“Music for Human Face” 360 video (2018-2020)

I briefly mentioned this project in the introduction and ‘Intimacy’ chapter and its significance for the final direction of my research. The workflow that I was convinced was collaborative, was not collaborative. Despite that, this work is instrumental to my RP. I was using Jeremy as a performer. My wish was for us to develop a performance piece that used kissing as its material.


Jeremy Richards and I got married in 2018 and separated in 2020. He is my age, from Australia and not a trained performer.



Through it, I shifted from treating intimacy as a material with the hope of it appearing as affect, to understanding that such an outcome required an intimate process; not to make intimate work but to work intimately. This of course means conversation about difference, skills, boundauires and what each other wants, ideally.

Although Jeremy had some dance experience, I knew he had limitations which I had to be sensitive to and work with. This demonstrates familiarity and understanding his skillset, again part of Elizabeth Creamer’s sequence of collaborative steps. His dance experience was something that I was interested in using however.


He was nervous about making a live performance piece so we compromised and I suggested that we make a 360 video piece because this was a less stressful proposition. I led a number of experiments that were to build familiarity with the camera as much as anything else. The filming locations included Oslo winterpark, an airplane, a car parked in my favourite place from childhood, a van and our various homes that we moved into and out of in Oslo. I wanted our relationship to be persistent across space, a lasting queer relationship. He could understand this and was willing to try but all our working had been directive; I was telling him what to do whilst asking for his input. Everything changed after he asked me to write a document about what the piece was that I was imagining.

In hindsight, this was pursuant to a shared vision. Through writing it, I realised that there was a space that I wanted us both to be in but also that I had built a wall around it. This wall was made up of my personal knowledge, experience of performance and, especially, “music in the expanded field”, where sound is no longer the only medium. This was a conceptual shared space or third space or ‘creative acreage’ as I began to refer to it, a term that I have dropped. Jeremy developed specific ideas for narrative and text that relied on more conventional acting and dialogic scenes rather than the language of cinema, movement, documentary and physical theatre that I was interested in exploring. His vision was to literally expose real facets and conversations and problems from the history of our relationship.

It stopped being something that we wanted to do by Spring 2020 because we seemed stuck in conflict at the start of every session. It demonstrates a lack of experience on my part in helping amateurs apply themselves. It took me some time to become unattached to my ideas and the notion that I knew what would work best on 360 video. It is also possible that I interpreted these exchanges as conflict and as more significant than Jeremy did. Zubin Kanga makes an interesting point about conflict: “the strength and intimacy of a collaborative relationship provides the framework for the most creative uses of conflict.” (Kanga, 2014, p.329). Although conflict ended up killing this project, we were able to sustain it for some time and Jeremy literally wanted to use our conflict in the work, making use of it creatively to a degree. Although we did not have a collaborative relationship at the beginning, we developed one across the working period but it never felt balanced and neither the imagination for the work or the division of roles felt shared. The framework of this relationship must have been quite strong to sustain such conflict. The intimacy of our relationship provided this framework; we had ways of speaking that were effective for resolving issues within our relationship that could be applied to this process also.


We had also explored writing a song together that might have ended up featuring in the video. Jeremy wrote the lyrics and I composed the music. Jeremy’s lyrics are highly personal and about an experience he had of viewing a video of his ten-year-old self on television. The lyrics speak from his own point of view but are sung by me in this recording. The function of this demo was for Jeremy to be able to learn it as well as exploring the potential sound world of the song.


This project sits in an interesting position within this RP; it thematises intimacy as material as shown through its focus on kissing; we attempted to develop an intimate process through role-sharing and dialogue as well as risk-taking and experimentation. By virtue of its mediation as a 360 video meant to be received through a virtual reality headset, strapped to the audience’s head, it would also immerse the audience, creating a feeling of proximity to the work, that even the piece unfolds within an appendage of the body. This encompasses all of the types of intimacy that I began this investigation exploring, the types are borrowed from the LCMF concert that I attended. Intimacy presents itself through the choice of tactile material, through our marriage and through the choice of mediation.

“Constanze” (2019)

On the face of it, there is very little to say about the composer and performer interaction for the composition of “Constanze” by John Moran because it really was not collaborative. The interaction was directive according to Hayden and Windsor, or distributed to use John-Steiner; I was an interpreter. For Torrence (2018) this amounts to the performer and composer meeting with a final score and, although they do not exactly workshop the piece together, details are refined as more information is exchanged.  It represents one end of the scale within this RP where the composer composes and the performer performs.  


John Moran, born 1965, is an American composer, choreographer and theatre artist. He became the protegé of Philip Glass when he moved to New York at age 23. His works bring together a variety of mediums, including recorded music, spoken word, choreography and dance, mime, lip syncing, and video. He told me that he is interested in creating a kind of hypnotic effect for the audience which is why the pulse in “Constanze” is so important, even when it is not always audible; even dialogue is mapped onto the grid of beats. He sees himself as related to composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass, composers interested in gradual processes and repetitions.


