THREE HARPS, TUNING FORKS & ELECtronics
The placement of the three harps together in an off-center cluster in Really Queer Dance With Harps (2008) has become so integral to that work for me that it’s a surprise to come upon a grant proposal from 2007 in which Zeena and I envisioned four harpists, not three, and instead performing on the peripheries of the space surrounding the dance action. The spatial relationship was flipped once rehearsals began but the intention remained unchanged: an intimate sharing of the space/time, a long hoped-for development in our work together. I remember using chairs and piano benches as stand-ins for the harps in search of the queerest of possible placements, arriving at a giant mass of conjoined instrument bodies around which the dancers had to navigate. In rehearsals I could become resentful that so much real estate was being reserved for the instruments and their players. But once actual harps and harpists took the stage, the musicians’ gestures providing a synchronous counter-dance and the looming presence of the harps both anchoring and destabilizing the space, I was always only thrilled.
Too, I’m only thrilled by Zeena’s lovingly translated Three Harps, Tuning Forks and Electronics. I’m reminded of our parallel composition processes, which echoed and reflected each on the other: capturing improvisations on tape (audio- and video-) and then composing with those materials “verbatim.” Zeena’s enlightened and focused improvisations came first, which she layered to make richly composed tracks that the dancers and I played when we taped our source movement improvisations, and that were eventually transcribed for performance by multiple harpists. For our movement improvisations the eight dancers (Ellen Barnaby, Nicholas Duran, Johnni Durango, Christine Elmo, Luke Miller, Antonio Ramos, Colin Stilwell) and I strove to recognize and resist our self-censorship of repressed movement materials – not only the gender non-normative, but also the over-the-top, excessive and flamboyant, along with the more obscure, under/hidden/ambiguous aspect of the movement. From the start I’ve heard a corresponding resistance to inhibition and sense of permission in Zeena’s music for this project, qualities she asserts she “only allows when making music for dance (oddly).”
I’ve just had a listen to the original, spellbinding tracks (a “crazy inspired moment” admits Zeena). They’re remarkably and fascinatingly similar to this newThree Harps, Tuning Forks and Electronics, though Zeena has further expanded, articulated and complicated what we hear in this stand-alone translation. For those original tracks Zeena composed by layering recordings of her own improvisations. The performances of the dance and this new rendering required a transmission of Zeena’s idiosyncratic materials to other players. Again our processes and interests echoed each other in that the dancers also labored to recreate the distinctive forms of each others’ improvisations, a challenge that paradoxically revealed each dancer’s deep individuality by exposing the distinct ways each bumps up against the form.
In Drew Daniel’s wonderfully perceptive liner notes Zeena is quoted as reflecting that “unexpected information emerges from translations.” It’s happened again,Zeena – this recording provides us with unexpected, new and magical music-information. Thank you.
- Neil Greenberg