Summer Labs: Alexa Dexa's "Be a Doll" and Jeff Tang's "Such Strange Gravity"
7pm doors • 8pm show
Each year, National Sawdust seeks out emerging and established local Brooklyn artists to participate in our Summer Lab series. The chosen artists are given four hours of time in our state-of-the-art venue to develop music-based works. In addition to the four hours for developing these works, each selected artist receives 30 minutes of performance time on National Sawdust’s stage, with successful performances considered for future programming in the venue. These performances represent a critical early stage in the journey of a work from concept to reality, and are a rare chance to see new work from new artists come to life.
Set in a makeshift dollhouse, “Be a Doll” will be an audiovisual electroacoustic toy operetta for solo vocalist performing choreographed play routines on musical and nonmusical toys with live electronic processing and pre-programmed electronic sequences. The narrative will revolve around an unnamed woman struggling with her perfectionist and submissive conditioning in a world that commands her to “be a doll”. Living in a dollhouse filled with functioning toy versions of household items, she reluctantly carries out the traditional role of woman as pretty plaything and keeper of the home. Each of her daily play routines is a reinforcement of gender-based norms in an overwhelming cycle of adulthood mimicking childhood games that mimic adulthood. Far from the promised picture of perfection, an existential game of hide and seek emerges between her and her neuroses as repetitive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, and symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder surface.
Pre-programmed electronic sequences will act as the backbone of the musical composition using sample libraries from Native Instruments in Digital Performer. Parts written for toy instruments and vocals will be composed through an aleatoric categorization of the letters that make up the libretto. In the MaxMSP patch that will be built for the piece, all sounds picked up from a microphone above the set will undergo live signal processing. The processed sounds will then play back at specified time intervals throughout multiple speakers as the vocalist continues singing to herself and carrying out the play routines. Because each action will leave a sonic remnant long after being carried out, longstanding repercussions of past actions will become sonically evident. The MaxMSP patch will also control the processing and projection of crayon drawings that coincide with the intrinsic mood of each play routine. Since the woman’s conditioning leads her to maintain a near constant façade of pleasure, the drawings will serve to display the undercurrent of emotion lurking below the surface of her immediate consciousness.
The development of Be a Doll received funding from OPERA America’s Opera Grants for Female Composers program, supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.
“Such Strange Gravity” is a theatrical song-cycle that explores and deconstructs the mythology of home via the narrative of a “hidden” historical anthropology of New York City that spans from the first European contact with the Lenape tribe to the near future. Composer Jeff Tang has worked with a variety of lyricists, playwrights, and poets to interrogate how the identity of a city is created and evolves, the question of whose stories and histories persist or are expunged, and how the process of naming and renaming affects the dominant cultural memory. Making a necessary inquisition in today’s climate, Tang‘s collaborators map to the multitudes of voices and issues of our city. Rigorously researched and inspired by factual events, the project uses some as jumping-off points to create new mythologies. Stories include the “sandhogs” who built the subway system, the spectacular 1911 fire that destroyed Coney Island’s Dreamland amusement park, the demise of the Collect Pond, once the primary life-source for generations of the island’s inhabitants, and more. Narratives both large and small from across time will form a mosaic of our great metropolis.