I commissioned this piece from Dresden-based John Moran using my project budget from NMH. It is a typical piece of John’s and this was what I asked of him so my comments on the non-collaborative nature of this experience are purely observations rather than criticisms. It is however a tenet of my RP that devised, collaborative work can yield surprising results and provide certain advantages that I have already mentioned. 

John was aware that I am interested in complex movements and sequences to specific sounds, drawing on the technique of ‘lipsync’. I shared videos of my own performances with him so that he was familiar with my abilities and we were confident that I would be able to execute what he wanted. I was tasked with learning and executing the choreography that John composed in the exact way he had intended it.

In 2019, I travelled to Dresden to visit John and stayed for five days from March 17-21. John's main concern was that I would not have a good time. I calmed him and said I had other jobs to do so he would not have to entertain me. I had expected to arrive and spend all day in a studio, moving and experimenting, leaving John to work on some material that I would then try out the next day and so on. None of that happened. I thought it imperative to come though; I was sure John needed to see how I moved and how I was in real life before he could make me a piece. On the first evening, John and his partner Marie had me for dinner. Our conversation consisted mostly of story-telling. 

The next day, we met in the afternoon and John showed me his studio. I showed him “FEED” and “Tro//ing”, the latter was heavily influenced by his piece “Dive Bar” (2005) and I was worried he would be affronted by the imitation but he liked it, he even offered some suggestions for improving our performance. He then showed me a DAW session on his computer for his piece “everyone” (2019) for three dancers and audio; John composes everything to a beat; it is very musical as soon as there is a click behind it; it is highly composed and nuanced. Sounds are also in a key, he explains; he might pitch shift the sound of a door creaking or a vocal utterance up or down a semitone to create more consonance or dissonance.

Then we walked to Constanze’s apartment, whom I had heard so much about in the course of my stay. She is an artist and mother of two and would end up being the subject for this piece. I was trying to absorb her body language during the visit as this was important to John; to try and “get” her. This could have been uncomfortable and I was not sure if she could tell that I was observing her. There was a moment when her son, Till, shouted into the room we were in, John and I exchanged a look. Sadly we were not yet recording. 

On the third day, I walked through the old town of Dresden, which has been mostly reconstructed. It lacked the decrepitude of other cities like Berlin or Brussels. I drew a parallel between John’s use of audio remnants of people and the ruins of the city. Later that evening we spoke more about the piece. He asked why I had asked him for a piece. In truth, I simply wanted to have a piece by John, whom I admired, and wanted an insight into his process.

We agreed to have it done by Autumn 2019 and that I would probably revisit at some stage to try it before some final changes were made. This time was spent talking and I see this was important in establishing a rapport and basis of trust. I told John that I wanted it to be difficult (for me), challenging (for the audience), mysterious and complex. John feared working too closely with people and told of some bad experiences. I had fantasised about watching him compose over his shoulder. He could not work that way and I respected it. I understand this was a boundary.

Soon after this trip, on April 11th 2019, I awoke from a dream. My uncle had died the day before. After Dickie Beau, my co-supervisor, had told me a story about an 18.9hz resonating ventilation system in the laboratory of a scientist, the vibrations of which made the scientist’ eyes wobble and subsequently invoke the experience of hallucinations, I dreamt that I too had turned on a such speaker to resonate at 20hz.  It began affecting my sight if I found a particular space in the room within my dream, around twenty metres from the speaker. I was then trapped in a moment of sleep paralysis and knew that my uncle’s ghost had somehow inhabited my dream and that this resonance made it possible. As I struggled awake from the nightmare, the Central Line of the London Underground rumbled directly under my friend’s apartment in Bethnal Green, where I was sleeping for those nights.


I told John this story. On April 28th, he sent me a demo of a scene where we hear Constanze waking up, accompanied by a soft synth pad at 741hz, which John was eager to explain was a cleansing frequency for the morning. I had offered something small and personal into the piece that John tried to incorporate, although it did not make it into the final work. 


John delivered the piece later than agreed although it did not matter and we decided that I should visit Dresden again. I arrived November 8th 2019 and stayed until November 11th. In the meantime, John had created two scores for me, one was more like a script, the second was a video score, a screenshot is shown below. Neither was able to communicate anything more than the order of events, the words I was to lipsync, who was saying them and what was foreground. I tried my best to memorise them and to place them in a space but it was only when John walked it through for me, in person, was I able to share his vision of it. Only then were we able to work on the fine details of characterisation through movement and where things happened in space. 

