Found Objects and Moments in ‘Time With People’

Event Date: April 29
Time: 12:15pm
Location: First Floor Gallery
P&C objects

Found Object Sculptures by Parsons & Charlesworth

For the past few weeks, design duo Parsons & Charlesworth have been in and out of our gallery with loads of trash (Don’t worry; it’s clean, mostly). The more artistic term for their materials might be detritus, out of which P&C have made a series of found object sculptures. Those sculptures, along with a heap of sonically compelling filler rubbish, will comprise the installation set of British composer Tim Parkinson’s Time With People, an opera of sorts.

Devoted to the work of experimental composers like Parkinson, performing ensemble  have undertaken a long process (a couple of years in the making) to develop and stage Time With People. There are no characters, and if I recall correctly there are no more than three honest-to-goodness instruments–two electric guitars and a drum kit, I believe, which are featured for about 5 minutes. The primary drivers of sound in Time With People are the bodies of performers interacting with the set. They trek through a sea of garbage, lay down in it, dance on top of it, build towers out of it… and over time, each mode of interaction with said garbage leaves its own aural and even emotional signature. It is in this manner that Time With People becomes more than the sum of its parts. As a listener/viewer, I find myself experiencing a series of intimate snapshots of the performers on stage. To my eye, the significance of Parkinson’s, Parsons & Charlesworth’s, and’s combined efforts is in the nuance of moments, in tiny interactions, and in the constant readjustment of focus. I like to pretend I’m holding a camera and zooming in and out on the scene in front of me, immersing myself in the whole picture and then looking hyper-closely at individual frames.

But then again, that’s just my experience. Come to The Arts Club this Saturday to see what you see! In anticipation of the performance, I asked the artists a few questions.

-Jenna Lyle, Programs Manager, The Arts Club of Chicago

Jenna Lyle: How did begin, and what does your name mean?

Nomi Epstein (Founder/Curator, Back in 2010, I decided to plan an experimental music concert. I asked a colleague of mine, Lee Weisert, who I had met at Northwestern, if he wanted to co-organize with me. I had been doing my doctoral research on the New York School of composers (John Cage, Earle Brown, Morton Feldman, and Christian Wolff) and was very interested in performing some of the indeterminate scores of Cage. Lee, who had studied experimental music at CalArts with Michael Pisaro before, and I knew that he would bring his knowledge of newer works as well. Together we organized a concert of international experimental music by living composers of multiple generations including pieces by Kunsu Shim, Laura Steenberge, Antoine Beuger, and John Lely. The program was rooted in John Cage’s Four for string quartet, as Cage’s contributions to experimental music very clearly inspired the work of the other composers being presented. As for performers, in addition to the two of us, we enlisted the help of several other composers from the doctoral program at Northwestern (the program Lee and I had gone through), and a few New Music performers from the Chicago area.

The first concert was a big success with a full house, and a nice preview by Peter Margasak in the Reader. I was so inspired by the experience, and the chance to delve into this repertoire from a curatorial and performative perspective, that I decided to continue this effort on my own, making the one concert into a series. And I have continued [that series] as the curator since then, focusing on notated, acoustic experimental music, primarily notated with prose (text scores). As is common for new groups, it took a few years for the roster of players to become fixed, which is a set 8-person ensemble.

The name of the group comes from one of the pieces on the first concert we gave. ‘Happy for no reason’, a piece that a•pe•ri•od•ic has performed several times over the years, is a wonderful work by the Germany-based composer Kunsu Shim…In his text score, Shim writes “The actions in the ensemble are very dense, but aperiodic, sometimes simultaneously, but also with gaps or breaks, with the exact timing of an action determined by any player individually.” (I should add that the score is written in German, so this comes from the translation of it that I was sent.)

‘a•pe•ri•od•ic’ , the ensemble name, should be written with the raised dots (interpuncts), just as you’d find the word in the dictionary with the syllables separated for pronunciation.

JL: Parsons & Charlesworth, same question.

Jessica Charlesworth & Tim Parsons: Since our arrival in the US to teach at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2010, we founded our studio Parsons & Charlesworth after years of informal collaboration. After running our independent practices in the UK, we joined forces to pursue projects that explore the practical, rhetorical, poetic and speculative possibilities of object making. We went through a long process of trying to find a snappy studio name but were not satisfied with any. In the end we decided to embrace the use of our surnames, even if it might sound like a British law firm!


Tim Parsons & Jessica Charlesworth

JL: Describe what your work is.

NE: The ensemble for the first 3 or so years focused on the work of the Wandelweiser group, a group of composer/performers whose compositions center around, stillness, quietude, and silence. These composers say they picked up where John Cage left off with his 4’33”, (though, I’ll add, that there are so many readings of Cage’s ‘silent’ piece, and I believe what the Wandelweiser composers were/are most drawn to is the idea of silence creating focused listening experiences). Outside of Wandelweiser music and works by others in a similar aesthetic vein, we’ve spent a good amount of time with Pauline OliverosSonic Meditations, which call upon a somewhat different, but still ‘meditative’ performative experience.  There can be a little more playfulness in some of these, and, of course, they are not performance pieces, but, rather, exercises to practice Deep Listening.

