Artist Interview: Petra Haden, violinist and vocalist
Violinist and vocalist Petra Haden has been a member of groups like The Decemberists and has contributed to recordings by Beck, Foo Fighters, and Weezer, among others. With her sisters, Petra is a member of the group the Haden Triplets and will also be familiar to UMS audiences as the daughter of the legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden.
She performs as part of guitarist Bill Frisell’s When You Wish Upon a Star group on March 13, 2014 in Ann Arbor. The two have also created recordings together.
Greg Baise is the curator of public programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. This summer, Greg spoke with Petra about working with Bill Frisell, growing up in a musical family, and her interest in the nooks and crannies of film scores.
Greg Baise: This particular UMS appearance actually encompasses two evenings and is called the Bill Frisell Americana Celebration. The first evening features Bill Frisell on guitar solo. And the second evening features you as part of When You Wish Upon a Star, a relatively new band. Can you tell me more about the band and the material you’ll be working on for the concert?
Petra Haden: We’ll play from our record, the first record [Bill and I] did together. This record came to be after I played a show in Seattle with a friend of mine, and Bill came to see that show. He was interested in what I was doing, and he called me soon after to ask if we could do a record together. I was really excited to work with him because I’m such a huge fan! We decided to record a collection of our favorite songs, a variety of music from Coldplay to Stevie Wonder to Tom Waits. “When You Wish Upon a Star” was one of the songs we worked on, and our concerts together so far have been a mixture of these songs as well as Gershwin songs.
GB: In another interview you said that Bill gets your brain. What do you mean by that?
PH: It’s something that I can’t exactly put into words. It’s so hard to describe. When we play, it’s like this language that we speak together. It’s almost like he can predict where I’m going to go next. I remember hearing him when I was younger and thinking how beautiful it was, and to finally be recording with him is a dream come true.
When I was recording with Bill for my Petra Goes to the Movies album, one of the engineers told us that we seemed like brother and sister when we worked together. So, it’s also apparent to others that we’re a good match musically.
GB: I’d love to hear about the arrangement process. Do you and Bill work together to come up with arrangements for these songs?
PH: When we started working on our first record, Bill played and I sang the melody. When we were done with the basic tracks, I added violin. I just came up with stuff on the spot. I played what I heard in my head. I came up with the string ideas for songs that I’d heard, like the songs by Stevie Wonder, and also for songs like Elliott Smith’s “Satellite,” which I’d never heard before, but Bill had played for me. That’s another way he gets my brain. He told me that I had to hear this Elliott Smith song, and that became my new favorite song. He gets my taste is in music.
GB: Listening to you as you create harmonies on the record is pretty astounding. Does it come from something that you studied, or maybe from your upbringing in a musical family?
PH: I started singing with my sisters when we were really young, probably six or seven. We used to visit my dad’s family in Springfield, Missouri. They had a radio show called “The Haden Family,” and we would sit in the living room and have fun, eat, and sing together. That’s one of the first experiences I had with singing harmonies. I remember knowing at a very young age that I loved singing harmonies, and as I grew up with my sisters, we sang just for fun.
I wasn’t really active in music in high school. But later, after I graduated, I joined a band called That Dog with my sister Rachel and another high school friend. I was involved with that band for five years. I ended up going to music school at Cal Arts (California Institute for the Arts), but just for a year, so I never really had formal music training. That’s why I tend to do everything from my head, which can be hard.
GB: Has your record with your sisters, The Haden Triplets, been in the making since your childhood?
PH: Ten years ago or so we worked with a friend who wrote a few songs for us, but we weren’t recording an album at that time—it was just for fun. Any show we played, we sang these songs, and we added [the American folk group] Carter Family songs that we’d known since we were kids. But we were all busy and didn’t pursue an album, though people often asked us when we might record.
Later, we were asked to perform at a tribute show for soul and jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron, and when percussionist Joachim Cooder found out that we were a part of it, he wanted to play drums with us. He mentioned that his dad [the guitarist Ry Cooder] was interested too, so Ry played guitar with us for that show. He’s the one who called me after to say that he was interested in producing a Haden Triplets record. I was very excited because I’m a big Ry Cooder fan. We recorded it at my sister Tanya’s house before she moved in. It’s an old, big house with tall ceilings, and it was empty, so it was a great place to record.
GB: Your most recent record is Petra Goes to the Movies. I’d like to hear about your relationship to film scores in particular.