My task was to represent Constanze and her children Rosa and Till, by moving in time to audio renderings of them that John had constructed. There is little by means of set; there is a chair and a stage riser or table; everything else is implied through the audio track. There was also the complexity of the time loops and their overlaps that I could not map out alone. I had to really embody these people and discover how Constanze might move within my own body frame. It became clear that moving as Constanze would be quite impossible; the best I could do was to try to follow the voice with the face and hint at vaguely feminine and childish attributes. John is inspired by animation and he coached me on my performance for some of the sessions I worked on it. He used the idea of a bouncing ball that is squashed as it hits the ground, then returns to its original shape, then begins to stretch as it bounces up in the air again. He said that my movement ought to be dynamic, elastic, that I could go up to ten in elasticity and at other times be at three or four. This amounted to quite a cartoonish performance style, which lent itself to the task. 

On the last day, I was finally beginning to inhabit the work. I filmed myself the whole time. I was beginning to feel the pulse that ran throughout, I could navigate the loops and I began to float on top of the track rather than be chasing it or arriving too early. While the sound element was fixed, I largely created the exact movement for myself for moments when Till is “Godzilla” and then a Superhero, when Rosa is with her book, when Constanze is holding her knee and other details like doorknobs and what exactly Constanze draws when she uses the pen. I would consider this to be interpretation but also the nearest we got to interactive collaboration. John is more than twenty-five years my senior and much like Zubin Kanga’s experience with Michael Finnissy, there is an aspect of teacher-student to my relationship with John; I put him in a position of authority. Zubin’s experience working with Michael Finnissy on his piece “z/k” (2012) was separated into the compositional process, into which Zubin had almost no input  and the interpretive phase where Michael offered a lot of insight and suggestions and importantly discussion about the piece that he had written for Zubin. In this statement, Zubin is suggesting that the Finnissy’s coaching was highly collaborative, even transformative: “his coaching is not merely prescriptive and one-sided, it is dialogic and integrative in that his intention is to open up new interpretive options and give me permission to be very free with certain parameters of the music that are left open by the notation.” (Kanga, 2014, p.41). Although not directly transferable, my experience with John was quite similar in that he coached me through the rehearsals and let me determine some of the detail of “Constanze”. He let me into his particular performance practice. We agreed on the idea of 'filling the frame' in performance, which pertains specifically to the cartoonish performance style. It suggests a shared ideology that we have arrived at together through the rehearsals. I was then ready to perform the work; the documentation is provided below from its premiere at NMH in November 2019.

On the face of it, our collaboration was limited. Intimacy shows up in this project in the nature of the material; the sound and narrative of the piece represents a family’s morning routine, a very personal and private activity. It also emerges when I consider the function of the time spent together in March 2019 and its significance in building a scaffolding of trust and humour through conversation. As I considered the intimacy of the material further and the way John told me he had made the recordings, I understood John’s recording of Constanze, Rosa and Till as more than just material but a process of its own. It is fair to say that John was collaborating with the family on the compositional material, at least on a level of distributed collaboration and moments of interactive collaboration. This is in part due to the nature of working with and directing children; John would have been unable to control exactly what they did. These moments of improvisation, play and chaos then became part of the work. I could say that John was almost in a devising process with his recording subjects, rather than with me; I arrived when the piece was complete.

In a similar way, it is possible to analyse the nature of the sound design from an intimate viewpoint. John has ‘foleyed’ every footstep; each must be isolated and considered and in fact, walking became the most challenging part of the work for me. Without being critical, many of Constanze’s footsteps sound heavy, widely spaced; I assume they originate from someone other than Constanze herself. Everything else like the toilet, CD player, the sink and the bedding are closely recorded or “close-miked” and caused me to ask who the audio part is for. I notice that the sound is not composed from the point of view of the audience, who would be quite some distance from the sound source, but is intended to represent the perspective of the character being portrayed. For example, the sound of the pen being thrown towards the audience does not get louder as it approaches the audience but, on the contrary, it gets quieter, suggesting it is being thrown away from the perspective of Constanze. The footsteps are another example of this; rarely do the footsteps get quieter as they move upstage, away from the audience unless they represent the footsteps of one of the children, when Constanze is in the kitchen for instance. In this way, John is attempting to show the piece from different points of view, encouraging the audience to take the perspective of the characters. This caused me to realise that I also used this approach in “Tro//ing” particularly with the sounds of the loose change and the dial tone on the telephone receiver. John has used this as a dramaturgical tool to assist a change in character.


In 2020 I wrote a string quartet for Constanze’s art show. She repaid me with three of her pieces. She appears in the webseries in 2021, mentioned later. It felt like a family began to assemble during these projects. We also established an actual company called “Everyone Company”. The opportunity to create “The First Ladies” came from my relationship with John and by extension Hellerau European Centre of the Arts Dresden who ultimately commissioned it. I present it below despite the fact that it was made during Lockdown of 2020.