Mnemosyne Quartet’s upcoming performance installation, Fragmented Realities, takes place on November 5th at La Esquina, in conjunction with Charlotte Street’s Illum-a-phonic music festival. Our performance is made possible by a grant from Artsounds.
Mnemosyne Quartet is one quarter of the way through our third year as a performance ensemble. In this short amount of time we have performed over 25 shows in a multitude of different contexts, ranging from traditional concerts on concert hall stages; to performances in bookstores, city parks, and libraries; to collaborations with visual artists in museum galleries. We performed with Zach Shemon of Prism Saxophone quartet, atop a high-rise in Downtown Kansas City. We created a hybrid movable stage utilizing elevators, taught an artificial intelligence how to play music, and most recently performed in the newly created Kansas City streetcar. Given the multitude of our performances, it should come as no surprise that we have generated over four hours of original composition.
The variety of our more than 20 pieces mirrors that of the contexts to which they were created. Several pieces are site-specific, meaning they were generated from, or acoustically conditioned for, either the manmade architectural structure or the natural landscape where they were first performed. Examples include: Motors, trainZ, and Transient Harmony. In a few cases, as in My Trip to the Kansas City Zoo, we went so far as to systematically record a sonic environment, so that we could transport it to an alternative location.
In addition to site specificity, most of our pieces involve a non-traditional approach to the audience, or innocent bystanders, as the venue might dictate. In Transient Harmony, streetcar passengers were encouraged to stream and project real-time audio from their handheld devices, thus becoming part of the performance through active participation. When we performed on the elevators at Charlotte Street’s Open Studios, gallery attendees were not given such a choice. If they wanted to make up to the fifth floor, and thus the galleries, they had to participate in our performance.
Pieces like My Trip to the Kansas City Zoo re-contextualize an environment. These types of pieces challenge the listener’s auditory perception, or the ability of their brains to interpret and create a clear perception of the sounds. For example—a person boarding a train car has a certain expectation of what that train car will sound like. They probably would not expect it to sound like a zoo. In Motors, Ted sampled several food trucks in the downtown Kansas City loop before transforming them into a drumbeat. When Mnemosyne performed this piece alongside these same food trucks, the audience’s auditory perception was challenged, as the sound of the food trucks transformed into a rhythmic ostinato.
This leads to our ensemble’s current predicament: we play too many shows to continue writing all new material for each one. Further, how do we reuse material that was created for and designed around specific locations and therefore specific audiences?