5 questions to Mad Mohre (artist)

From August 17 to August 30, at Gallery One Twenty Eight (128 Rivington between Essex and Ludlow, New York, NY 10002) the Nouveau Classical Project will be presenting In & Around C, a participatory music and art installation. We asked 5 questions to Mad Mohre, the artist behind the installation…

What is In & Around C?

It’s a participatory music and art installation—that’s the best thing since sliced bread. Or in this case, sliced vinyl. It’s a piece that’s been floating around my head since 2009 when multiple influences were pushing their way into my periphery. I saw Philip Corner, friendly low B flat for Ruth Emerson, (1964) in a book I was leafing through in grad school and it led me down a path of imaging how a staff and musical notation could be translated to a larger audience: maybe one couldn’t read a score in the traditional way but wanted to somehow physically immerse themselves in a piece – to be active. Also, John Cage’s 4’33” easily informed the next decision in how I was thinking about the participants. Cage sort of tricked the audience into unwitting involvement; I don’t want to trick, but I do want to being with a sense of mystery that’s later satisfied as the viewers step into the space. They go from being viewers at the front of the gallery to conceiving of their involvement at the back. A small ode to Cage. And Riley all in the same piece. It’s also a piece about giving classical music a different twist, and fine art a little auditory fun. I was extremely lucky to meet Sugar [Vendil], who runs NCP and has played an integral role in making this happen, and developed this idea for a wide-ranging community visually and sonically. Our goal is to excite listeners and see what they can contribute – I’m just waiting for someone to lie down on the floor or do some kind of snow angel in August.

What will the performers do?

They will improvise by interpreting “notes” on a staff. These “notes” consist of the heads of the guests, who walk onto an enlarged music staff. An aerial photo of participants will be captured via a webcam and transmitted to a wall-mounted screen. The performers will play for as long as they can last. Their performance is completely dependent on the presence of visitors and their interpretations will vary depending on the different sets of rules they chose to follow.  We will technically also have one “performer” in place of a live group that will consist of an incredibly smart computer program written by Gabe Taubman. This program/performer (“In & Around C ++”) detects movement within the frame, snaps a still photo, inputs that information into its own algorithm that then outputs as a collection of active midi instruments. This quartet, or duet or orchestra will be heard live. For this singular “player” there’s actually great variability since there are unlimited combinations of instruments that can be chosen.

And what about the composers?

Composers have created unique directions for the performers, from which the performers can choose. Some sets of rules we may assign, since we want to make sure every composer gets performed at least once throughout the two weeks. We are posting each composer’s piece on the Nouveau Classical Tumblr ( every couple of days. When I spoke with Sugar initially, she thought it would be great for composers be involved in order to guide the musicians, but also to really exercise the idea of community and collaboration, which are central ideas for In & Around C. The theme of community is also why we thought it would be perfect to invite outside ensembles to participate…on that note, there are still some slots open!

Is this your first collaboration with musicians?

This is my first collaboration with musicians, but so much of my work is informed by music. I play the violin, I started when I was 6 with the Suzuki method and played with quartets and orchestras growing up. So my understanding of collaborating with musicians is actually more from my own former practicing and performing. Now I get to enjoy the process from a different angle, from a visual artists’ lens. I mentioned earlier Corner and Cage as influences, but there are plenty of other artists who dealt intimately with sound and movement and installation that mapped the way for me. Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla’s, Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on ‘Ode to Joy’ for a Prepared Piano, (2008), Jeppe Hein’s, The Curve, (2007), Martin Creed’s, Work # 138, (1996), are some examples of works that incorporate kinetic movement (or reference them anyway) that begin to change with the presence of an audience. The audience members in some sense become the performers. Changing gears back to the original question, I’m excited to see what NCP and the other performers will make of the composer’s outlines and how they will react to clusters of people on the staff. There’s some brilliance to Riley’s original piece, because it retains a framework while being entirely fluid – the musicians will have to do the same. They’ll have to work within this aleatoric environment. Their initial choice might be fixed as to how to play, but there’s a huge element of chance in what choices the participants will make  – again, this brings me back to wondering if we’ll get some strange human bodily arrangement or conga line at any point in live performances.

Cutting vinyl...

Cutting vinyl…

Do you see this kind of installation as a more effective way to engage an audience? (and if so why)

I guess I am careful about addressing “effectiveness” in general. Particularly because one broad category I’m interested in addressing in my work is the use of Play. Of the many definitions of play, most describe play as an activity without a goal. In a lot of ways this project encourages play, but a considered, thoughtful play. Maybe this explanation sits in some contradictory grey area. I think both Sugar and my aims are to promote a new way of experiencing classical music and art in conjunction with one another. We also want to make classical music more accessible to an audience who may be unfamiliar or not particularly excited by the genre. Bodily immersion and creating a space for that type of playful understanding seems like an intimate and personal way to connect with listeners/viewers/participants. For me, too, these have been the pieces that I’ve understood best and reacted to more thoroughly. In a time (and especially in a place like NYC) where the two-dimensional image is everywhere all the time, an installation can both mimic a sense of everyday space and create an unusual new environment. This is as close as I can get to effectiveness. It is definitely effective in bringing a wide array of talents and personalities into one space. This was true of Antony Gormley’s, Blind Light, (2007) in which participants were wandering (blind) through a mist-filled box and had their perceptions considerably altered – people were reduced to moving slowly and groping their way through a hazy interior world. I think this was one of the most brilliant ways of bringing people together that I’ve seen yet. It forced people to rely on each other for auditory hints and clues. It brought people out of their everyday worlds of texting and tweeting and overall gadgeting and quietly reminded them to remember their bodies in space. I would say the same of pieces like the stage performance, Sleep No More.

In & Around C
Gallery One Twenty Eight- 128 Rivington between Essex and Ludlow, New York, NY 10002
August 17-30, 2012
Sunday: 1-6 pm; Wednesday: 1-7 pm; Thursday thru Saturday: 1-8 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Performance schedule coming soon
FREE, but donations are appreciated! Suggested Donation: $10 Donate in advance.

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