Ascending Staircases of Sonoma Light
by Susan Leem, associate producer
"I think about that ‘empty’ space a lot. That emptiness is what allows for something to actually evolve in a natural way."
—Meredith Monk, from Mountain Record
In the video above, the singer and composer Meredith Monk fills up a magical performance space that reaches 78 feet up from the ground to a ceiling that opens to the blue sky. The musicians, dancers, and singers all harmonize on different stories of the tower, almost calling to each other from level to level.
Designed by artist Ann Hamilton, the concrete tower is 24 feet in diameter with a pool of water at the base. The interior reflects some of the natural light that fills the double helix staircase and passes through rhythmically-placed metal handrails. Unlike a more traditional performance space where an audience might sit full-on facing a filled stage, there are pockets and openings in the tower to allow performers or even the audience to inhabit the walls. Light, song, and beauty naturally evolve into that empty space.
"What hope shall we gather, what dreams shall we sow?
Where the wind calls our wandering footsteps we go.”
~Sarojini Naidu, from "Wandering Singers"
Photo by Mikl-em. (Taken with instagram)
After a while, okay, you’ve worked twenty years or twenty-five years. Okay, so you’ve got this many grants, you’ve got this long a resume, you have these people that hate you, you have these people that love you, you’ve done this piece, that piece, this piece, that piece…and then you go to your grave. And what do you think you have—a piece of paper that tells you all the pieces you’ve done? So what? The only reason for doing it is that you might have the joy of discovery on a day-to-day level. The only reason for doing it is really that you love doing it. What it gets down to is: how do you want to spend your time on Earth?
—Meredith Monk, from Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art & Politics, no. 17, 1984
~Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
"Oh flock of heavenly cranes, cover us with your wings." ~From a traditional Japanese prayer, which Hiroshima victim Sadako Sasaki’s mother read to her daughter while the young girl was battling leukemia. Sadako’s dream was to create 1,000 origami cranes to be healed; she folded 644.
Photo by Frau Bob. (Follow “onbeing” on instagram)
Live Video: In the Room with Kevin Kling
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
WHEN: Feb 9th, 2012 (1pm CT/2pm ET)
If you listen to NPR, there’s a good chance you’ve been regaled by the unparalleled storytelling of Kevin Kling. His popular commentaries and hilarious autobiographical tales have graced the public radio airwaves and his plays have been staged across the United States.
Born with a congenital birth defect, Kling’s left hand has no wrist or thumb, and that same arm is 75 percent the size of his right arm. And then, about five years ago, a motorcycle accident took away the use of his right arm when the brachial plexus nerves were pulled out of their sockets.
In a face-to-face conversation from the studios of American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio, Krista Tippett will talk to this American humorist and writer about confronting and embracing these physical challenges and his own mortality, and the will to create rather than despair. Through his work and his personal story, we’ll focus on his work as an artist, the importance of humor and craft in his spiritual life, and how he finds meaning in the world around him.
You’re welcome to watch it here, or join us on our events page where you can chat with other folks watching it.
The Power of Theater
by Chris Heagle, technical director
This snapshot of a performance report from Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis has been floating around my Facebook feed. Created by the stage manager following every performance, it’s usually a pretty mundane document — a basic communication tool for people working on the current production to let everyone else in the company know how the show is going. This one, though, is remarkable and speaks to the power of art and story to reach beyond the edifice of our everyday. It reads:
"It was generally agreed by all that the show was ‘kind of rough’ (tech wise). But after the show we learned that there was a 5 year old autistic child in the house. He had never spoken. But as the lights went down, he began to talk. In full sentences. He called the teacher by name. She had no idea he even knew her name. He was engaged in the show — at one point commenting to the teacher that if there is a dragon then there will be fire. And there was fire. He talked all throughout the show. When the lights came back up — he quit talking and returned to his world. So, yes, I could list all the little things that wrong today but that is not what this show is about. And that little boy certainly didn’t see those things as he sat talking in the dark theatre watching Harold and his Purple Crayon."
And of course, I couldn’t help think of our interview with Paul Collins and Jennifer Elder in "Autism and Humanity."
Their goddess of love is a very fascinating and complex idea. She is in fact goddess of all the luxuries which are not essential to survival. She is the goddess of love which, unlike sex, is not essential to propagation. She is the muse of the arts. Now man can live without it but he doesn’t live very much as man without it. It is strange that one would have to go to an apparently primitive culture such as Haiti to find an understanding in such exalted terms of what the essential feminine – not female – feminine role might conceivably be – that of being everything which is human. Everything which is more than that which is necessary. Taken from this point of view, there is no reason in the world why women shouldn’t be artists. And very fine ones.
—Maya Deren (1917-1961) describing the Vodou spirit Erzulie.
The experimental filmmaker was the first person to win a Guggenheim Fellowship for film. She used her grant to travel to in Haiti during the 1940s, immersing herself in Vodou rituals. Her 1953 book Divine Horsemen: The Voodoo Gods of Haiti introduced many Western readers to the complexity and depth of Vodou for the first time.
Photo of Maya Deren by bswise (Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
-Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
We’re in the audio business and are marveling. We can only imagine the possibilities of layering the hand movements of our favorite public radio personalities and putting them to music (think Brian Eno adapting his generative music app) to form some type of chamber piece.
Bartek Szlachcic, an audiovisual artist based in Poland, used motion capture software to trace his drumsticks in space during a performance, creating this mesmerizing video. Portrait of a Ghost Drummer is a part of the artist’s ongoing investigation of “the interdependence between sound, video, human senses and issues of data storage,” a solo project named Odaibe.
