Tuesday, May 31, 2005

5/20 Getting GEEKed

After late night dinner with some folks from LMCC, Keith and I went home and packed for our trip to Santa Barbara. We had about four hours before we had to leave home again. I had a cold, so I was worried about the flight, but it turned out to be cool -- a whole lot of sleeping. As soon as we got to beautiful Santa Barbara, we checked in, got ready, and went to @froGEEKS, where we were to play some works from The Sour Thunder and perform some of 4-1-9. @froGEEKS is
the brainchild of Anna C. Everett, whose work on film and new media in the African Diaspora is blazing a bright new path. I had met Everett at the Powering Up, Powering Down conference in early 2004 and had seen her give an interesting, funny talk at MLA 2004 on black geeks. One of the things Keith and I really appreciated about her talk was that Everett truly placed the idea of "black geeks" in an international context. We missed the 2004 @froGEEKs conference because Keith was graduating the same weekend. This year the conference was focused on "Global Blackness and the Digital Public Sphere", and I'd heard from some of the conference organizers -- Duriel Harris & Masheed Ayoub -- that they had done a great deal of work to bring people working from Africa and other (non-American) parts of the Diaspora. Unfortunately, we had to miss many of the opening panels because of our performance the night before (and then b/c I was gorging on lemons and hot water because I had no voice), but what we saw was absolutely wonderful.

For example, although we'd long been fans of George Lewis' work and had even met him a
couple of times, we had never seen him play live. Lewis played trombone with a Disklavier. I can't express how exciting it was to watch and listen to someone in whose lineage we see ourselves working in so many ways. Before playing, Lewis gave a talk. Part of this talk was about what it meant for him to improvise with a computer. What stuck with me were his ideas about experimentation with technology. He explained that many people think those who play with computers are interested in how computers work. He, instead, improvises with a computer in order to mediate on what it is like to play with humans. Lewis discussed the different ways the Disklavier was able to respond to what he was playing: (1) play in the same register as him (ie: play highs when he was playing high notes), (2) play opposites (ie: play low notes when he's playing low), or (3) ignore him.

Lewis said that these are ways that humans sometimes react to playing with one another and that for him the challenge was to think about how he would react to a person who responded to him in this way. I loved thinking about what it must be like to be so conscious of how to make music/art with another person. It reminded me of a Jones/Zane company performance I'd seen which Bill T. Jones introduced by saying "This is about watching yourself watching difference". First, a group of men -- non-dancers (I think they were all businessmen), different sizes, all black except one white man -- went on a sort of journey. The white man tended to lead them over a sort of obstacle course, but each man had his own narrative. Then, dancing through the same obstacle course, with almost the same narrative, were a group of dancers -- this time they were all little girls (I'd say between the ages of 9 an 12), all black, but also of different sizes. It was interesting to watch the way the narrative changed. The role of the "white man" was played this time by different girls; on small female bodies the narrative seemed very different from the way it looked on larger, male, non-dancer bodies. I was, indeed, watching myself watch difference. The best part was at the end, because in the end each man had taken a solo, but when the girls did it, because they were all dance students, they had these beautiful turns, each designed to suit their strengths. I became even more invested in what they were doing, because in that moment I was thinking about both their differences from one another and their differences (as dancers) from the non-dancers.

In any case, I had a somewhat similar response to watching Lewis play with the computer, because I was made aware of the different ways humans respond to the choices other humans make while improvising together. I think what made it most interesting was how the idea that that's what I was watching made me meditate on human interaction. After getting into that in the beginning, though, actually hearing and watching Lewis play overtook the whole conceptual aspect of the performance. I don't have the language to express my joy at hearing him blow. I should say: I don't want to put language on it.

I'll say more tomorrow . . .


Blogger John K said...

This sounds like SUCH a fascinating conference! I found one of Lewis's CDs at Academy Music a few years ago, and have wanted to see him perform for a while. I always wish that conferenes like this were being captured and archived electronically somewhere so that people who couldn't attend could readily access some of the discussions, performances, etc. (Wouldn't that appropriately Geek-y?) Or maybe it was....

12:37 PM, June 01, 2005  
Blogger Mendi O. said...

Hey John: It was fascinating, especially to see all the different kinds of black geeks in the room . . . btw, the whole conference was videotaped and much of it is being broadcast somewhere over University of California television.

3:35 PM, June 01, 2005  
Anonymous ReggieH said...

You know ya'll will have to clue me in to when next year's conference is. I was this [ ] close to being able to attend this time and want to actually make it in '06!

3:01 PM, June 07, 2005  

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