the space between

 

A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together. – Margaret Atwood

 

When we hear a friend or colleague tell us of an experience of being silenced, it may feel shocking, and yet the experience is so commonplace that it has become insidiously ordinary. Composer/sound artist Lisa Renée Coons uses her own experience of social silencing as a springboard for The Space Between, a fully staged, choreographed work for Spektral Quartet that unravels the social hierarchies of human interaction, and ultimately, invites the musicians to explore the roots and motives of communication through the spectacle of music and theatre. Choreographed by director and designer Mark DeChiazza, the work is seamlessly interwoven in a style unique to Coons, and organically mixes moments of improvisation with written material: a musical gesture might be the start of a conversation between musicians that is mirrored through physical movement. Or, a physical movement might disrupt, provoke, or engage the music of another player. The simple act of watching the violist of a string quartet cradle the head of the cellist, or of one violinist muting the performance of their fellow violinist is also shocking, and through the unexpected drama created by physical interaction, Coons and DeChiazza compel both the performers and the audience to consider the ways in which we navigate communication, conflict, and connection.

The Space Between is not a narrative, but rather a study of these human drives that are so effectively realized through physical performance: need, intimacy, playful exploration, a desire to belong and the collective pressures to conform. The musicians will wrap their arms around one another to create complex and delicate harmonics not possible with only two hands, they will move in almost mechanical unison through rhythmic scratch-tone passages, and they will mute one another’s instruments to both manipulate or stop specific sounds. The world of the performance space will expand and contract to surround, seduce, and immerse the audience.

Lisa Renée Coons

Lisa Renée Coons

The Space Between is the culmination of a two-year collaboration between Spektral Quartet, Mark DeChiazza, and Lisa Renée Coons. DeChiazza specializes in large-scale musical works, including recent collaborations with John Luther Adams, Eighth Blackbird, Kronos Quartet, Steven Mackey, and Amy Beth Kirstin. And Coons has created numerous spatial and movement-based sound works, including commissions for the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the American Composer’s Orchestra, and the Magik*Magik Orchestra. Coons and DeChiazza built choreographic and aural materials together, developing that material with Spektral in numerous workshops over time, and the entire group continues to refine the piece collaboratively.

The sonic palette of The Space Between is broad, including a spectrum of noise [i.e. overpressure, bow noise, muted pizzicatos] to pseudo-tonal chorales, and the physical gestures are always born from the movements needed to create sound. Coon’s use of gesture highlights the physicality of contemporary musical material, the power dynamics of performance, and embodied sonification. DeChiazza is developing the set: a cluttered, industrial world of semi-opaque, plastic membrane, stretched on metal frames – barriers that will, at times, obscure and separate the musicians, and provide irregular surfaces to catch and filter shadow and light. The musicians will negotiate and reconfigure this world, creating confined solo spaces and separating duos so they can see one another, but not touch. These sections will contrast with expansive full ensemble moments. The sonic palette will be broad, including a spectrum of noise [i.e. overpressure, bow noise, muted pizzicatos] to pseudo-tonal chorales, and the physical gestures will always be born of the movements needed to create sound. The lighting will be controlled via a custom-designed James Clotfelter lighting system which DeChiazza will ‘play’ in real time during performance.

Mark DeChiazza, photo by Janelle Jones

Mark DeChiazza, photo by Janelle Jones

The Space Between begins with the performers spread throughout the space, blurring the boundaries of stage and audience. As a group, they will echo quiet gestures around the room, while gradually collapsing into the maze of screens. The members of Spektral will find and touch each other, explore and push away from one another, connect with someone and then experience their erasure. Solos, duos and trios are punctuated by occasional full-ensemble chorales. At the climax of the work the set is stripped away, allowing for the ensemble to work unhindered together at the climax. Through a series of duos, performers will then slowly exit the texture, leaving only the cello playing in the now empty space.