PH: I’ve always thought about doing an A Capella “Movies” album. Since I was a kid I was obsessed with all the Superman movies. I had the vinyl for the soundtracks, and I listened to them a lot and sang the string parts in my head. That was my favorite thing about going to the movies, listening to the music. Music is what tells me the story whenever I watch a movie.
GB: In the album, you’re looking at the nooks and crannies of a soundtrack that people don’t normally look at.
PH: That’s interesting that you bring that up. Often in movies, the music that I wish was on the soundtrack doesn’t ends up on it. Like in Big Night for instance, there’s a scene that just touched me, during which the owner of the restaurant with which the brothers compete plays piano. I don’t think that’s even on the soundtrack. My friend (who engineered the album) got the video and recorded it for me so that I could hear it.
Bill plays on that album too, so it’s not entirely A Capella. He thought of the theme from Tootsie, one of my favorite movies, and that’s another example of the way that he just gets my brain.
GB: Are you planning on recording another album with Bill and the When You Wish Upon a Star group that will play in Ann Arbor, or is that to be determined?
PH: That’s to be determined. I want to record with Bill for sure, but for my next record, I’m focusing on original songs. I work really well with collaborators, so I want to find the perfect writing partner.
GB: Earlier, we talked about the way you’ve admired Bill’s work for a long time. You said that to work with him is almost like a dream project. Do you have a list of other dream projects, whether that’s material or collaboration?
PH: Lately, I’ve been listening to an album by Mark Isham called Vapor Drawings. I don’t know how to get in touch with him, but he’s someone I would want to work with. I would definitely love to work with [the composer] Steve Reich, to be one of his singers. His music is another way I learned to harmonize. I love that pulsating singing so much. My other favorite guitarist is Pat Metheny. I did have the chance to work with him when I worked on my dad’s record Rambling Boy. On that record, I sing on a song that Pat plays on, which was a dream come true.
GB: Thanks for taking the time to talk! I was really excited when I saw that you would be playing in with Bill Frisell.
Tweet Seats 2: Théâtre de la Ville: Ionesco’s Rhinocéros
Editor’s note: This season, UMS is launching a new pilot project: tweet seats. Read the complete project description and pre-interviews with participants here.
For the second tweet seats event, we saw Théâtre de la Ville: Ionesco’s Rhinocéros:
This week’s participants:
- Paul Kitti, writer for iSPY magazine
- Greg Baise, Detroit-based concert promoter, arts writer, and DJ
- Leslie Stainton, U-M School of Public Health Findings magazine editor and umslobby.org contributor
- Mark Clague, U-M Associate Professor of Musicology and UMS Board member
- University of Michigan social media intern Mollye Rogel
- Michael Kondziolka, UMS director of programming, scheduled to tweet at this event, was not able to participate. See his note about why below.
Read the whole tweet seats conversation here.
UMS: So, how did tweeting affect your experience of this performance?
Paul Kitti: For this particular performance, tweeting was most often on the back burner for me. It was impossible to tweet without missing something, as the performance was in French with surtitles (and I only know about three words in French…) The outcome, which I expected, was that I enjoyed the play as well as the twitter conversation, but the dialogue I missed in the process left some holes in the experience.
Greg Baise: I found myself thinking of tweets, but waiting for lulls to post them. Some tweets got away because I was deep into the play. Initially I was concerned that my tweeting activity would be a distraction to others. It turns out it was more of a distraction to myself!
Mark Clague: I was surprised by the conversational quality of tweeting Rhinoceros. Since we were reacting to a provocative narrative characterized by inference, juxtaposition, and an epic sense of language that seemed immediately referential and symbolic, many of the tweets searched for meaning. I paid attention to the hashtag and responded to several of the other tweet experimenters, but also to a couple of friends who either attended or just reacted to my observations. One such interchange led to a couple rounds of comments and ultimately intractable disagreement in interpretation. I found myself musing on the disagreement for days afterward and discussing the show face-to-face with another friend to clarify my own understanding. I didn’t change my mind and still prefer a more open interpretation connected to contemporary events, but my commitment to that understanding is richer and deeper for the tweets. Another thing I liked is that a question occurred to me the next day and I could tweet @UMSNews to get my question answered — YES, the set was transported from Paris to Ann Arbor. Finally, I attended the play a second time the next night and did not tweet. My experience was different — I became aware of how many people were speaking French in the audience. I don’t speak French, but gradually improved my understanding of the actors as the play progressed. Also, I sat in row 8 or so close to the stage, rather than tweeting from the back of the balcony. The emotional intensity of the play was much higher sitting so much closer. I was engaged both nights: the first felt a bit more intellectual (tweeting the show in this situation felt like taking notes at an exciting lecture) while the second was more raw and emotional. I’m guessing that my experience on night #2 was richer for having “researched” the play the evening before.
