Project – Aren V

Description: Aren James Vastola –

Two ideas that I would like to investigate are potentialities and structure. After our extended exploration of language and movement, I’m beginning to see that my creative impulse for both originates with a sort of potentiality that can be manifested as choreography or as language. Forsythe’s idea of “potential instigation” is an important influence here. I want to turn this idea of potentiality into something concrete, and plan to create an extended text that may not always be intended for speech. I’ve found that both movement and images can arise from writing, and the writing I used to get there becomes secondary to what it generates. This process can lend itself to strange juxtapositions and layers of translation. As I write, I often feel that I am grating up against some limitation, and I realize that what I want to say is actually not linguistic. At these moments, I find that writing cannot communicate what I want it to, simply because it’s not writing. However, I almost always use writing to get there. Sometimes I finish and I feel like the writing should be treated as language, and should be spoken. I find the movement and images generated from writing to be quite compelling, as in Pina Bausch’s work, because they inhabit the liminal space between writing’s limitless imagination and limited communicative ability for certain ideas, sensations, and emotions.

Secondly, I am interested in the idea of structure, both written and choreographic, and its dissolution. I find that much of my writing is preoccupied with either structures of time and space in the natural world, or the structures of language, writing, and poetry. I’m interested in looking at what exactly constitutes structure, and if its dissolution can be both spontaneous and planned. How does structuring language differ from structuring live performance, and can these structures “break?” I want to look at this idea on different levels, and I know that I want to expose the material structure of text by cutting up parts of my extended text to give each audience member. Thus, each person will have a different understanding of the piece. Another direction I’m considering is the limiting potential of structure, and finding situations where one is forced to articulate something into poetry or movement. I don’t know exactly how, but I’m also interested in how there can be tension between the musician and the dancer in determining a performance structure. Ideas here can be conversations between musician and performer, performer and recorded voice, computerized commands, etc. that are part of the performance.

In short, I will be generating ideas and movement from text, while also exploring the text’s multiple potentialities for creating performance as well as the materiality of its structure.

Response: Baldwin Giang –

Hi Aren:

Like you, I’m quite interested in exploring the limits of linguistic expression.  I’d like to present to you an example of text that we could use that engages this idea.

The case of David/Brenda has been in the back of my mind lately since I’ve been taking a WGSS seminar called “Sexuality and Social Justice.”  In case you’re unfamiliar with this case: David Reimer was born biologically as a boy but suffered a traumatic accident during a circumcision procedure which took away the function of his penis.  A psychiatrist convinced the parents to raise David as a girl, called Brenda, including a sexual reassignment surgery, to test his social constructionist theory of gender.  Horrifyingly, the psychiatrist experimented with various “clinical techniques” to smooth gender reassignment such as forcing Brenda to engage in faux’coitus with her male twin.  Violently resistant to this therapy, Brenda never felt comfortable in her skin and fell into suicidal depression at age 13.  At 14, Brenda decided to live as a boy again, and therapists like Neil Diamond used the case to refute socially constructionist gender theory in favor of gender essentialism. Tragically, David committed suicide at age 38.

I find both socially constructionist gender theory and gender essentialism to be inadequate in describing Reimer’s experience.  As Judith Butler says, the David/Brenda case exists on the “limits of intelligibility,” which gives Reimer a unique ability to critique our societal norms.  But the question for me is if anyone can understand Reimer, and if the English language gives Reimer the necessary vocabulary to really describe his problem?  What does it mean to do justice to David?  More broadly, how does clinical language structure our life experience?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I’m very interested in exploring the ideas of gender expression through art.  We could incorporate text from the social-constructionist therapists’ published studies, his critic’s responses, and testimony from Reimer himself.  I think these sources would pair really well with your ideas.

A little about my musical taste: I’m very attracted to music with significant timbral interest.  I love the sensous harmonies of the french tradition, composers like Debussy, Messiaen, and the Spectralists and Post-Structuralists (Saariaho especially).  That being said, I also love post-minimalism.  Perhaps I’m attracted to slowly evolving processes in music in general.  I think this aspect of your music gels well with your questions about structure, because my music often obfuscates formal structures and constantly shifts between microscopic and global perspectives.  However for this project, I would consider being very rhythmic as well to match the incisiveness of clinical language.  In terms of electronic music, I’ve been thinking about ways to process sound live and interactively.  Perhaps we could experiment with using physical movement as triggers and algorithmic parameters.    Hope you will consider collaborating with me!


Response: Andy Alden – – and Jacob Reske – – (duo)

Jacob: Hey Aren! So Andy Alden and I are working as a team on this project, and we’re very interested in exploring some of the concepts you mentioned in your introductory letter. Some background on both of us: I’m a composer who works primarily with electronic media, sample-based manipulation, and quotation. Right now, my two biggest interests are working with vocal manipulation, changing the sounds of the human voice into some unique/unusual textures, and interpretation of music by computers. Andy’s music tends to asymmetrical/syncopated rhythms, using harmony coloristically, and using modules that evolve as the piece progresses.

Andy: We like the idea of translation, and how it causes structural decay, and loss of original meaning. It reminds me of a famous music quote, attributed to a variety of composers: “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Translation between artistic media, and each of our musical styles, creates a semantic gap between what is intended and what is understood. We want to exploit this musically.

Jacob: The idea of losing the true meaning of abstract symbols reminds me of an thought experiment that deals with the difference between simple translation and understanding. Computer scientists use it to talk about whether or not computers truly understand the signals they process. The experiment goes like this: a prisoner is held hostage in a foreign country, whose inhabitants speak a language that he does not understand. Periodically, the prison guards slip him messages in this language from under the door–again, none of which he can understand. The prisoner is given a little translation book, where each character corresponds to an equally foreign character. As the prisoner translates each message, he has no idea what the contents of the message are; the guards, on the other hand, understand the message perfectly. This is a concept that is used frequently in Information Theory: transmitting a message perfectly does not guarantee that the transmitter knows the semantics of the signal.

Andy: One of our ideas is that we could essentially play a game of compositional telephone. The overall structure would end up like a theme and variations. In a traditional (classical) theme and variations, the variations are usually superficial elaborations and ornamentations of the theme, leaving the core of the theme intact. We would instead approach each variation as a translation of the proceeding variation. We would respond to each other’s variations, and in so doing abstract the original theme through our differing musical styles and approaches.

Andy and Jacob

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