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Patrick Higgins x Monica Mirabile : Sublime Confrontation

Composer, musician, and member of the avant-garde band, Zs, Patrick Higgins will present an immersive performance of his latest album, Dossier, at OPUS in Columbia, MD’s Symphony Woods. The first collaboration with performance artist and choreographer Monica Mirabile (of FlucT), this eruption of sound and movement will converge under the still majesty of Gemini, Matthew Schrieber’s 75-foot monument of lasers. Higgins and Mirabile spoke about working together for the first time over Skype, despite tremendous audio lag and interference. What transpired has been made more legible for readers.

Karisa: Dossier X, will incorporate live music, video and dance expressing something of our increasingly digital, alienated world. Can you talk about Dossier and how it’s performed?

Patrick: Dossier is a new record I put out this June on the Other People label. Musically and conceptually the project was attempting to wrestle with live electronics and guitar processing and trying to create electronic music that’s entirely performed but which disguises the origin of all of its instruments. I use the guitar to control all of these digital components that interfere with and kind of undermine the capacity to perform, but also are elements of performance itself.

More broadly, I’ve been very interested in these issues of data mining and identity collection on the internet and in the ways that our society is shifting now. Increasingly we are participating in networks that we have really no access to but determine a lot of hidden and quietly operating components of our lives. Some of which are benign and some which are quite sinister.

So for the collaborative version of this where we’re staging Dossier as a kind of multimedia performance that was certainly one of the starting points for a lot of the dialogue between Monica and me. I’ve been a fan of her work and followed FlucT for the last few years. Love what they do and thought it would be an exciting and relevant partner for the project.

K: Do you think there’s going to be a sinister tone to the performance?

P: I make very confrontational and intense music, but I also try to do it in a very emotional way. I’m always interested in using traditional materials that are recognizable, like harmony and melody and “beautiful” sounding moments to create something unsettling and then taking things that are more traditionally unsettling, like noise and bombast and making something sort of strangely poetic and surprisingly accessible. So I don’t know if sinister is particularly right, but it’ll be intense and confrontational for sure.

K: It will be super interesting to encounter your music in this context. For me, listening to the record, it sounded like I was in a basement with mainframe computers. That’s the kind of feeling I was getting. So the woods will be such a contrast.

Monica: I’m definitely curious how it’s going to be felt because if you can imagine coming upon that in the woods, it’s something that hits your chest or like I told Patrick, it hit my cheek when I first listened to it and where I felt the vibration. The frequencies being used are not something that you necessarily listened to. You very much feel them. You feel them in your chest. You feel them in your body. So I think it’ll be very successful in creating an experience where someone feels like they’re a part of something, not just watching.

P: Yeah. Something I’m really excited about with this kind of installation and collaborative performance is the sense of it possessing and transfiguring a space, but also really possessing and pulling in audience members. Because the traditional division of stage and audience or seated area and performance area is totally gone. I think the confrontation with the moving bodies of the dancers and the otherwise ambulating bodies of the audience members will be potentially really interesting as well.

K: Monica I’ve read about your work with the gesture of the glitch and saw there was a connection between glitching bodies and instruments that are responding to social patterning. Can you talk about how you’re approaching the performance?

M: What I have been talking about is the idea that there is this overarching system that we participate in but don’t exactly have control over, we have the mask of control. A lot of the choreography is four people using iconographic movement to depict the psychological effects of what this does to who we are and our behavioral patterns. And that looks like a dance in some ways, but it is also very influenced by subtle movement and fluid expression.

One thing we’ve been really focused on is this idea that there is an actual looming structure above us, which is Gemini. Matthew Schreiber’s laser sculpture acts as a metaphor for this looming system that’s not tactile, it’s immaterial. And this is something that we are very literally performing under. The way we perform is very much in effect by it, but also by this invisible nature of the sound and the frequency that also has a direct effect on us. Patrick and I have talked about how he will be affecting our movement as much as we will be affecting the sound at some points.

K: It could be seen as an unnatural choice of venue for themes of surveillance technology. The festival grounds are designed specifically for leisure. Can you talk about your relation to the place?

P: I’m particularly excited about the kind of interrupted character of it. This large light and laser-based sculpture installation by Matthew Schreiber will be installed on the festival grounds for the duration and is a work that features this matrix of lasers strung between various high points on these trees and illuminated through a rather dense field of haze and mist. That is really going to be operating socially as a fixed installation. And I think for our part, I’m interested in taking that space over and transforming it rather suddenly into a site of confrontation and an immersive action and sound. Because for the rest of the festival it will be quite a meditative and peaceful, almost like monolithic, sight of silence.

