Rationalising Bad Weather
Luke Howard is credited with inventing clouds. Based on his observations towards the end of the 18th century, the British chemist and amateur meteorologist offered structural typologies for clouds that accommodated temporal, geographic modifications and transformations. Following his scientific diction, these typologies quickly entered into the literary and visual arts, an abundant canon of cloud based language following.
Classification and its dissemination, which is to say, the inscribing of an ever changing climate, is precisely the tension at hand with writing and writing about the text from BAD WEATHER. The development of and repeated performances of BAD WEATHER utilise a mechanism that poses as an ecosystem. As in the case of Luke Howard and those who followed, the role of subjectivity in viewing transformations and the possibility of obsolescence should not be understood as natural. Nativity and naturalness should always be tested, devices questioned, and inherited histories at least acknowledged as such.
At the head of the performance, a rapid stream of text is incanted, a camera trained on the speaking performer in streaming broadcast on a theatrical scrim. Hovering in the genre of weather report and possessed vessel but functioning as neither, the speaker appears in continual relation to device but always elusive; a channel. A flashing image of the spoken word also appears, distorted lightning to the rumbling thunder of speech. The scrim seals an unlit stage, occupied by reconstructions of baroque noise devices, grains, and paper – designed to sound of wind, thunder, rain. This littered stage is ‘reset’ by three performers, rustlings, scrapes and functional crossings of the camera image.
But this knowledge of structure and the logic of the performance is not explained; the ‘natural state’ is never defined, though the devices are weathered, eroding from each performance. The sounds of the noise devices are selectively amplified, and sometimes processed into a sonic field for a seated audience; technology within the mechanism of theatre disorients and distorts what is made visible. Choices in the work valorise a space of not-knowing and decentralised control. Sonic devices (speaking, moving, constructed, digital) are also tasked with listening.
The mechanism is constantly displayed, if not revealed. What might it mean to be undetectable in this environment, to appear impassive? A spy listens and observes, often contracted by an external party. A spy infiltrates with discretion or camouflage, watches, before re-interpreting their gleaned knowledge. The text plays at spilling intimacies, a milieu and desire continually glimmering but not shown. Arguably, only a contoured surface is revealed. Penetrations are always by design. To align this textual strategy with the staging: is the wooden object revealing its interior in emitting sound, or is it just sonifying a performer’s gesture? The text persists with the idea of visibilities (lighthouses, theatre lights, narrativity, the stripped skin of leather, the open window) and proposed hiddens (mining tunnels, horses in vents, spies, clouds, the feathers in a pillow or down vest). In each of these instances, the potential for material or metaphorical transformation is key.
The traditional function of these noise devices was to serve as pathetic fallacy to a scene. Having played at dissolving the importance of a protagonist or soloist by placing theatre instruments on stage, the world of the foley artist is closer. Aping the baroque noise devices, every object uttered in the text is designed to mimic, illustrate, or embellish. The synthetic is the present, the processed foods of chocolate bars, corn syrup, coffee, all blurring the proposed line between instant gratification and bracing for the future.
For stretches of the writing process, references that located a designated history or site were discarded. This behaviour was proposed in response to the weighty masculine histories volleyed over – Luigo Russolo’s intonarumori, Marinetti’s aeropoems, early Krakow weather diaries, Plato, Aristophanes, on speech and rhetoric; imposed, historicised moments. Avoiding voicing through these lionised events to never justify in relation to forefathers. Wishing to locate origins elsewhere, imagined topographies to synthesise fronts and pressure systems. Delusional space had to exist. Judgements on weather are based on a negotiated idea of ideal, so how to delude this subjectivity by avoiding anchors? What could be achieved by alienating and appearing as shockingly other in a sound world based on recognition?
It merits mention that the aria sung and live processed is from Vivaldi’s only surviving oratorio, Juditha triumphans devicta Holofernis barbarie which arrives without translation, citation, and in a falsetto, moving in and out of pitch and diction. Cassetti’s latin text for this aria, Agitata infido flatu anthropocentrically projects the pleasure of home onto a sparrow tossed around by a treacherous wind, though the scansion and device of the sparrow are deployed as fallacies for the protagonist.
The final text is peppered with hooks and lines, with David Bowie is lightly mentioned with a rhythmic hook from Sound and Vision (blue blue electric blue), and his reference continues almost bitterly with the rhythmic pattern of queer desire in a verse from Heroes. Cyndi Lauper’s Time after Time is voiced by Shadow, the horse whose form or materialisation is continually negotiated in response to use value, a labor force made more obsolete and instead fetishized or infantilised. The privilege of Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain, the subject walking onto a yacht held true to the disaster fantasies of colonising ships or super yachts, the revolutionary wishes to redistribute resources, and the ungenerous position of the speaker in not speaking directly.
The string of pop hits from the eighties infiltrate a possible hierarchy of values. Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight appears in an extended form, a bitter pleasure of lyrical anticipation, the wait for the percussion solo aligning with the expectation of operatic climax, the synthetic drums also conceptually aligned. The arrival of the Collins song was via Eminem’s Stan, in which a fan’s misinterpretation of lyrics is conveyed in rapid rhythmic verse. It is broken up by a sample of Dido singing about weather and expressing gratitude, which also explains the glimpse of Mary Mary’s Shackles (Praise You).
The logic of this détournement is consistent throughout the construction of the text. The performed text wishes to form an impression, imitate an environment, rather than be a narrative or logical argument. What designs do we deploy to understand desire? The hard line imposition on the it or curve is the cut of language and structure, a bind of rationalising on the surface of dimension.
“Bad Weather” is a performative sound-art show focusing on Baroque theatre noise machines. The machines are presented in an expanded electro-acoustic setting employing means of the theatrical presentation. Together with a professional carpenter, Arturas Bumšteinas has re-created a set of wind, rain, seaand thunder imitation devices, identical to the ones that have been used several hundred years ago through-out the European theatres.
In “Bad Weather” the ensemble is using a set of meteorological maps as scores for playing the noise machines and also engaging in stage activities that refer to themes such as Intonarumori of pre-modernist era, forecasting weather of the so-called Little Ice Age, creating artificial tornadoes of sound and gusts of various dry grain, translating different atmospheric processes into the domain of live sound. Conceptual artist Ivan Cheng was invited to write and deliver his own special performative libretto for “Bad Weather”. Cheng’s intensive yet dream-like monologue introduces us to a liquid narrative of a horse named Shadow.
In Baroque opera noise-machines were only a small part of the larger theaterical mechanism of illusion, while in “Bad Weather” the whole conceptual climate is created by the same machines which now take the central stage. And what about the singing voice…? The aria is floating around in a de-centralized acousmatic space, looking for the body to pin to.
Arturas Bumšteinas started exploring theater noise machines in 2012 when he was commissioned to create a work for Deutschland Radio Kultur. His radiophonic composition „Epiloghi. Six Ways of Saying Zangtumbtumb“ was then awarded with EURORADIO „Palma Ars Acustica“ prize as a best radio-art creation of the year.
Team: Arturas Bumšteinas (sound and stage direction), Ivan Cheng (costume, libretto and performance), Greta Grinevičiūtė, Gailė Griciūtė, Aaron Kahn (performers), Antanas Dombrovskij (live sound processing), Julius Kuršys (light design), Ignas Juzokas (sound design), Ernestas Volodzka (carpenter), Rūta Junevičiūtė (outside eye), Ana Ablamonova (producer).