a collaboration tale

In an apple orchard somewhere in Washington State, a crowd gathers; they're staring in disbelief at what appears to be an angel poised on one foot, knee slightly crooked, arms stretched forward, in the top of a tree. Some 100 yards away, alone in the next orchard, a naked violinist is playing some something-or-other by Bach. Suddenly CRACK! the angel falls downwards one storey, but just before hitting ground it takes wing, robes flowing like in a Greek myth.... "Omigod, " the crowd roared, "It's Trisha!..." The rest is history.

Now how's this for a collaboration tale.... We knew each other in Rome at Fabio Sargentini's L'Attico days (late '60's) - Judson on the Tiber - but not very well. I figure my name must have come out of a hat, but there she was on the phone in 1991 asking me if I was interested in working with her on a new piece. Talmudically speaking, what else could I be interested in?

This happened to be a emergency where I would not have the time to view the dance beforehand, nor even see any videos (I was in Rome, she in NYC), and Trisha wanted some music, like, tomorrow. Armed with enormous amounts of patience and good will she began to explain the inexplicable, from the little men to the tide tables, and as we tested each others' ideas over an hour or so I felt that a couple of handles appeared - some degrees of dissonance, angles of consonance, bumps of density, sprats of light, dark and speed - but not much more. This was not about anything one could relate to a legal jury, she was trying to key me into her codes of pure Kabbalistic movement...

When I got off the phone all excited about this new project, I panicked, realizing that I'd understood absolutely nothing, not a word she'd said other than that the piece had to be 30-35 minutes long. But even under the pall of this blank memory, a strange but consoling feeling of "rightness" began to emerge, as if from total ignorance: the right music for this choreography was already in the making.
Later I figured it out. Trisha had used a magic strategy in this long-distance consultation- based on intuition and blind faith - that left me feeling as though she had offered me carte blanche to create a dreamwork with her, using anything that interested me at the moment - a collaborative process which she has cultivated time after time with remarkable success. Brilliant.

I happen to be a sucker for inventing musics for anything that moves (bodies, film, text, video, architectural spaces...) because of the beguiling potential of getting back twice what you put in. Sound and image together create an infinity of meanings, timbres, energies, and emotions that would be impossible to achieve using either alone. The notorious modern and post-modern experiments of the 20th century have created a intermedial lingua franca that enables a more supple and natural dialogue among artists of different disciplines. The resulting art objects - especially those in the newer genres - could otherwise not have come into being.

Sometimes a special unity occurs where the things that move and the sound they move through become indistinguishable from one another. These moments are golden gestalts when one ecstatically hears movement and sees sound, and in theatrical collaborations we spend a good deal of our time chasing them down.Whatever I had understood of Trisha's project, it was clear that she was goading me toward embracing personal and musical dangers. I approached her defiant abstraction with naive melody and met her ingenious structural tangles with quasi narrative, hoping that hers and mine - our sames and opposites, ironies and deceptions - would dovetail and ultimately become the other and the one.

So there I was back in the emergency room. I grabbed a dyslexic waltz - quintessential dance music- that was sitting half finished on the piano and made it into what turned out to be a perfectly-behaved classical Rondo: successive repetitions of increasingly deformed synthesizer variations, interspersed with sonic tableaux of old fashioned lawn-mowers, the Nantucket Light Ship, mobs of crows, John Cage's inimitable voice, tin cans being kicked in a deconsecrated Venetian Church etc etc. I whipped 35 minutes together in less than a week and like a lottery ticket sent the tape of "For M.G. the Movie" off to New York.

Some 10 days later Trisha calls all laughs (a truly good sign with Trisha) and says: "Alvin you're not gonna believe this, I don't believe this, nobody is..... your score fits like a glove, how did you do it?" I don't know, I laughed back, I just took some minimal, some maximal, some dirt from Satie's grave and some fog horns, shook it up in a Martini mixer and put it in the mail. This was the start of a wonderful friendship. Artistically 2 more works (both I believe called "One Story as in Falling" - a version for the Baguoet Co and one for the TB co.) followed, coming with much harder knocks, but come they did and in the process we each learned a great deal about how the other works and I learned the hardest lesson of all in dance, how to keep the music strong but invisible....whether completely rewriting my own string quartet or throwing together samples of bowling balls and Mozart clarinet trios. All of this in a very congenial environment of backbreaking perfectionism, where at the drop of a shoe Trisha would point her collaborators as she pointed herself, in one direction only: to unimagined unthinkable inventions in their own art. I'm sure like any angel she has some faults, I've just never seen them.

Alvin Curran
Halloween, 2001

Published in Hendel Teicher (ed.), Trisha Brown: Dance and Art in Dialogue 1961-2001, for Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover. MIT Press, Cambridge, 2002

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