Off the Walls: A Work in Progress

One of the most innovative components of the Artist Fellows program is the goal to reveal the process of artistic creation—the weeks (even years) of planning, the evolving ideas, and the constant back-and-forth that foments creativity. Throughout the month of July, Artist Fellow Sarah Wilson and her artistic partners, Catch Me Bird (C. Derrick Jones and Nehara Kalev), have been exhibiting this collaborative process as they work together to produce Off the Walls. A multimedia performance that melds Wilson’s dynamic jazz-oriented music with Catch Me Bird’s dance and aerial performances, Off the Walls is inspired by the painter Aaron Douglas, whose painting Aspiration is a highlight of the de Young’s American painting collection.

Sarah Wilson and Catch Me Bird

Artist Fellow Sarah Wilson with C. Derrick Jones and Nehara Kalev of Catch Me Bird

In this, their final push before Off the Walls debuts in September, we take you inside Wilson’s and Kalev’s correspondence as they conceptualize the smoky, brassy club depicted in Douglas’s painting, Charleston, which serves as the backdrop for act two of Off the Walls.

May 12, 2012
From: Nehara Kalev
To: Sarah Wilson

Sombre: I love the lazy hot steamy sound and would love for this to be played with some more of that, it really evokes the feeling of the painting for me, it can be a few minutes longer and maybe have another section (ya know, that whole same-but-different kinda thang). I picture this as a big mood change.

de Young Rehearsal

June 18, 2012
From: Nehara Kalev
To: Sarah Wilson

I hope this works. Three minutes of duet dance that is NOT set choreography, but will be cleaned up to work with Sombre track.

June 23, 2012
From: Sarah Wilson
To: Nehara Kalev

This is awesome! Should Sombre run exactly 3 min.? The MP3 I gave you was only 1:56. The final arrangement might be slightly different instrumentally, might have electric guitar (because it can ring more, I still might try Arco bass but I think it will get lost in Wilsey Court, even quieter passages need to sound really loud to cut through the crowd noise), so I'm thinking it's electric guitar and muted trumpet duo with more instruments joining. Will it remain a duo do you think?

June 23, 2012
From: Nehara Kalev
To: Sarah Wilson

Sombre will be a sextet, and it will use three sets of bistro tables and chairs onstage. So the dancers will work in pairs for much of the time, but essentially it is a full group scene that has a feeling of taking place in a loungey atmosphere.

Sombre Sextet

It will need to be about 4–6 minutes at least because, unless another song is born, I will need a total of 18 minutes. Presently that is split among only three tracks.

I agree that it needs to cut through the crowd noise, even though it has a softer mellower feel. I am also really interested in bringing out the silent pauses a lot more. For example, at the 1 minute mark. Can these be more noticeable somehow?

June 23, 2012
From: Sarah Wilson
To: Nehara Kalev

Good to all. I'll definitely write another tune.

We can totally emphasize those pauses; silence is great, but we could also use some percussion sound if needed to help emphasize the pause or to change it up as the piece develops and it can last as long as we want it to last. I love those pauses in the choreography—super powerful. The cool thing is we're live musicians and improvisers, so we're gonna be able to adapt and change.

July 11, 2012
From: Nehara Kalev
To Sarah Wilson

Great talking with you–so excited to get started.

I was just thinking about the length of the pauses again. Can we make some of them two seconds and some of them a bit longer maybe three-ish seconds so that they're not all a uniform length?

I'll try to jam on the choreography as much as possible on Friday and Saturday. Also please know that I can be inspired by your music and can conform the feeling and structure of the dance to what I hear in the music so we can both take the lead!

I am really inspired by all the nuances in the Charleston painting, so remember that we can both use that as a touchstone as well.

July 14, 2012
From: Sarah Wilson
To: Nehara Kalev

Attached MP3 of V2 of Sombre. Added more layers and perhaps a wacky bridge section. Need feedback before continuing working with it. Pauses can totally be tweaked. It runs at 5:10 minutes right now.

Sombre, version 2
[swf file="files/audio/Sombre_v2.mp3"]

July 14, 2012
From: Sarah Wilson
To: Nehara Kalev

Whew, this is getting swampy and steamy. I'm liking where's it gone. Lemme know if it's good and I'll send on to copyist. Also, an entire dimension you're not hearing is drums... So, so much can happen to change up a tune. So if this needs to get really different in that mid-section, sky's the limit, the swamp pulse could be going melodically and drummer could be on another planet.

Sombre, version 3
[swf file="files/audio/Sombre_v3.mp3"]

*Composer’s note from Sarah Wilson: this is a reference music file generated with computer software and does not replicate the sound of actual instruments played by live musicians. The only audio that is an actual instrument recorded in this sample is the muted trumpet played by Sarah Wilson and the part was recorded with no regard for performance.

July 15, 2012
From: Nehara Kalev
To: Sarah Wilson

Yeah, thanks for the reminder about the drums. I think this is ready! Love how you filled it out with that counterpoint? Counter melody? I'm still learning the terms. But me really likey!!! Yeah!

__

Tonight, July 27, at Friday Nights at the de Young, you can see the artistic results of this process live as the Catch Me Bird dancers and aerialists are joined by Sarah Wilson and other musicians to perform their work in progress, beginning at 7:30 pm. in the Kimball Artist Studio. The closing reception for their residency will also take place in the Artist Studio from 6:00–8:30 pm.