Leslie Stainton: If anything, this second experience of tweeting only confirmed my earlier antipathy to the form (if that’s the right word). It probably didn’t help that I saw the show near the end of the work week and after a glass of wine, so the dim lights and French dialogue and stratospheric tweet seats combined to send me into a bit of a nap. I felt oddly detached from the performance, and I suspect part of that had to do with the isolation I now associate with tweeting live theater. You’re apart from the crowd, with your little black box and too-bright phone. The production itself was gorgeous, provocative, beautifully acted, deeply meaningful. Some of this came together for me at the end, when I really did wake up with a “pow” and suddenly wished I could see it again, without the filter of tweets, and certainly from a better seat than the ones we had. (Didn’t bother me nearly so much with Aspen-Santa Fe, but this production needed to be seen up close, I think.) What “stuck” from the experience is my realization that I don’t want to tweet again–as I said to someone on my way out, I’d prefer to keep my brain farts to myself next time. But thanks for the experiment, and thanks to UMS, as always, for going about this so intelligently and carefully. And thanks for making it possible for those who DO get something out of this medium to keep at it.
Michael Kondziolka: I bailed on my commitment to be a tweet seater last night. Not because I didn’t want to try it out, but because if became clear that the General Manager of Théâtre de la Ville and the US tour producer of Rhinocéros wanted to sit with me at the opening night performance. I didn’t want to run the risk of offending anyone by creating a moment of “cultural misunderstanding.” After the show, I mentioned this to them both and they were, not surprisingly, first a little put off by the whole notion of tweet seats and, after more conversation, intrigued. I shared the tweet stream with them…and they seemed to like it. Interestingly, there seems to be very little commitment or conversation at the moment in Paris around the role of social media in connecting with audiences OR in building or attracting new audiences. At least this seems to be the case at TdlV. The GM of TdlV wanted as much information on the topic as I could give him…clearly he knows that he needs to look at these issues very seriously. Imagining what the experience of tweeting during last night’s performance would have been like gives me a rash. The complexity of the show…the layers of meaning and metaphor embedded in the text….how that meaning is delivered through the force of the acting and physical performance…PLUS the reading of super-titles (my French is only so-so)…was a lot to take in and make sense of from time to time. The idea of another layer — the processing of my thoughts and experiences and transmitting them in real time on a little illuminated keypad with my thumbs in real time — might have sent me around the bend. But I am still willing to try at an upcoming show!!
UMS: What do you think makes for a performance “sticky” (the performance “sticks” in your memory months or years later)? Do you think live tweeting a performance make it more or less likely to be “sticky”?
Molly Roegel: The quality of a performance in terms of acting, directing, music and set design, makes it “sticky” for viewers, as well as the relevance to them and how much they can personally understand. Live tweeting made this performance far less sticky to me as I could not pay attention to the subtitles, Instagram, Twitter, and the actual performance in any sort of way that would have allowed me to get the full experience of the play. I greatly enjoyed live tweeting but it was definitely not conducive to gaining the full scope of the play.
Mark Clague: Tweeting Rhinoceros has certainly made the experience more memorable or “sticky” for me. Four days later I can remember specific lines of dialogue and the emotion of the play remains vivid. I’ve had several conversations about the play with friends inspired by my twitter exchanges and reviewed my tweets archived on Twitter.com to review the performance, which reminded me of several personal responses that had begun to fade. Tweeting the show is definitely a source of distraction — I’m watching my cell phone screen at times rather than the stage. However, it’s not like I avoided all distraction the next night when I wasn’t tweeting on assignment. For the most part, I found that tweeting enhanced my attention and put me in a mindset to parse and understand the show. If the purpose of art is to get us to think and to think in unexpected ways, Twitter seems (for me at least) to serve this goal. If tweeting an art experience were to become more routine and typical, I wonder if some sort of compromise that takes the best of both my night 1 & 2 experience would be possible. One could tweet intermittently and engage with a broader conversation as the show inspired it. The brevity of Twitter leads to an immediacy and directness that might balance emotional reaction with analytical understanding.
