Thursday, May 31, 2012

Feed It Back

By now, over the course of three years, we've played more than five shows and less than twenty. I'm not sure of the exact number. However many it may be, in the light of heroic tour schedules such as this one, we've played very few shows, but there have been some shows, and there has been some feedback. I try to keep track of the random things that people say to us, because I like feedback. Without it, everything exists only in my head, and it's dark in there. Dark and messy. The gaze of an Other serves to shine light on forgotten thoughts, misplaced objects, and unconscious impulses. Of course, Stefan is my primary Other in that we regularly engage in exchanges of illumination, but sometimes, we fall so deep into the mire of back and forth self-assessment that nothing comes clear. At such times, the casual comments of mildly interested outsiders are crucial. For example: "I liked it when you danced!" I danced? Oh yes, I did dance during that one song. I did study dance, many years ago. I did once want to be dancer, despite my chubby thighs and regretful lack of coordination. Where does dancing fit in? What am I doing with my body? What is Stefan doing with his body? How do we look on stage? Should we position ourselves in more deliberate ways? A new area of focus emerges.

Most recently, we played at El Rio with Stratic, Noah Phillips, and Jason Hoopes. It looked something like this:

Afterwards, I received a slew of casual comments. These are the ones I remember:

1) I like your outfit. Good. I'm going for slightly slutty elegance.

2) What was Stefan doing with all those different machines? Many, many mysterious and unspeakable things.

3) I was standing to the side of the stage, and it sounded awful from there. Yes, it did. Unfortunately, the monitors at El Rio are shit. At least for our purposes they are. We're not a noisy rock band. Ideally, we need big lows, smooth mids, and clean highs. But there's no such thing as an ideal live set-up, except for maybe if you're Portishead and you're playing at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, so we tried to put up with it. Understandably, Stefan got frustrated. It's hard to enjoy a show if all your electronic instruments are coming back at you through shitty monitors. And usually, if Stefan feels like shit, I start to feel like shit, and then, it all goes to shit. This time, as soon as I started to sense little atoms of frustration hovering in the air between us, I made a sudden decision. I would ignore it. In a concerted act of self-preservation, I thought only of myself, my voice, and my keyboard parts, and it worked. I got through the show and gave the songs what they deserved of my heart and mind. It still wasn't a completely satisfying performance, but it would have really tanked if I had let myself become absorbed by the drama of nebulous technical problems, as I have often done in the past.

4) You have a beautiful voice. Why, thank you.

5) Why don't you stand in front of the synths? You should be more of a front woman. Well, sometimes I have to play the synths, so I can't always stand in front of them. But yes, there are some songs that only require me to sing. I could stand in front of the synths for those songs. In the case of this show, I tried to do that, and my microphone immediately started to feedback. In order to avoid the unfolding of yet another act in the drama of nebulous technical problems, I stepped back behind the synths. What's a singer to do? I realize that my voice is at the center of these songs, but there are only two of us. I can't always bask in the luxury of only singing. Also, let's say I really got into it, front woman style, dancing and emoting and gyrating and all. What would this make Stefan? A silent synth technician? An unknowable accompanist?  The Wizard of Oz? This is somewhat of a problem. I'd like to be part of a team. I'd prefer not to monopolize the foreground and push Stefan into the background. But audiences respond to front women. In pop music, the voice is a focal point. We could write more instrumental songs. I'd like to do this. And Stefan could sing every now and then. He's considering it. We'll see where all of this goes.

6) I really like that one song, the one in major. Oh yes, that song! Wait, we only perform one song in a major key? Maybe two? Shit. Must write more songs in major keys.

7) I can see you performing in a black box theater with additional text and lights and choreography. Something very theatrical. You guys are halfway between a band and a theater piece. What if you worked with a writer? Have you considered moving more in that direction? Uh oh. A can of worms has been opened. I was once a theater major, and Stefan loves Samuel Beckett. Our first project together was a staging of Beckett's inscrutable one-act Company. Yes, we often consider the world of theater. We talk about performance personae, a seamless live set with no gaps in it, concept albums, costumes, preplanned spoken segments between songs, musical interludes, and makeup. But when it comes down to it, Stefan wears the same navy blue t-shirt and jeans to every show, I say very little between songs, we have yet to write any incidental music, and I wear something that I think looks good on me and nothing more. I'd gladly work with a choreographer, a lighting designer, and costume designer, but that doesn't seem possible at the moment. As for a writer, I'd like for us to be the writers. I'd like to think hard about some kind of narrative or conceptual arc through which to connect the songs and some kind of distinct performance persona to inhabit every time I get on stage. I'd like to flesh out the relationship between myself and Stefan onstage. There may be bits of narrative already embedded in the sets that we've done so far, and there may some kind of performance personae we unconsciously gravitate toward, but it has yet to come clear to me. We work intuitively. It's the best we can do for now, and I suppose there's nothing wrong with working intuitively. In time, all will be revealed.

8) You know that thing you do with your eyes where you look up at nothing while you're singing? That sort of creeps me out. Yeah, I don't really feel like looking out at the audience for every minute of every song. But I can see how the spaced out gaze can be creepy. It means I'm going to that imaginary place and emotional space from which the song originally arose. It means I'm exiting the room. Maybe this makes some people uncomfortable. I have yet to figure out the proper balance between acknowledging and ignoring the audience.

9) Yeah, good show. Good show. Good show. Thanks for coming, guys. Excuse me while I go the bathroom and stare at myself in the mirror. What the fuck just happened? Who am I? Why did I reveal myself to an audience YET AGAIN?

No comments:

Post a Comment