by CAROLYN CHEN
for 3+ people in sonorous apparel in a place
“It is clear,” replied Don Quixote, “that you are not experienced in adventures. Those are giants, and if you are afraid, turn aside and pray whilst I enter into fierce and unequal combat with them.”
[On Solaris, a crew member tapes paper over an air vent to remember the sound of rustling leaves.
This is a performance for people moving through a space, wearing sonorous suits of discarded materials. Human windchimes are nature sprites, of a nature that includes what we usually overlook and discard. Trash, in reconstituted form, returns to haunt its past homes. The feeling is of an alien world overlaying the everyday environment. (See YouTube video, [off-ice figure skating] miki ando’s carmen.) This world is composed of mundane objects, but maintains a separate sensibility and internal discipline. Human windchimes neither avoid public contact, nor court an audience reaction like a ball team mascot. They are on an epic journey to seek out the sounding potential of the space they are in. Their movements respond to particularities of the space they traverse. They inhabit the space and resonate its hidden music – conversing with, but not bound by, its everyday use.
The signature pacing is that of an indifferent sloth. The simultaneity of different tempi is one manifestation of separate internal authority. (See Three-toed sloth road escort). Maintain spaciousness – time to listen and react. Intense action may be balanced by durations of stillness.
Construction of suits
Movement unites with sound. Chime materials include both hand-held chains of cans and bottles, and garment-affixed embellishments. Wind chime suits must be sufficiently adorned to communicate the fullness and otherness of their world. Aim for maximal fluffiness and sonorousness. Volumize. Suits should appear not as shirts with a few scraps attached, but as genuine mounds and heaps of trash, with enough coverage to mask person-ness. No sad Charlie Brown Christmas trees.
- -Structural extensions can attach at skeletal anchor points – extended shoulder pads, epaulets, hats, tutus.
- Original construction materials included repurposed cardboard and coat hangers as extending materials, and feathered/tasseled newspapers, paper/plastic cones, rosettes of curled paper and plastic bags. Duct tape served as all-purpose adhesive, with occasional ribbon stitching.
- -For the chime chains dangling from elbows and hands, cat food, thin sardine cans, light shampoo bottles were the loudest for their weight.
- -Other personness-obscuring implements included eyewear, latex gloves, foam headgear, and breathable masks from netted fruit bags.
- -Folded cereal box accordion fans were used for generating additional wind.
Performance and place
Each performance of Human windchimes has been tailored to its particular environment – whether loft, library, city street, office building, or art museum. Performances have included more installation-like periods of chimes freely interacting with passersby or environment, as well as more focused choreographed sequences. Durations have ranged from 15 minutes to hours in length. Each performance location is first assessed for its inherent patterns of social interaction or non-interaction, as well as geographic and architectural features, and plant or animal life. Windchime movements are devised and sequenced in response.
These are arranged for a general location given increasing numbers of chimes, and then for given architectural or geographical features.
(arms spread out wide) run, run, run, run, stop (arms down) to human statues. Caravan as a line of runners. Good for crosswalks. At rest, sudden flap in reaction to a sound of the environment.
Palms level to the ground, knees bent, stay low, taichi to sloth speed, can form trains/caravans.
Elbows in, hands out, fingers together, flap as fast as possible keeping torso straight – may be accompanied by shuffling, flock cuing – short burst stops all other activity, restart all together in ensemble.
Explore space crouched on ground, elbows in, knees in, shuffling – shake sonorously upon contact with physical or animal obstacles – occasionally turn over (fallen turtle).
Supine, four raised bent limbs pedal and paw the air. Gather in a group to fall together in sequence or unison. Pedal together.
At a distance, imitation or call and response or argument – sometimes immediate, sometimes leaving space to listen, contemplate, reflect.
Forward/backward tango walk in tandem at a distance
Single action mimicked in sequence, or cued by sound.
Around a corner
Shuffle along with backs to the wall, spy to spy – perpendicular dialogue without seeing.
Abelard and Heloise
Conversation from opposite sides of a wall, or alternate landings of a staircase – never meeting by sight, but conversing in sound.
Given a repeating floor pattern, each stationed at a vertex, slow-ski/run in parallel – ||: slow slow slow slow – run! :||
Start close, ski backwards together. Go the distance.
One sounds call, all gather, align. Synchronized movement sequence. Toe-tapping, foot-slapping. Jazz hands unison, in many variations.
Assemble slowly one by one, slowly rotating individually at rate slower than rotisserie chickens until field is full. Then abruptly snap to align facing one way. Hold. Snap to rotate. Hold. Snap, hold. Continue through full rotation. Scatter.
Celebratory train procession – pipes or stream of cans dragged behind on string.
Fanner proceeds along line or still arrangement, fanning other chimes with accordioned-paper fan or motorized fan depending on availability. Fanned chimes shake, arms out. Fanner might trade places with a chime at end of the line in the manner of Jane-Austen-movie-type line dancing. Or fanned chimes blow away, limbs out, slomo drifting/floating/falling into a new arrangement of statues.
