Article by Angela Schöpke (AL/DD Marketing Assistant)
While watching Anabella and AL / DD dancers continue to recreate and rediscover Pachamama: Mother World, it occurred to me how vital the work’s soundscape is in supporting the emotional journey that Pachamama embodies. The music acts as an integral background to the visual counterpoint of the dancers’ movements. I wondered, what was it like to build an auditory experience that is both derived from an emotional starting point, and that also creates an emotional experience for its audience?
The marriage of music and choreography is no easy problem to solve. Anabella suggests that for her (and to echo the words of expressionist dance pioneer, Mary Wigman), “the solution to this problem is that the music must be created at the same time as the dance, in a mutual collaboration between choreographer and composer. To respect the specificity of dance, the music must be born from live movements like the dance.”
Todd Carroll, soundscape designer, very generously took the time to speak with me about his perspective on the collaborative and creative process in designing Pachamama’s sound (thanks, Todd!). In the excerpt from our conversation below, Todd describes what collaboration with Anabella meant for him, his sound inspirations, and his experience of Pachamama’s restaging so far.
What was the collaborative artistic process like when you worked with Anabella on the soundscape for Pachamama?
I’ve worked with Anabella on music several times. For Pachamama, I came up with a sound piece for the first time that she worked on the choreography with dancers. The choreographic piece changed dramatically during the rehearsal process after that, and those changes were then reflected in the sound. Much of the exchange we had during the collaborative process was about thoughts on where the emotional impetus for where the music came from.
Also, sometimes Anabella would say that certain things need to be there, like animal sounds, so I made sure to reference those. Or for example, there’s a section of Pachamama called “Babies,” so Anabella explained its thematic significance and I then chose to add in baby sounds from open sound libraries that weave in and out of the soundscape to reflect Anabella’s thematic thoughts.
You mentioned animal and baby sounds. Were there other sound inspirations you drew upon in developing Pachamama’s soundscape?
Well, Anabella did a lot of research for the piece with some of the last surviving members of the Selk’nam (Onas) before they passed away. Anabella chose to approach creating Pachamama from a standpoint not of recreating the ritual of initiation that the Selk’nam practiced, but rather of using that ritual of initiation as a starting point for her choreographic work.
An important element that Anabella chose to keep, was this idea of the audience watching the performance as though they were the audience for an initiation ritual. They’re coming into see this performance and they leave transformed.
So musically what all of that meant for me, is that there were two musical reference points. There were recordings of one of the last shaman singers of the tribe called Lola Kiepja, which became a very important inspiration for the musical composition that I developed. Lola Kiepja provided the sound world with the only sound recordings we have of the Selk’ Nam experiences. Although no one will be able to understand the lyrics, I think it communicates very clearly the trance state she entered while singing. The heavy repetition and syncopation is a musical device for entering into a trance that can be heard the world over, from ancient music to the contemporary trance music people dance to today. It affords introspection, encourages transformation, and ties us to the past by summoning ritual practice.
The second musical reference point was the musician, Moondog. Moondog is an interesting character. People know him as the Viking of 6th Avenue. Moondog, also uses intense syncopation and was influenced by Native American music and chanting. He also blends in the urban sound of New York City, sometimes inventing instruments in order to get the sound he was looking for. He also had some classical training in his youth so I felt his music was a kind of bridge between those two worlds. Those were my starting points for the sound.
The Pachamama soundscape is like gumbo. Kiepja and Moondog were the raw ingredients, but I kept adding spices and stirring the pot until it tasted right. I used effects and distorted the pitch, or sometimes added reverb to achieve a larger space. I added animal sounds or a riff from Thelonius Monk. It’s a very intuitive process that I worked intensely on, then shared with Anabella to see if was going in the right direction. Often I went too far and the music became muddled. Anabella has a good ear, and through the process we hopefully ended up with something that works for the piece.
Much like Anabella’s approach to the choreography, I tried not to recreate what the Selk’ Nam initiation ritual might have sounded like, rather I tried to give Pachamama a familiar but challenging landscape. We investigate this small corner of history to see how it might connect to us here and now.
What is it like to experience Pachamama being recreated several years later, for a different space, and for a different group of dance artists?
Pachamama as a whole has changed a lot because the dancers are different, so they’re in bringing very different interpretations of the work. Especially important to Pachamama, is that a lot of the dancers’ motivation and expression is very personal. Anabella really expects the dancers to do their homework and to go through the process of finding what it is for them that gives the movement life. She doesn’t tell them where the life comes from, they need to find it.
So there are certain parts that will come to light that I didn’t notice as much before, and some parts that I’m expecting to notice, but I won’t anymore. But what remains true is that Pachamama still hangs together as a piece.
Pachamama: Mother World will be performed at Dixon Place’s FastForward Festival on Tuesday, May 17th at 7:30pm, and on Saturday, May 28th at 7.30pm as part of Sheen Theater’s IDACO Festival. Save the dates and get your tickets!
Pachamama: Mother World
Music Landscape: Todd Carroll
Acting and Voice Coach: Daniel Pettrow
Costume and Mask Designer: Jennifer Johanos
Rehearsal Assistant: Hope Parker
Apprentices: Dina Denis & Cesar Brodermann