During May 2018 I took part as a trumpeter in a site-specific performance at the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve in California. The project was a retelling of the Narcissus myth, with a staging of a work-in-progress version by Bonnie Wai-Lee Kwong as artist in residence at Stanford University.
The ensemble included live improvised music for dancers and actors (both professional and from the community of nature preserve staff). I had a blast playing with Chris Chafe on his Celleto and Doga Cavdir on her BodyHarp. There were several interesting considerations to take into the performance. The first was finding a sound world that worked well within the unique combination of instruments present. At times this meant taking a cue from the BodyHarp’s pointillist carpet, and at times finding common strangeness in the extended techniques of the electric cello and trumpet. Rather than a conductor, we would find our dynamic envelope in feedback between the musicians themselves and with the “stage” performers. Each performer listening and watching for the right moments to connect for a shared gesture, or detach back to heterogeneous flow. One surprisingly potent factor to add to this intense listening and feedback were the sounds of the preserve itself – wind, light rain, birds, and other forest dwellers. This background added at times a dynamic envelope of its own through rising winds, or suggested a momentary theme in a passing bird call. It was a great experience as a performer, and did not feel at all overwhelming, but rather quite natural (I’ll embrace the pun).
Music and theater continued as the audience walked through the park between the main performance locations. Since the other instruments were tethered to speakers and battery packs, I was tasked with heading out into the forest to play a lure for the audience as they walked. The different playing techniques required for effective long range projection of sound, turning to very intimate sounds as the audience passes near by, provided a fun challenge when thinking about making it all fit within the overall musical style we created for ourselves. As a bonus, I got to wade through the wilderness for a bit on my own as I anticipated the audience, and the views were especially beautiful in those solitary moments. Below is a view from my little hiding spot (the dynamic range of my cellphone camera does not do the green and clouds any justice, but it’s something.)