Yesterday I worked in the csa garden crew in the morning, raced around prepping the farm for a major storm which included helping to put a new wall on the turkey coop, and gave a sound performance at one the best restaurants in town. This may have been my best single day of the farm residency.
During my time as an artist in residence at the Grin City Collective, I was invited to perform at Relish in town. It’s a small restaurant inside of what used to be a large house with several rooms and an outdoor patio in front. On Wednesday nights they have musicians come in and perform. Mostly singer/songwriters from what I could find online. So I wasn’t sure what the response would be to what I was doing or what the turn out would even be for a night billed as a sound art presentation and performance. The audience was amazing and the turnout was really good. The two adjacent rooms of the house/restaurant were pretty well full and a couple folks were milling around in the bar area too.
As part of the evening, I brought along four pairs of headphones that I have with me on the farm and at the beginning, I simply left them on different tables in the hopes that people would pick them up without too much prodding. I never know if people will be willing to put them on. It’s something that comes from the workshops. Some people are hesitant but usually it’s just that they don’t want to be the first ones to maybe look silly or awkward. No issues with that here. Many people were interested in them and excited to put them on to experience a portion of the performance. I really appreciate the confidence and security that this represents. It’s also about a willingness to take risks and have new adventures which probably aligns with the fact that they went to a “sound art show” at a restaurant in town. With the headphones on, people began investigating the pieces that I was presenting but they also started to explore the space and each other in different ways. I love it when this happens. Moving beer classes to listen to the resonance on the wood, jingling pocket change near the pipes, and even playing wine glasses as harps all broke out later in the set once they knew it was ok to move around and make noise. I forgot to do my “please turn your cell phones on” bit at the beginning. I like it best when I can just start and then answer questions and provide more context later. I feel this sets up the best relationship between the listener and the sound. It’s more important that the audience listen and develop their own relationship with what I am making as apposed to me first telling them what they should be listening for. It also makes for better conversations afterward because they are going into the piece with their ears more open if I haven’t framed it before starting.
I played a set of 3 pieces that are part of a new series of works that I’ve been making. The material used is a combination of things that I’ve been playing with before coming to Grin City and things that I have been collecting and working with since being on the farm. As people started filling into the rooms to find seats (at 9 promptly… this is the Midwest after all) I just started making noise with the headphones being already laid out on some of the tables. I was pretty immersed in getting everything going but I’m pretty Joe Lacina was the first one to put them on. Then I quickly saw from my periphery that they were circulating around the room. I also noticed that everyone was working really hard to sit still and be quite so I knew that I needed to talk a little between sets. I wanted to break the tension and remove this reverence for the performer. It’s not about the guy sitting there turning knobs and moving sliders (my friend Anna joke-seriously told me it looks really boring and she is totally right). It’s about the development and projection of the sound and how it is sculpted within the space. In between sets the audience had really good questions and I had a chance to say my piece about noise, listening, design and audio ecology. They also asked if I wanted them to be quite so I tried to let them know that I just wanted them to be comfortable, whatever that means. I don’t have any expectation that the performance is treated as some sort of sacred thing that everyone must sit still and face forward. Although I was very pleased that the event was set up so that it could be a seated performance, it seemed like the audience really dug getting up and moving around to explore the features of the room.
Listening to the passing train at Relish in Grinnell, IA
During the break, people were wearing the headphones around Relish and made their way outside. I finished just in time for a train to go by the nearby tracks. Immediately the headphones were scooped up as everyone headed outside to hear. The train line is about 1 block from the patio and from their the train sounded amazing. Listening to it with the headphones on in real space, not a recording, reaffirmed my fascination with trains. I’ve discovered that “foamer” is a term for someone who sits and waits for trains to come by so that they can, usually, photograph them. Turns out, I’m a listening foamer. Maybe I need a better term for that. Even though my friend Anna had heard all these tracks before, I still was able to use a few different chickens throughout the evening.
I’m really glad to have had this opportunity to perform as a way of turning my time here as an artist in residence into something that people could experience. The performance at Relish was a combination of things that I’ve used in the past and new things that come straight from Grin City. It was a piece of phonographic fiction created from a series of experiences that many cities, a few road trips and a couple weeks as an artist in residence on a farm in Iowa. It was a fun way for me to synthesize the things that I’ve been working on here at Grin City. All that mixed in with a great audience, new friends, one of the best restaurants in town and my wife secretly showing up for the entire show without me even knowing it until the break made for a pretty amazing night. For this I am really grateful.