Stay tuned for the next tweet seats event: Mariinsky Orchestra of St. Petersburg on Saturday, October 27.
How do you feel about using technology during live arts experiences?
Presenting: UMS Tweet Seats Pilot Project
TWEET SEATS EVENTS
Tweet Seats 1: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. Find out what happened.
Tweet Seats 2: Théâtre de la Ville: Ionesco’s Rhinocéros. Find out what happened.
Tweet Seats 3: Mariinsky Orchestra of St. Petersburg. Find out what happened.
Tweet Seats 4: Find out what happened.
WHAT ARE TWEET SEATS?
This season, UMS is launching a new pilot project: an experiment at the cross-section of live performing arts and technology commonly known as “tweet seats.”
Tweet seats refer to seats in which tweeting is permitted during the performance.
UMS has invited 5-7 people to participate in our tweet seats pilot project at 4 select performances. Only these 5-7 tweet seats participants will be permitted to use devices to participate in this pilot project; for the rest of the audience, our standard device policy applies (“Turn off all cellphones and electronic devices”).
The tweet seats participants will silence their phones and dim back-light to lowest setting; we’ve also prepared individual phone containers which will almost completely minimize any light emitted from the devices so that the experience of other patrons is not affected by tweet seats. Ensuring a smooth performance experience for all is our top priority.
At each of the 4 designated performances, participants are required to tweet 3-5 times using the hashtag #umslobby. No specific instructions for content of tweets are given. We’ll follow up with participants after the performance and chat with them about their experience; interviews will appear here on UMS Lobby.
You can follow or join the conversation after the performance here.
WHY TWEET SEATS?
Studies show that for some, engaging with technology is the preferred method of processing a performance and of “being present” at a performance.
In one such study, (“Making Sense of Audience Engagement”) Alan Brown & Rebecca Ratzkin refer to this subset of audiences as “technology-based processors.” They “love all forms of online engagement, and appear to be growing in number, especially among younger audience segments. Technology-based processors search for information online before and after the event. They connect with others on Facebook and other social media, and are most likely to read and contribute to blogs and discussion forums on the arts organization’s website. Their motivations are both intellectual and social in nature.”
So, we thought, let’s get together a group of people with differing attitudes towards technology to learn more about the effects of using technology during a live performance experience for all.
Our question: what can experimenting with technology teach us about being “engaged” or “present” at a performance?
We’ve pre-interviewed some of our participants so that you can get to know the range of attitudes that are part of the project. We asked them questions like:
- In one sentence, how would you describe your relationship with technology?
- What kinds of arts experiences do you like or look forward to most?
- To you, what does it mean to “be present” during a performance or another arts experience?
- What are you looking forward to in this experiment of experiencing performing arts with technology? What questions, concerns, reservations, or anxieties do you have about this experiment?
Learn more about them & their thoughts about technology and this pilot project below :
- Leslie Stainton, U-M School of Public Health Findings magazine editor and umslobby.org contributor
- Michael Kondziolka, UMS Director of Programming
- Mariah Cherem, Production Librarian at Ann Arbor District Library
- Paul Kitti, writer for iSPY magazine
- Mark Clague, U-M Associate Professor of Musicology and UMS Board member
- Greg Baise, Detroit-based concert promoter, arts writer, and DJ
- Garrett Schumann, composer, U-M Master of Music in Composition student, and umslobby.org contributor
- Neutral Zone and the University of Michigan participants
UMS : Tell us about you. If you have an online presence you like to share publicly please tell us the relevant websites or user names/handles.
Leslie Stainton: I’m an editor at the UM School of Public Health and the author of a biography of Spanish playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca and a history/memoir of an American theater. My website is lesliestainton.com.
Greg Baise: I am Detroit-based concert promoter, arts writer, and occasional DJ. Some of my playlists can be found at vivaradio.com/lavie
Paul Kitti: I am a writer for iSPY Magazine, a monthly entertainment publication. I’ve spent the past two years covering a wide range of local events, including concerts, festivals, and screenings. Music and writing consume most of my brainpower, and I’ve found Ann Arbor to be an ideal environment for discovering new artists. In addition to journalism, I’ve held positions within U of M’s Athletic Department and Career Center. Magazine: http://mispymag.com/ LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=91711849&trk=tab_pro
Mark Clague: I’m an Associate Professor of Musicology, American Culture, African American Studies, and Non-Profit Management (whew!) at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance as well as a member of the UMS board. I tweet as @usmusicscholar and have a couple of WordPress blogs, including one on the bicentennial of the U.S. National Anthem (osaycanyouhear).
