Since 2006, the members of Sō Percussion have been writing music for the ensemble. Using our studio in Brooklyn as a laboratory, we often create music that is about “place:” a city, our immediate sonic environment, even how the past resonates where we are today.
In our multi-genre programs, including From Out a Darker Sea, Imaginary City, Where (we) Live and in 2016 at BAM, A Gun Show, Sō Percussion explores fundamental aspects of contemporary life with a characteristically deft touch. These programs incorporate original music, artistic collaborations, theatrical production values, and visual art into an immersive journey through the 21st century creative experience.
From Out a Darker Sea
” …a haunting and often deeply moving requiem for an industry and its people.”
For two centuries the coal industry formed the backbone of the North East of England. Entire communities sprang into existence as fervent mining activity fueled the industrial revolution. Economic opportunity existed, but was always accompanied by the looming threat of danger or death. Those who can recall that time manifest a peculiar combination of exceeding pride in their hard-working heritage and unflinching acceptance of the horrors that mining visited upon them.
But an industry is not a place. The North East, with its winding, rugged coastline and breathtaking fields of yellow rapeseed, has existed for human and geologic eons. It has seen transformation after transformation. The beaches that were once black with soot are now clean; the people, descended from Vikings, Celts, Romans, Normans, Angles and Saxons, remain, even as industry shrugs its shoulders.
From Out a Darker Sea is not about coal, but like everything in this area, there are always traces of its presence. The sea never ceases as it rusts discarded mining machines into autumnal colors, doing its work day and night as it will for ages. The North East is not frozen in time – it churns forward with the same ambivalent relationship to a new globalized culture as the rest of us, while at the same time laboring not to forget a proud history.
The project emerged out of multiple residencies in these industrial areas of Northeast England. We were originally invited to this residency by the Forma foundation, based in London. Over the course of numerous visits, we spent time interviewing local people, meeting and collaborating with other artists, and developing the possibilities for this work.
This piece incorporates music, film, and visual art. It exists in four parts:
Coal and Flower
This piece finds inspiration in the contrast of the strong black dust and residue of coal and the vivid yellow canvas of the rapeseed fields.
Created together with students from East Durham College in the UK. Students have highlighted something in their life that is so mundane as to be almost invisible, taking inspiration from the artist Robert Rauschenberg who said: “I feel very sorry for people who think things like soup cans or mirrors or Coke bottles are ugly, because they are surrounded by things like that all day, and it must make them miserable.”
Harold and Sylvia
Draws upon a slightly mis-remembered dialogue that Josh from Sō Percussion wrote after meeting people at a community outreach event. Interspersed are entries from the diary of Josh’s father when he was suffering from ALS (Motor Neuron Disease).
Song for Billy
Song for Billy was created together with Amber Film and Photography Collective. The work has grown out of Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s The Coal Coast photographs.
A Gun Show
The ways in which Americans perceive these small machines seems to intersect with numerous serious issues that confront our society – race, economic inequality, public safety, constitutional rights, etc. They represent an everyday tool to some, but a health menace to others. What is it about our collective psyche that fastens so tightly to guns?
A Gun Show is an exploration of these issues through music, text, and movement. We originally set to work on it as a way to process our emotions after the unfathomable school shootings in Newtown, CT.
We are joined for the second time by collaborators Ain Gordon (director), and performer/choreographer Emily Johnson, who helped us find beauty amid the chaos of everyday life in Where (we) Live. Our collective and myriad artistic influences splash across the canvas of A Gun Show as we search for ways to respond: childhood memories in the woods; a sing-song text duet that masks darker memories; the organized violence that many percussion instruments were designed for; the patient and hopeful mourning of the blues; the harmless tinkling resonance of a disassembled sniper rife – all play a part in our dreamscape.
We are angry, but we are also engulfed by a paralysis of melancholy. Political action is on our minds, yet the complexities of human nature lurk menacingly in the background. In the face of such weighty issues, sometimes we take a step forward to sing, play, tell a story. We respond to the urge to move, we gather and occupy space together peacefully.
No word exactly sums up what this performance is – opera may come the closest. The audience is invited to reflect and commune, as we have already found that guns embody a peculiarly American experience. It is strange that we should all be so deeply affected by their presence.
Below are highlights from a recent work-in-progress showing at SōSI:
Where (we) Live
For eight years, Sō Percussion has made our home in Brooklyn amid two million five hundred thousand others. In our city, each of the group’s four members has constructed a personal ecosystem we call home. These homes are bound by space, time, sound and image. Equally, these spaces house rewarding, frustrating, supporting, damaging, tangible and never understood relationships.
When we leave those homes, our four members unite to create another artistic home, with its own unspoken rules and expectations; its own rhythm of interaction, its own banalities and mystery.
Where (we) Live questions all these homes by purposefully inviting the unknown to “come on over.” We’ve asked video artists, songwriters, painters, choreographers, directors and others to substantively alter our process. The resulting performance contains a society of possibilities: composed pieces, chance elements, visual associations, and theatrical interactions.
* where (we) live is a National Performance Network (NPN) Creation Fund Project co-commissioned by Myrna Loy/Helena Presents, in partnership with Vermont Performance Lab and the Walker Art Center. The Creation Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts (a federal agency). For more information: www.npnweb.org
Sō member Adam Sliwinski wrote several blog articles about the development process of Where (we) Live:
- The beginning
- A bit later on
- Some reflections after the premiere
- Explaining Emily Johnson, the enigmatic “note taker”
- The use of guest artists and crafts(wo)men in WwL
Imaginary City is a meditation on urban life and its sounds, architecture, light and color. It is a dialogue between Sō Percussion and video artist Jenise Treuting, a poetic exchange. Musical, visual, and theatrical elements combine into impressions of city life. Featuring original music by the members of Sō, with Pulitzer-nominated Director and Playwright Rinde Eckert.
In 2009, Imaginary City ran for 4 nights at the BAM Next Wave Festival, and has toured across the country.
Imaginary City is a National Performance Network (NPN) Creation Fund Project co-commissioned by BAM for the 2009 Next Wave Festival in consortium with The Myrna Loy Center/Helena Presents in partnership with Diverseworks Art Space, The Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Newman Center for the Performing Arts and NPN.