~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Art from Detroit’s Ashes
by Susan Leem, associate producer
"It ain’t clean. And, it ain’t easy. And it ain’t a lot of things, but it’s so many things at the same time."
—Jenenne Whitfield, executive director of The Heidelberg Project
The Heidelberg Project is a living outdoor art installation in the heart of urban Detroit. Artist Tyree Guyton created a massive art installation spanning two city blocks where deteriorating homes are reinvigorated with paint and repurposed materials. In the video above, you’ll see some of the somewhat wild colors (from pastels to brilliant primary colors), patterns (polkadots), and materials (stuffed animals).
Much like Jimmy Boggs’ mantra to “make a way out of no way,” Guyton says the philosophy of his 25-year project is "to take nothing, and to take that nothing and create something very beautiful, very whimsical to the point that it makes people think.”
Meredith Monk: A Twitterscript
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Last Wednesday, the artist Meredith Monk joined our host Krista Tippett for a 90-minute conversation via ISDN. We live-tweeted highlights of this interview and have aggregated them below for those who weren’t able to follow along. Look for our show with her in the coming weeks, and follow us next time at @BeingTweets.
For those not familiar with Ms. Monk, she is an American composer, performer, director, vocalist, filmmaker, and choreographer who has been creating multi-disciplinary works since the 1960s. She is best known for her vocal innovations, including a wide range of extended techniques.
Also a practicing Buddhist, she is a member of the Shambala sangha. Her most recent album, Songs of Ascension, is inspired by a Zen abbot who described Songs of Ascents — songs which Jews were believed to have sung in biblical times on pilgrimages to Jerusalem and to the top of Mount Zion.
- For the next 90 minutes we’ll be live-tweeting Krista’s interview with composer/vocalist/performer/ Meredith Monk —@meredith_monk 1:02 PM 11 Jan
- "Singing was a natural kind of language for me. I read music before I read words." —@meredith_monk 1:10 PM 11 Jan
- "I think of the voice as a very kinetic instrument. I think of the body and the voice as one." —@meredith_monk 1:12 PM 11 Jan
- "Auditions are hard on the human level…I was looking for people who could sing well, and had a radiant generosity to them." —@meredith_monk 1:14 PM 11 Jan
- "Auditions are hard at the human level. I like to give back to people." —@meredith_monk 1:15 PM 11 Jan
- "I’m really trying to do something that makes the voice universal and transcendent." —@meredith_monk 1:16 PM 11 Jan
- "I had the revelation that the voice could be like the body. Like the spine, it could turn, it could fall…" —@meredith_monk 1:20 PM 11 Jan
- "I had the sensation of something ancient, primal, visceral, preverbal expression." —@meredith_monk 1:21 PM 11 Jan
- "As an artist so interested in uncovering the invisible, mysterious, inexplicable, things we can’t label." —@meredith_monk 1:24 PM 11 Jan
- "I was thinking of the voice as the messenger of my soul." —@meredith_monk 1:24 PM 11 Jan
- "Performing is such an amazing template of human behavior: of generosity, sensitive to the environment and to other people." —@meredith_monk 1:28 PM 11 Jan
- "We’re taught to be distracted and diverted from feeling the good pain as in open-heartedness of the moment." —@meredith_monk 1:30 PM 11 Jan
- "I wanted to spend the rest of my life making pieces about things you can’t make pieces about." —@meredith_monk 1:34 PM 11 Jan
- "The act of making artwork was the act of contemplating something." —@meredith_monk 1:35 PM 11 Jan
- "How do we spend time on this planet? How do you do work that’s of benefit?" —@meredith_monk 1:35 PM 11 Jan
- "Why does worship always go up? There’s this idea of heaven going up." —@meredith_monk 1:38 PM 11 Jan
- "In the Buddhist tradition there’s circumambulation, that’s a different form, going around." —@meredith_monk 1:39 PM 11 Jan
- "I love the idea of working with strings, the bowing arm is so much like the breath." —@meredith_monk 1:40 PM 11 Jan
- "Maybe I should’ve called it ‘Songs of Going Up and Down’" —@meredith_monk on her new work “Songs of Ascension” 1:43 PM 11 Jan
- "Play is something to really think about. That sense of playfulness is another aspect of being alive, awake." —@meredith_monk 1:45 PM 11 Jan
- "When it comes down to it, you leave love behind…the Beatles had it right." —@meredith_monk 1: 48 PM 11 Jan
- "If I do use words, they’re used more abstractly…The word dissolves into pure sound." —@meredith_monk on song writing 1:55 PM 11 Jan
- "The older I get, the simpler the work gets…the most essential is what reaches people the most." —@meredith_monk 2:00 PM 11 Jan
- "Curiosity is a great antidote to fear." —@meredith_monk 2:00 PM 11 Jan
- "All of us as human beings are part of the world vocal family." —@meredith_monk 2:04 PM 11 Jan
- "The human voice is the original instrument. You’re going back to the beginnings of utterance…The memory of being a human being." —@meredith_monk 2:04 PM 11 Jan
- "Most of my songs deal with emotion…between the cracks of emotion." —@meredith_monk 2:10 PM 11 Jan
- "It was like two young children just loving each other so much" —@meredith_monk on singing for the Dalai Lama 2:16 PM 11 Jan
- @rosannecash - Meredith Monk (@meredith_monk) loved your interview with Krista and would love to meet you! 2:19 PM 11 Jan
Photo of Meredith Monk by Jesse Frohman.