Michael Kondziolka: My name is Michael Kondziolka and I am the Director of Programming at UMS. My online presence is limited to Facebook and a couple of blogs that I regularly comment on.
Mariah Cherem: My love of music started with singing as a toddler, and has followed me through years of violin, various bands, and the occasional DJ set. My interest in how communities articulate their values through policy led me to EMU’s Arts Management MA program. A few years later, curiosity about online communities and the interplay between on and off-line behavior led me to UM’s School of Information. I now count myself extraordinarily lucky to be bringing all of these interests together in my work as a Production Librarian at AADL.
Garrett Schumann: I am a composer pursuing my doctorate in Music Composition at the University. In addition to writing music, I host a music show on Washington Public Radio called We Are Not Beethoven where the ever-changing place music holds in the 21st-Century world is discussed. Learn more at garrettschumann.com and follow me on twitter @garrt.
UMS: In one sentence, how would you describe your relationship with technology? OK, you can elaborate beyond this first “thesis” sentence if you would like.
Greg Baise: If a new record comes on vinyl with a digital download, I always opt for the vinyl over the cd. If the vinyl doesn’t come with a digital download, I buy the vinyl anyways.
Leslie Stainton: Troubled! I’m dependent on it, like everyone, and annoyed by it. I want it to do what I need it to do, and that’s it—I’m not a gadget person, don’t like games, don’t find technology interesting for its own sake. While I see the utility of social media, it strikes me as a giant time suck, and so I seldom engage—though I do enjoy blogging for UMS. I enjoy the way it makes me think more deeply about what I’ve seen onstage. I’ve done some tweeting and Facebook posting for the School of Public Health, but not enough to feel confident or particularly comfortable in either area.
Mariah Cherem: Technology can be fun and fascinating and super-mind-blowingly-cool, but I’m most interested in how people use it to connect to each other, to information/resources that they need, and to things that they’re passionate about. Also, I think our definitions of what constitutes “technology” are constantly shifting. A pen or a typewriter doesn’t seem like technology now, but there was once a point when it did.
Michael Kondziolka: I have an enigmatic relationship with technology. I tend to be a late adopter….and, while I accept that technology is here to stay, I sometimes bemoan its impact on our culture. In my view, the irony of “connectivity” embedded in much of mythology/ideology of social media is one of the great farces of our time: users seem decidedly less connected. (This is in no way an insightful observation as much has been written on the topic.) This fundamental concern aside, I can be a fanatical user of technology from time to time and I don’t think I could give up my iPhone at this point. I have social media sites that I use on a semi-regular basis. At the end of the day, I have a very healthy skepticism and think it is important to push back on assumptions in all sectors of life.
Garrett Schumann: I believe the Internet Web-based media have created a new and unprecedented aesthetic experience in the 21st Century, and it is imperative for those involved in the performing arts and other parts of culture to interact with and embrace those technologies if their work is to remain relevant to society at large.
Paul Kitti: I’m an email addict, avid texter and internet junkie with a loyalty to Apple products. Despite growing fully accustomed to the constant technological buzz of my generation, I still prefer hard copies of books and magazines.
Mark Clague: I enjoy exploring technology for new views on our world and to grow my own creativity, skills, and perspectives.
UMS: This pilot includes a broad range of performing arts experiences: theater, dance, global music, orchestral performance. What sorts of performing arts experiences are you most familiar with? More broadly, what kinds of arts experiences do you like or look forward to most? What do you wish to have more experience with?
Leslie Stainton: I did my BA in drama and my MFA in dramaturgy, so I’m passionate about live theater and know a fair amount about it, or at least once did. I’ve studied dance off and on and am interested in the form, though don’t know as much about it as I probably should. Ditto music: I’m married to a musicologist, and we attend many concerts and talk about music and listen to it at home. But I’ve never taken a theory course so don’t understand it in the kind of depth I’d like. I’m far more drawn to classical music than to popular forms, jazz, country, or so-called global music. I adore museums—think of them as spiritual centers and seek them out almost every time I travel—and spent six years working for UMMA. I’m interested in arts experiences that provoke and challenge, that cross traditional genres and boundaries, that make me think more profoundly.
