Event Date: January 16
Time: 7:15 pm
Location: The Arts Club of Chicago, 201 E. Ontario St.
[Interview by Programs Manager Jenna Lyle]
The dynamic (and enigmatically named) ensemble Mocrep has become an essential part of Chicago’s music and performance community over the past few years. Not to be pinned down to a single discipline, they make a point of collaborating with people who challenge them, from performance artists to stand-up comedians to illustrators. They never shy away from exploring the social, political, and radical in art, and they’ve developed a practice of constantly asking questions about justice. Honored by the Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt as one of three invited performer collectives at last year’s prestigious Summer Courses for New Music, Mocrep collaborated with eight artists from around the world to develop new works for performing ensemble without traditional instruments. In the evening on January 16th, they will present an extended version of Plank Rodeo, developed with composer/performer Jenna Lyle.
Read on to learn more about Mocrep.
What IS Mocrep? What does your name mean?
Mocrep is a Chicago-based ensemble dedicated to the performance of radical, 21st century music that engages with contemporary culture – aesthetically, socially, and politically. We specialize in works that not only synthesize music, theater, and performance art, but also productively embrace the differences between these mediums. In this way, we hope to expose and explore new possibilities in performance today.
Comprised of eleven performers, the group’s practice reflects upon the idea of music as a medium, the meaning of performance as a social relationship, and the potential of art as a catalyst for change. Mocrep constantly pushes to address political, social, and cultural questions through performance, and aims to create spaces for audiences to do the same. Collaboration is a central part of this practice, both between composers and performers and across artistic disciplines.
Our name is a word we made up–it means us!
How did your ensemble begin?
The current group of eleven has been working together for about a year now. We met variously through school and through the very active new/experimental music scene in Chicago, but what drew us to each other is a shared interest in performative work and the wish for a collective practice that allows for multiple possibilities, multiple roles, and multiple disciplines. That means a different thing for each of us.
Another thing that draws us together is a shared need for and interest in artistic discourse. We talk about what we do and why we do it a lot, and those conversations are one of the most vital parts of our practice.
What is your practice?
Our practice, in both curation and performance, is one of seeking out and leveling hierarchical musical structures, whether they are between performer and instrument, performer and composer, or performer and audience. Ultimately, we are interested in exploring the most essential part of any performance situation: people. As performers, we are interested in making music about and with our bodies. As curators, we are interested in creating performance situations that help build community and facilitate new social and political possibilities.
In practice, this takes many forms. In the past 3 years we have performed with spaghetti pots, wigs, sandpaper, Barbies, radios, PVC pipes, candy, and western classical instruments. We have pushed the boundaries of our roles as performers, found new ways to work with composers collaboratively, and crossed disciplinary lines to work with visual artists, performance artists, and even a comedian.
We believe that our artistic practice should reflect the world that we want to live in, both in the way that we organize as an ensemble, and in the work that we present. We are constantly seeking to grow our performance community and to create art that we feel is both imperative and otherwise lacking in the Chicago community.
We spend a good deal of energy on our organizational structure. We meet at least once a week to make curatorial and (large) logistical decisions, which we decide on unanimously. Though time consuming, both the process and the outcome of this decision-making process can be extremely rewarding, because final decisions are the result of synergy, rather than a majoritarian or dictatorial system. Part of the point of this structure, for us, is to posit alternative possibilities for political and community organization.
To whom does your practice give a voice?
A huge part of our practice has to do with breaking down the patriarchal norms of contemporary music curation. We curate primarily female, female-identifying and genderqueer composers and collaborating artists, which we see as a concrete way of pushing the Chicago music community to question the ways in which we all propagate normative or oppressive structures through our curatorial and performance practice. We want to push ourselves further in the direction of curatorial diversity in future seasons.
Somewhat more abstractly, our work’s focus on bodies allows for a unique subversive potential. While sound is often a component of what we do, we are also reacting to a musical culture (particularly in the composer-performer model) that treats instrumentalists like instruments; we claim that musical performance is first and foremost a social gathering, predicated on the actions of bodies. To champion our bodies is to champion our own personhood–our humanity–and, by extension the humanity of our audiences.
Another extension of this is, again, our structure as an ensemble. While it may seem odd to make a point of it, our practice gives us a voice. Since all of us are classically trained, we’re used to composition and performance opportunities that come with a strict hierarchical structure. We’re trying to break that down, and create a space for ourselves as artists.
What, for you, are some of the social, political and aesthetic implications of instrumental music performance? How in particular are those implications subverted in other forms of instrumental practice or post-instrumental performance?
Instruments, particularly the Western Classical instruments that we are all trained in, occupy a specific space in the mindset of our culture. They represent the privileging of Western European culture, a specific acceptable artistic lineage, and the cultural importance of higher education—and the capital required for it. Performing on these instruments both implicates us in this lineage and all of its baggage, and propagates the aforementioned musical culture, one that treats instrumentalists as instruments.
Moving beyond work with classical instruments—or performing work with them that is specifically aware of their cultural weight—allows us multiple possibilities for either commenting on, or working outside that lineage. All objects have weight, of course—both the spaghetti pot and the violin—but we’re trying to give ourselves as many possibilities as we can.