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Children’s Games (after Breugel): a growth for mimicry and variation

Notes: This text was originally published in: Shifter Magazine 16 special issue on Pluripotential. Edited by Sreshta Rit Premnath & Warren Neidich

Play, even if it appears without sense,
contains a whole world therein;
the world and its complete structure
is nothing but a children’s game”
– Jacob Cats, 1622

Parts may overlap or be shown in any order.

Part One

Construct a literary story based on the NY Times book review of Neverland by Piers Dudgeon, entitled “For Starters, a Satanic Svengali” (by Janet Maslin, Oct. 26, 2009). The story should attempt to convey, in unadorned style, the content of any scenes or interactions or occurrences which are described in the review. No attempt should be made to force these scenes into sequence, or to invent connections between them.

Using the collection of fragmentary literary moments as a basic structure, collaborate with another author to produce a script (with staging directions) for an elementary-age theater production. Each described moment should exist as a separate “Act”, without connective material. They may be re-ordered in any sequence.

Using available resources and adult participants, create the necessary costumes, sets and props to perform the script. Rehearse and perform the play using adult actors on the stage of a classic elementary school auditorium with a proscenium stage and curtains.

Videotape the performance using four cameras on tripods at distinct vantage points, controlled by separate operators. Editing these tapes, create a four-screen video projection.

Part Two

Choose scenes from a children’s movie that contains horrific or disturbing elements (for example, the Wicked Stepmother character in Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, 1937). Look particularly for moments that display grotesque or distorted vocal sonorities and exaggerated characterizations. Extract an audio-only recording of chosen scenes and apply editing procedures – cutting, duplicating and erasing fragments of the language to realize a collage of silence, grouped or single phonemes, and short vocal gestures derived from the original source.

Arrange performers to listen on headphones that dampen any hearing of outside sounds. Record several attempts to imitate the fragments as closely as possible.

Using multi-track software, create a multi-voice (at least 8) arrangement of the imitations. Selected groups of tracks may be considered as representing individual members of a choir, for which this composition will act as a performance score, in real time.

Export each track grouping to a separate stereo audio file, maintaining the overall time structure. Along with the vocal sounds, include a drone or white-noise masking tone to additionally isolate the hearing of individual performers. This tone should be loud enough to mask the outside sounds, but not so loud that hearing the score becomes overly difficult.

When performing the piece, each vocalist is to wear headphones connected to a separate audio playback device containing their score, and all begin their respective devices at the same time (within average tolerance). While listening to each phrase, performers attempt to repeat it as closely as possible, without additional inflections.

During performance, additional vocalists accumulate in close proximity to the headphone-wearing group. These performers may move around the first group and intermingle with them. Each performer in the second group is free to mimic, after a pause, the voice of any other performer.

Part Three

Excerpt scenes containing the “Captain Hook” character from liveaction interpretations of J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan”. After removing any audio content, create a collage of body gestures by editing them into sequences of single movements, each separated by a short blank pause. Emphasize looped and repeating phrases, alternating with new material. Slow each movement to a rate that facilitates observation and mimicry.Using this collage as a score, rehearse a movement performer to mimic the gestures as closely as possible. Produce a video recording of the performer against a neutral background. From tape number one, rehearse and videotape performer number two. Continue this process until there are four video recordings. Without any internal editing of individual video recordings, produce a fourscreen projection.

Part Four

Produce a collage of non-linguistic vocal sounds produced by the main female character in the film “Suspiria” (Dario Argento, 1977). Use this collage to
instigate vocal mimicry from several performers wearing headphones, in separate recording sessions.

Using editing techniques, produce a stereo file consisting of a distinct sequence of vocal fragments, to act as a score for a single performer for video.

Arrange a vocal performer with headphones connected to an audio playback device that contains the score. The performer holds a black umbrella and walks constantly and at a steady rate toward the video camera, while the camera person walks backwards (led by an additional guide), holding the frame as a steady medium-length head-and-shoulders shot. Attached to the umbrella will be two lavalier microphones, pointing inward, recording both the sound of rain and the voice of the performer.

Videotape the performer reacting to the score four separate times in four locations (all raining).

Without internal editing, use the four video recordings to produce a fourscreen projection, with sound.

Part Four B

Live performers use one of the four video recordings from Part Four as a score, and perform the vocal sequence in tight unison.

Part Five

Over a duration of 20 minutes, arrange 8 vocalists to perform the sounds of Grimm’s law of linguistic drift, in sequence:
Bh -> b -> p -> f, etc.

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