Mariah Cherem: I am most interested in (and luckily can attend) the orchestral performance and the performance by Gilberto Gil. In general, at some point I’d love to do UMS “Night School” related to a dance performance, as that’s an area I feel that might help my enjoyment even more.
Greg Baise: In music, I’m mostly familiar with rock, world music, contemporary classical music and modern dance. I’m very interested in art history in general, and modern art in particular, especially stuff that’s too current for the latest art history surveys. I’d love to get deeper into experimental theater and more modern dance.
Paul Kitti: I’ve played a couple instruments and attended several classical concerts. The most memorable performance I’ve witnessed was “Einstein on the Beach” as presented by UMS earlier this year. My knowledge about theatre and dance is limited, although I’ve grown more and more interested in these types of productions over the past year. The art-related experiences I look forward to most are the ones involving music and/or acting.
Garrett Schumann: Because I am a composer I am most familiar with music and musical performances. However, I love all kinds of performing arts and cultural experiences from dance shows to theatrical performances and, particularly, contemporary arts exhibits.
Michael Kondziolka: Relatively speaking, I have a lot of experience with most forms of the performing arts and a passing familiarity with the others. I am least familiar with some forms of contemporary popular music and culture. I look forward to a broad range of experiences from the very traditional to the very experimental.
Mark Clague: My primary arts experience is as an orchestral musicians (bassoonist), but I also masquerade as a photographer, saxophonist, and singer. Inspired by John Cage, I like to challenge myself to explore new kinds of art and to open myself up to new ideas and experiences. Thus I’ve increasingly attended UMS dance, theater, and world music events to stretch beyond my orchestra and jazz comfort zone.
UMS: Why did you decide to participate in this project?
Michael Kondziolka: As a way of testing my own, sometimes staunch, assumptions.
Greg Baise: UMS’s programming plays a huge part in my cultural activities. HUGE. I’m still astounded that within the past year I’ve seen the Gate Theatre, Einstein on the Beach, and Jessye Norman perform John Cage, all thanks to UMS. I hope I can contribute through these tweet seats and raise awareness of UMS’s presence and programming. And I’m honored to be asked to participate.
Mariah Cherem: In general, I think very highly of UMS’s programming. I’m not often able to attend that many performances, however, due to time and budget constraints. I’ve been interested in how various technologies can help or hinder enjoyment or engagement in experiences (in this case, it’d be performances). I’m not sure that I think that Tweeting about performances is really quite right for me, but I’m willing to give it a shot and try it in the name of experimentation. This idea pushes me a little bit out of my comfort zone of “things I tweet about” or talk about online, and I think that nudging around one’s boundaries now and then is important.
Garrett Schumann: I use twitter a lot in my life both for fun and for professional purposes, so I feel like I am experienced enough with the technology to contribute a meaningful opinion to this project’s discussion. Also, I think the tweet-seat question is emblematic of performing arts organizations’ struggle to maintain relevance in the 21st-century.
Paul Kitti: I appreciate what UMS brings to Ann Arbor, and I’ve immensely enjoyed my past experiences with their productions. Honestly, the opportunity to witness and participate in these events is something I knew I couldn’t pass up.
Mark Clague: I’ve heard a lot of buzz about Tweet Seats and enjoyed the few times I’ve surreptitiously tweeted at an arts event and thus wanted to try it out for myself when it was “legal.”
Leslie Stainton: Because I’m addicted to working with UMS?!
UMS: To you, what does it mean to “be present” during a performance or another arts experience?
Garrett Schumann: Obviously, attending an event is step one to ‘being present’, but I think the phrase involves incorporating the experience you’ve had at a concert/performance into your life at large. By this, I mean talking to people you know about what you’ve seen/heard, breaking down your experience in conversations and sharing it with others either online or in person.
Greg Baise: Hmm. Present? Paying attention. Learning. Enjoying. Not distracted. Taking it in in the present, and remembering it for later, too.
Paul Kitti: Art requires the beholder to suspend all preconceptions and unrelated thoughts; to be present during an arts experience is to lend your mind as best as you are able to what is before you, constantly trying to identify the message, meaning, uniqueness or beauty of what you’re seeing and hearing.
Leslie Stainton: To shut out the workaday world and become utterly absorbed in the experience at hand; to come away with some new understanding.