Art museum or gallery maneuvers
Take in art as fishes in water
Mouths open wide, head tilt back before picture – fish-breathing art as manna
Running from paintings as bullets
Statue/sloth-like skiing in spaces between pictures. Duck and run at a painting.
Before a painting
Lie on ground very still, very long, as in coffin. Rectilinear group arrangement – at intervals, activate snow angels as Morse code – movement coordinated by sound, not sight, at a distance – flipping over possible.
The Craft of the Old Masters
Use paintings (portraits, figurative assemblages/classically composed arrangements of people) as models for tableau vivant – model the same poses for a serious amount of time.
Hold still as human statues in the form of classical sculptures. Run to another station, new statues.
Paintings of clear color change
A pair, side-by-side, facing paintings, shuffle sideways, raising arm at color change. Reverse face, continue shuffling in same direction.
Stand at a corner – of floor pattern, wall, column, plinth, hallway. Upon visitor passage, run to another corner.
Maneuvers for specific architectural features
Columns, trees, or other verticalities
Skip loops, lacing around columns in graceful symmetry ~ ornate Busby Berkeley double helixes.
Spy v. spy
Hide from others against column. Camouflaging into column as totally still (arms down or up in manner of Grecian column support), or casually leaning against column. Hold for a while. Run to another. Ideal with two chimes hiding from one another.
For a few: one by one in small-bird-steps, walk a path on the ground tracing out the forms of the letters of the words, below them on the ground. Arms up in arrangement of choice when on the path of the letter, arms down in between.
Weather vanes/Gorillas in the mist
Camouflaged amongst foliage, arms out, allowing flutter – fermatas
With matching airborne kites or tiered flags of similar materials, catch flying reflections in mirrored windows.
Through the looking glass
Across a window or other boundary, mirror another chime.
Ground-level large windows or glass doors
Fly at glass. A few make it through. From the other side, they fly at their brethren in imperfect symmetry.
Shuffle through, if possible in same compartment as other visitors. One continues revolving inside for a very long time. Alternately, stand to the side of the door, arms out, revolving in dialogue with doors. Small, dainty steps – sugarplum fairies.
In single-file lines, trace lines along the floor in tiny, twinkly balletic tip-toe steps. Sometimes pauses.
Only stand still on marked spots. The rest is quicksand, run fast over, bird arms out.
Align directly below a lamp. Blossoming sunrise balletic arm circle. Run to another, blossom again.
Progress in close proximity to railing, sliding chime materials along for friction sound, or utilizing bars as mallets to chimes. Might attach chains of chime ornaments to hang from hip for easier access to striking surfaces. Vary left and right sides for different sonorities on ascent and descent. With partners in different locations, one scurries up or down, pauses still while another continues the gliss at a distance.
For above-waist railing or other hard, higher architectural features, walk in small steps sideways crabwise, to sound chimes hanging off back, back-scratchers. With repetition, reminiscent of the clinking of mugs against jail bars. Arms raised to the vertical.
Each perches on a different step, on either side (left or right). In synchrony with other chimes, twinkle tip-toe lengthwise to the other side. Then switch steps (up or down). ||: synchronous lengthwise crossing, switch steps :||
Each on a different step, aligned along the same side of the staircase. Flap, shimmy or rotate upon visitor passing up or down stairs.
Call and response with another chime or group of chimes on a different level, in aural coordination.
Stand in small groups on each landing. Each miniature chorus sounds a pattern. After a pause of indeterminate duration, another chorus responds. A game of telephone reveals a gradually evolving movement-sounding pattern.
In culminating unison, all rush up to highest landing, gather in a flurry of continuous flapping, shimmying motion, rush through galleries, down as flock. Various flocking formations – V skeins, starling murmurations of instantaneous telephone games.
Photos from video documentation of selected prior performances:
Human windchimes: Staircases of Doom
ARTifact Gallery, University of San Diego, Oct.21, 2011
Performers: Carolyn Chen, Brian Griffeath-Loeb, Grace Leslie, Kelli Moore, Jasmine Wang
Human windchimes: L.A. Pastoral
L.A. Road Concerts, Washington Boulevard, Los Angeles, Oct.11, 2009
Performers: Paul Feyertag, Brian Griffeath-Loeb, Clint McCallum, Bob Pierzak
https://youtu.be/3kNNkjqRX0Q (full-length nature documentary)
Human windchimes: Encinitas Earth Day
Encinitas Earth Day, April 22, 2010
Performers: Brian Griffeath-Loeb, Bob Pierzak, Paul Feyertag, Grace Leslie,
- Human windchimes: MCA Chicago, for Mocrep at Frequency Festival, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL, 2017
- Human windchimes: The Menil Collection, for Brandon Bell and ensemble, John Cage MUSICIRCUS, The Menil Collection, Houston, TX, 2012
- Human windchimes: Staircases of Doom, for y53k, ARTifact Gallery, San Diego, CA, 2011
- Human windchimes: Through the Windowglass, for City of Encinitas Earth Day Festival, Encinitas, CA, 2010
- Human windchimes: L.A. Pastoral, for A Day in LA: Washington Boulevard Art Concert, Los Angeles, CA, 2009
- Human windchimes: the wulf., Bodies II, the wulf, Los Angeles, CA, 2009