Bird-like Things in Things like Trees for clarinet, cello, and piano

Performance by counter)induction at Tenri Cultural Institute, 31 May 2013.

Benjamin Fingland (cl), Karen Ouzounian (vc), Ning Yu (pf).

Bird-like Things in Things like Trees was conceived during a stay in the medieval village of Auvillar in south-western France at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. Also in residence was painter Rob Tarbell, and as we shifted our daily life from a cycle of driving and teaching, to one of walking and markets cobblestone streets, we were both struck by a heightened presence of birds in our lives— neither of us had pursued mimetics previously, we felt obligated by our situation to trace our encounters with these birds into our art in some way.

This is a rather different situation than mimesis – one could say that Rob 'sketched' the birds of the region at the same time that I recorded and transcribed the songs of birds in the region, but the situation is better described by the title of this work (or works) – we drew and sang things that were like birds, but that bird-ness revealed most clearly in the gesture of their tracing. This is ekphrasis far more than it is mimesis; what is figured is that act of figuring, rather than the figured.

SO as these paintings and musical sketches move away from portraiture, they become a work doubly derived, at the least. These are processes in which source material is only occasionally clearly visible or audible;– the originary image or sound is 'worked' so connection to the source is replaced by connections to the subsequent iteration of 'working.'

This is an interesting valuer in here, a valuing of drift – this hermeneutic chain introduces new ideas and new associations with each iteration, and such drift is compounded when the number of artists increases. The process of working in this piece was not directly collaborative, but rather imperfectly parallel - independent work coming together on a semi regularly basis. The relationship between the composerly aspect and the painterly aspect is not communitarian, but it is transductive, a relationship in which each interlocutor not only contributes to it , but is transformed by it.

Viewed in theses lights, it is difficult to say if there is, indeed, a work (or works) here; certainly there are semiautonomous work-like objects, but they reveal themselves more fully when conceived instantiations rather than objects. Such a framework foregrounds the nature of this project (and arguably any other project) as a network of traces of action on the part of a composer or a painter or both.

Of course, these instances are not only the result of individuals or selves; there are embedded in historical and cultural contexts, in the giveness of the past in the now. In the (net)work, there is a strong sense of memory, of recovering the experiences of hearing birds in the particular milieu of Auvillar - dawn, the speed of the river Garonne, the wind in trees, crepuscular murmurings. Thus the audience is hearing traces of sense memories of birds but also the milieu in which these birds fly and nest and sing and eat. The question of whether these are 'real' birds or imagined is as actually a question of the verisimilitude of memories. It is that gap between experience and memory which is of interest to me because it is that gap that allows folding and refolding of memory and trace to create new work, to transition event to memory, memory to speculation, and speculation back into being.