewing with the spaces between the viewer and performer cordoned off). Unfortunately for me I didn't have a 4.1 setup in my house or any surround sound set up for that matter, so I used a pair of computer speakers and my mixing monitors splayed in a ring around me to try and approximate the idea.
The Creation of Section II
I was currently in the middle of writing and recording for 'NOSTOS' and so my mind was whirring with timbral inspiration, experiments in effect chaining and a newly organized and painstakingly labeled sample library. I talked more with House of Makers and finally came up with a solid framework for Section II. I would take important moments in a persons life and divide the piece into movements labeled "Infant" "Adolescence" "Middle Age" & "Old Age". I worked chronologically, and while the piece was divided the piece would be seamless with no obvious breaks in the score, with the movements serving as guideposts along the way.
I wake up.
I wake up in the world.
I wake up from sleep, to the world around me.
This is all there is.
The rest is choice. Then action.'
I began the "Infant" movement with heartbeats and the sounds of a baby's cooing. The heartbeats came from old medical 45s I had found in a friends basement, while the coos and giggles of the infants came mostly from my step brother's newborn child. The idea here was to create a bridge between the familiar sound of a babies coo, but to make it feel somewhat alien or odd. I wanted the listener to feel and think like they were themselves a child, experiencing something they just couldn't quite make sense of.
She asked the child. She asked the stars. She asked the priest, she asked her neighbour, she asked the doctor, she asked the scholar, she asked her parents.
She asked God. God had been dead, but still she asked.
Then she asked the universe.
She asked the dog, she asked the trees in front of her house on which the dog urinated, she asked the grass surrounding the tree.
Then she asked the sea, to which she felt connected for a moment until the moment passed.
She asked the baker who baked her bread, she asked the lover between her sheets, she asked the truck driver, the mailmen, the authorities.
Then finally, she asked herself.'
I began with the "Adoloscent" movement by attempting to add a bit of recklessness and excitement to the piece, taking samples from old home video tapes I had been sampling for "NOSTOS", and creating beats and arpeggios that would then be lengthened, shortened and chopped up. The concept here was of a teen experiencing puberty, of having fun with their friends, and of discovery of their body and sensuality.
I played a bit with ideas of going to the hospital, one when i was a child and was sick, one of what I assumed would be my young father or someone else of his age going to the hospital to welcome new life, and the last of going to the hospital to die. I liked the idea that depending on the juxtaposition of the timbres and melodies surrounding the hospital sounds, the viewer would take a different feeling or understand a different idea.
He had a choice.
He always had a choice.
He constantly had a choice, always.
It was almost sickening.'
I tried to give the impression of growing up, of getting married and of having a child. I played around with arpeggiators being both youthful and fun but also inspiring and serious, one arpeggio for a youth running face first into life, and another to signify getting married to someone you love on a profound level.
After marriage came a child. This movement has, to me, the strongest "image" to it. While I was creating it I had a distinct scene in my mind; a father had come home from wherever and he puts his baby in the crib and then begins to sing and play music for the infant. I recorded this movement as a one take improvisation on guitar while I sang along. I then took the vocal take and pitched it up, manipulating it to sound like an infant trying to sing along with his father.
This you know. You how it starts, and how it ends. You know you have a choice.You could sit and wait for it all to be over. Because one day, in one quick moment, it will be.Yet then again, you could just as easily get up, lock eyes with someone, see them, acknowledge them and dance. You could dance and be like the universe we carry in each and everyone of us. You could choose to ride the ripples of the big bang that created the universal expansion, and you can be there, fully present, as it quickens, reaching its brightest point, its mind dazzling beauty, before it fades into blackness. Implodes into the nothingness from which you came and to which surely you will return.'
I thought about the music my grandparents would have listened to and I went through a slew of old jazz and big-band horn samples, not being able to play the horn myself. I wanted to give this movement a kind of wisdom or "days gone by" looking out over the life you've had and feeling bittersweet. I then added a death scene complete with nails in a coffin and the sound of dirt being shoveled onto a grave. Originally I was going to finish the piece on that depressing note, but I came across a great sample I had recorded of an orchestra tuning up and it sparked an idea of rebirth. It's interesting the ways timbre can be manipulated to create such opposing references in our brain; sombre, forlorn horns can instead become a triumphant welcoming to the afterlife through a small change of arrangement and placement, and so they did in the final movement of Section II
Sterre then presented me and the rest of the House of Makers team with some texts she had created (see above), and after some editing and discussion, they went about reading and recording the written texts into audio. I was given the recorded texts and asked to put them into the ballet, which wasn't too much of an undertaking to implement, having already created the bulk of what would come to be Section II. We added pieces of her text into Section II and after some notes and changes mostly in the adolescent movement of the piece. We were now done with the the music for Section II, allowing Peter and Matt to get started on the creation of the dance.