Mariah Cherem: The ideas of presence and focus are those that I struggle with most when thinking about how this experience might go. For me, I often don’t want to be the lens – don’t want to be capturing pieces of something, as then I become detached. Even at rock shows, I get a little annoyed when the guy in the front feels the need to film everything instead of just getting into it and being “in the moment.” However, at the same time, I think that there may be potential for people to raise awareness of their experience of a particular musician, play, etc. via social media channels. I don’t want the arts to get lost in our larger conversations because we “shouldn’t” be talking about them in some way or another – using some tech or another.
Mark Clague: It’s more than just physically attending; To be present is to connect with the art and engage with it, allowing the motivations, messages, and even the spiritual dimension of the art to converse with you. For me Twitter is one way to honor that conversation by translating my nebulous experience into 140-character thoughts, documenting and sharing these, and potentially chatting with others about these reactions.
Michael Kondziolka: This, for me, is the nub of the issue. I do not tend to believe that a mediating device can truly help in this regard. Of course, there are tools that can help mediate the experience and enhance it — infra-red listening devices, subtitles, etc. But, at the end of the day, those are mediating tools which are necessary to aid the user in accessing some aspect of the presentation that they otherwise could not. Critique, the intellectual processing and analysis of what has happened, starts during the performance but is codified through words after the performance. (“How can I put this experience into words….?”) Even a non-critique, a purely emotion-based exclamation – “I loved that!” — to be tweeted, takes one out of the experience. I have yet to understand what/why/how the dimension of time plays into all this. I can’t wrap my head around why something tweeted in real time — at the moment it is felt or realized during a performance — is more valuable than something tweeted during a natural break in a performance — at intermission or after the show. (“Wow…impressive return to the tonic key!”) That is how we have always tended to process our collective experiences pre-technology…and I don’t understand why we frame the real-time possibilities offered by tweeting to be somehow better…or an improvement. (It may be, as umsLobby’s Musiclover would call it, a “disimprovement.”) I view the communication that takes place between a performer and an audience member — whether it be lyric, declaimed or movement based – to be sacred. Therefore, anything that breaks that bond is anathema to the notion of being “being present.” I also subscribe to basic norms, rightly or wrongly, of what I was taught to believe are civil manners — if someone is speaking (or performing) they deserve your full attention.
When I really drill down on this topic, I realize that I actually believe that the use of technology in new and possibly intrusive ways — in this instance, as part of the performance experience — is most probably an ideological metaphor of independence: a classic moment of generational division.. (“Look Ma, we have our own ways of doing things.”) And that ideological position probably exists outside the forum that is being created to address this question.
UMS: What are you looking forward to in this experiment of merging performing arts with technology? What anxieties, concerns, reservations, or questions do you have about this experiment?
Paul Kitti: I’m looking forward to simply experiencing these productions, and the chance to offer input and be engaged through technology is kind of an added bonus.
Greg Baise: I’m looking forward to new cultural experiences, and sharing my impressions and observations. And also getting feedback – I hope I say stuff that’s of interest to both my friends and to total strangers. I might be a little reserved about thinking about (or over-thinking) what I tweet, maybe to a point where I’m concentrating more on the tweet than the performance. Also, I’m concerned about interfering with the enjoyment of others through use of technology and wonder how isolated we will be from the general audience.
Michael Kondziolka: I am looking forward to the basic act of testing one’s strongly held views. I am most concerned about breaking the scared bond and I take solace in the fact that I can go again and have the same experience in a completely unmediated, truly present, way on a subsequent evening. Anxiety would come in the form of worrying that, through my actions, I am interfering in someone else’s sacred moment.
Leslie Stainton: I’m honestly not sure about my ability to tweet—haven’t quite gotten the hang of 140 characters and don’t really understand hashtags. I’m also frankly worried about the ADD element of all this—trying to multitask while watching a performance. I’m not at all sure I’ll enjoy the experience or want to repeat it, but I’m sufficiently curious I’m willing to try it once.
Mariah Cherem: I think that my answers to the two questions above actually already hit on these points! : )
Garrett Schumann: I’m most interested in the arguments against allowing twitter into the concert hall. Because I am unabashedly in favor of the ‘tweet seat’ idea, my bias tends to inhibit my ability to relate to the dissent that is out there, and I look forward to an opportunity to learn more about viewpoints that oppose mine.
Mark Clague: I’m looking forward to the real-time conversation with other Tweet-seaters; my only worry is in getting criticism from other patrons who either think we’re doing something wrong or who just personally object to social media in an arts event.
Stay tuned for more interviews with our participants about their experiences over the course of the pilot project.