Yet another repertoire that a•pe•ri•od•ic has experience with is Fluxus and Fluxus-inspired work. One of our first concerts featured only Japanese Fluxus works. A few years ago we were joined by Kunsu Shim and Gerhard Stäbler to perform a concert of their works. These are works that embrace absurdity, theatricality, and have their roots in (and are performed side-by-side with) Fluxus works as well, presenting us with a very different performative experience.

P&C: Working across a variety of media, we create objects, exhibits, texts and images that encourage reflection upon the current and future state of our designed culture. Our studio creates objects and futures using narrative and speculation to prototype new ways of living, often proposing what does not exist yet and asking what if it did?

JL: a•pe•ri•od•ic —Your work as a contemporary music ensemble has, for me, emphasized the importance of silence. Would you agree? And how might that dialogue with silence manifest itself in Time With People?

NE: More so than the importance of silence, the work I choose tends to require a very sensitive, expansive, appreciative, and almost meditative listening practice for both the players and for the audience members. The listening practice is deepened by the indeterminacy of the pieces. We (the performers) are listening to/for the unknown, and appreciating the moment, the possibilities of simultaneity, compliments, dialogues, and whatever else may happen during performance. These are issues that I focus on in my own compositions as well, and I am drawn to the experience of performing it through others’ works.

aperiodic performing a scene from Time with People at Mana Contemporary, Chicago

As for Time With People, I would say that the work calls upon areas of all three types of repertoire that I’ve mentioned. The opera is almost entirely notated through text scores, and offers us, as with all the text scores we work with, a wealth of decisions and shaping options owing to its (controlled) indeterminacy. The work has sections which focus much more on sound (listening), on words, on nonsense, on visual, and on movement that causes sound.

JL: Similarly, P&C, what does it mean to be silent in design? Also, what has your approach been to set design for this project?

P&C: Silent in design makes us think about German designer Dieter Rams, who often talks about the ideas that design should be this faithful servant standing in the corner and only appearing as and when you need something. He also talks a lot about not designing unnecessary things. Silence could be interpreted as not making something. Not introducing design language where it is not required or into an already crowded or “noisy” marketplace. Our approach to creating the set for this performance has been to provide an opportunity for aperiodic to seek ways to make sound but also for the visual language of the objects to have a playful relationship.

JL: Follow-up—In the context of your work or in Time With People, what does it mean to deal with bodies/humans on a stage?

Kenn Kumpf (performer, a•pe•ri•od•ic): Time With People is not about me, or starring me, or featuring me beyond the fact that I am one of the titular people (1 of 10) – unless one infers that the People are the audience, in which case we ten performers are having time with you.

Eliza Bangert (performer, a•pe•ri•od•ic): To me, this piece offers a rare chance not to just play music, but to be playful. At one of our run-throughs, we accidentally kept the fourth movement going for probably 15 minutes longer than it was supposed to. None of us really knew how long it had been because we were so absorbed in our actions. I’m also having a lot of fun being a guitar soloist in Opus 5 (I normally play the flute). We find ourselves debating things like…“Should we step over the trash, or drag our feet through it?” AperDance

P&C:Functionality, interaction and tactility are all important values that play a part in how we generate objects for people to use both in a gallery context or in the home. Scale and materiality of the object work together with how it might communicate functionality. We always want our work to have a believable formal aesthetic that relies on the laws of physics. We ask ourselves “If this was real, how might it look?” Our form language is evolving all the time as well. We don’t have a house style, or at least it’s always evolving depending on what we are interested in.

Whether we create something to be used practically or whether it’s a speculative piece to be viewed in the gallery it still has to perform well. I think we are aware that when we are making things, each thing has its own context and that ends up determining how it’s made. If it is designed only to be viewed it does not have to have the same level of durability than if it is to be used physically and picked up, turned over and cleaned and kicked or what-have-you. It has a whole other level of use that is around its believability.

JL: P&C, as designers, you think about how bodies will interact with the things you make;, as performers, you think about how bodies will interact to make things. What about this project in particular has expanded or changed your approach to the human body?

P&C: Usually we are considering use in the conventional sense or in an expanded sense to include contemplation. We design things to be functional or to be viewed in the gallery setting. For this project, use is determined by the performance itself and so we had to consider the way the performers would interact with the objects.

Our first experiments in the studio began with a random assortment of raw materials – card, paper, plastic bags, rope, wood, foam-core etc that we made into small sound instruments that would then have to be activated by the performer.

We knew that the sounds qualities of these ‘instruments’ were important but we wanted to also consider their aesthetic qualities. We began to create objects assemblages that would engage with the viewer as well as the performer – this interplay between the senses- looking, touching and listening.

The thrift store ephemera donated by various members of the Arts Club as well as aperiodic’s own
collection were completely different from the sound instruments we had been creating at home.

We asked ourselves questions like: What might be the audio impact of these materials during the performance in this space? How might the sound of this blow moulded plastic container sound when pushed around the space? Or the squeezing of polyethylene foam pool noodles – what sounds do manufactured industrialised materials have when combined together?

Parsons & Charlesworth’s installation will be on-site for viewing during gallery hours at The Arts Club from Friday, April 28th through Wednesday, May 3 at 3pm.

Special thanks to the performers, Arts Club members, and staff for donations of set-making materials.

This event is free and open to the public.

Posted April 26, 2017
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