The Creation of Section I
When I had gone through all of the audio-text that Sterre had given me for Section II, taking out the noise, the accidental sighs, clicks, pops, and false starts that accompany most recordings, I became inspired by all of the "rubbish", all the in-between bits that weren't supposed to matter, and I found the metaphor apt to how we all live our life focused on the big moments only to find years later that those little moments are what make life rich and meaningful.
House of Makers had come up with an interesting choreography choice for Section I; The dancers would be wandering around the museum as spectators, looking at the art by the other artists sitting on the benches etc. while the other patrons "danced" with these interlopers oblivious of the transformation that would come during Section II.
So with these two ideas swimming around my head and the "rubbish" of the audio-text as my instrument I set about creating Section I.
The opening of Section I begins with two voices one male one female, reading the same text but delayed, occasionally linking up to "harmonize" with each other. The whole poem is talking about the idea permanence, listing objects that will "outlast" the writer:
'The chair will outlast me. The table will, the flowers won’t, the vase might, with some care.
The cat probably won’t, the books might, the candle, flickering yet, won’t.
The church will, it was there before me, it will be there still.
The forest will, the wind will, the leaves won’t, the plates won’t, the painting might.
My words won’t outlast me, yours might.'
The last line "My words won't outlast me yours might" becomes a premonition of what is to come, as the words are replaced by the incidental noises of the two readers, their words now a memory, the un-suppressible human noises outlasting them. The sighs and clicks dart and swirl around the four speaker set up, sometimes disorienting, sometimes soothing. The performers and viewers dancing together with the in-between of life as their soundtrack.
The Creation of Section III
Section III was definitely the easiest to create as I had done so much cutting and sampling and thinking about the project that Section III fell into place within a matter of days. I took all of the audio-text I had been given and overlapped them, fading certain tracks in and out with increasing frequency to give the effect that the audiences life/the piece was flashing before them into an overwhelming crescendo.
After the big finish the space is left with four distinct bass frequencies bouncing around the space, canceling and combining depending on where you were physically standing. The volume of each frequency slowly diminishing to nothing over a span of 10 minutes.
I had been playing around with binaural beats for 'NOSTOS' and I decided it would be an interesting thing to try with four separate speakers at my disposal. So I created four sign waves (110hz, 164.81hz, 117.83hz, & 172.64hz) each speaker pointed at the center, the intension being the creation of "beating" patterns throughout the space. The original, or supposed purpose of binaural beats, are to illicit a sympathetic response in the brain to certain "unhearable" frequencies so with 110hz in one ear and 117.83hz in another your brain creates a third frequency or "beat" at 7.83hz. This frequency is intended to symbolize the frequency of the earth, and is called the "Schumann Resonance". 110 hz (or A2) is a quarter of 440hz (or A4) which is the frequency that most of the western world tunes its instruments to as is intended to sound familiar, knowing that the addition of 7.83hz will not be a sound or tuning that most people are familiar with. I then added a frequency up a perfect fifth from 110hz which would be 164.81hz (or E3) to create a pleasing interval for people to be washed in. 163.81 plus 7.83 then gives us its counterpart of 172.64hz. Each frequency was placed facing center, across from its counterpart.
The Schumann Resonance added something I felt had been missing from the piece, mainly the way we shape the earth and it in turn shapes us. To me the human condition is the struggle between two fundamentals, that of the God and that of the Animal. We are in the middle experiencing both the intellectual and the visceral, constantly trying to find a balance in-between. The purpose of my art and what I view art to be is to create and illicit an experience that mirrors the human condition, possessing two fundamentals, that of the visceral and that of the intellectual. Yet, the frequency of the earth serves as a reminder that while we are living our lives experiencing this in-between human state the earth serves as our midwife, our stage, & our tomb."