By not doing this on a stage but rather within this vaguely defined terrain of grass and trees and light and smoke, having this sudden eruption of very intense immersive audio and very real but somewhat occluded confrontation with these four  moving bodies will be at once disruptive and also kind of inviting everyone into a new temporary zone.

M: One thing I’m really excited about is the dichotomy between sacred geometry and invisible control. The sacred geometry exists within the structure of light, as well as the sound, and I’m also incorporating it into the structure of the choreography. I think, from the audience’s point of view, there’s going to be an interesting interaction with the interruption that Patrick is talking about—where an explosive happening occurs— within a structure that’s very symmetrical, very geometric, and there’s this meditation within it.

Patrick is caught in a deluge and the audio breaks down.

M: Speaking of interruption.

P: You know, it’s a very multistable vibe here.

K: We were talking about Schreiber’s laser piece, which I’m imagining as a frozen moment. Like instead of a laser show where everything’s moving, it’s paused and captured and still.

P: Yeah, visually, that’s going to be very exciting. Beyond the temporality of dance and music, there’s video-based projection that will be stored in the same tree network that the lasers are in. And the video is very specifically triggered by the elements in the music. So the way the video content behaves is quite literally tied to different physical triggers in the music performance.

K: Hang on, your voice is getting compressed and then sped up.

M: It fits exactly with what you are talking about, as you speak about it. It’s very meta.

P: It’s like literally happened already.

K: Ok now that the digital compression and garble has subsided, maybe we can go back to the live-triggered video. Patrick, could you describe the graphics for the video projections?

P: I designed animated fractals that are driven by an audio algorithm that responds to different types of data and things like frequency spectrum analysis and volume control different aspects of how the fractal animation is operating. It should appear abstract and painterly.

K: And Monica, you are creating in the abstract. Can you describe how you choreograph for a space that doesn’t exist—that you’ve never experienced?

M: Well I have some digital renderings and an idea of dimension and I’m pretty imaginative. So I developed a sort of dream in my head about what it will be like. I have a very tiny studio. It’s like 260 square feet. And so it’s a little bit hard to rehearse in the way that I’m thinking about space, but we just sort of compress everything like what’s happening here.

And then it really comes down to the day of the dress rehearsal, which is very common for me. I honestly never really get to rehearse in a space for very long. So it’s adapting and marking the day before the performance in the woods because it will be the elemental in that there will be dirt and rocks and trees—and that’s all very exciting. It’s been nice for me to consider the fact that things are going to be changing so I can’t be very calculated about things even though I’m attempting to be. You know, I’m like the pacing is (quick) one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. But it might be more like a  (slow) one … two … listen to the sound, change the sequence when it feels right kind-of-thing.

K: Monica, you’ll be performing with Jes Nelson, Aaron Ricks and Tara-Jo Tashna. How do you refer to them? As dancers, as performers—what do you like to use?

M: They are artists in their own right. And especially because as a choreographer, I don’t really consider myself a dancer, I have a hard time getting that the people I work with are dancers, although it is certainly a dance and it’s a dance in the most fluid way that you describe or define dance. But their personalities are really what comes out in the choreography. They are artists and they are performers and they have an incredible sensibility for what creates transcendent performance or transcends information. And that’s really what I’m focusing on when I’m working with them. It is how they all are best representing who they really are, not just as dancers.

K: How do they all respond to the music? I was listening to Dossier today and I have to say my cat didn’t enjoy it but came back for the last song.

M: We all love it and it’s cool. Every time that we’ve met so far, we laid down and we’ve listened to the soundtrack and gone through the movements that we’ve learned previously and everything starts to shape together. There are so many subtle moments, you know, it’s not your traditional pop song, which we’re all very familiar with moving to. It’s a lot more exciting because we focus on subtle cues and the listening aspect. Like when something happens, we’re responding in a real literal way, you’re not just performing math, even though that’s a part of it. There’s this whole relationship that you develop with the sound and I think that is honestly the most exciting part, on top of the fact that the sound itself really lends itself to coming up with free movement.

K: Patrick, you invited Monica to be a part of this event. Was it your decision to connect with the Gemini work as well?

P: No, that was curated in. But as soon as that idea was proposed to me I was quite into it. Once I had seen what Matthew Schreiber has been working on in his own practice, I was very moved by it and we had a really great studio visit. It seems to make good sense.

M: Honestly, not to sound like a total tool or mystic but I think it’s divine. I think it makes perfect sense with everything that the album is about and what I am about, this triad of collaboration is very well suited.

P: Absolutely.

K: Thank you so much. I’m glad we made it through this rocky skype call.

M: I wish I was recording it. It was a really good noise track.