Our second day of the St Patricks at PMAC Workshop was an adventure in collaboration! We paired all the students, cut the number of paintings in half, while doubling the size of each painting and each pair of students was asked to collaborate on a single painting.
Our guest was Jonny Peiffer; drummer, pianist, dancer, band leader and composer…among other things. Jonny spent a few minutes talking about his background and his connections to in Ears n’ Eyes but the students were most eager to paint. We decided to start the students collaboration with Jonny playing solo on the drum set.
Jonny began and the action on paper was immediate. Some students felt the pulse of the drums and reacted in rhythm, others moved to their own groove while clearly being influenced by the sounds they were hearing. Rog and I moved around the room assisting wherever needed and encouraging collaboration between the artists. Some students took to the idea of collaborating instantly, sharing paints, brushes, space in the artwork, even chairs! Others were clearly NOT into the idea of collaborating and marked off their own space in no uncertain terms. Some eventually gave in and worked with their partners while some needed extra encouragement.
When Jonny ended his piece, some artists kept working, others had finished already and were watching the action or talking to their painting partners. We let the action settle down a bit and, as we prepared to launch into another piece, we paused to talk about the drums. What did they hear? What resonated in the painters’ mind and what was impossible to capture? What sounds elicited the most visual reactions? What sounds were ignored or omitted from the painting? We took some notes and made mental notes to listen and watch for some of the things we discussed.
Matt took a moment to mention that the interaction between Jonny and the painters was quite different than our IENE performances with roger and any number of musicians. In our case, we can all see Roger when we play and the compositions sometimes use Roger’s actions as visual cues for sections of the music or motifs or solos or whatever else the composers have dreamed up. In a class this large, with a group of painters collaborating in twos, the musicians cannot see much of the student’s work. This day’s workshop is a different approach. As an aside, IENE could explore this approach in a future IENE performance; deliberately blocking the musicians’ view of Roger to see what transpires in his artwork. Hmmmm.
The next piece was another collaboration between the pairs of painters and Jonny and Matt did a duet improv on the tenor sax and drums. Some students couldn’t wait to paint which was totally fine but we tried to start the process together as an ensemble. Once the ‘conversation’ began, Roger worked with pairs of students to succinctly discuss and encourage their process. Matt and Jonny started rhythmically with bursts of sounds. Matt walked up and down the rows of tables interacting with the painters and tried to see what they were doing. Sometimes he played to prod the painters. Sometimes he interpreted the painting by responding to the painters while trying to develop the conversation. At one point Roger offered the students mat board scrapers to carve away thick accumulations of paints to expose the under layers of color. Simultaneously Matt relayed the action to Jonny who is tied down by the drum set and cannot move among the painters and their paintings. As with our first class, the second painting is more thoughtful of the in Ears ‘n Eyes concept. One student, awestruck by the colors revealed by scraping, exclaimed to Roger, why to the colors emerge, how are they still there?” Roger explained that some of the initial colors laid down had dried while others had been absorbed into the paper. In that moment, while exploring process, led by his curiosity, the student had discovered and understood a new valuable technique. Students were clearly aware of all the input they received from the musicians and and many realized that the musicians were responding to their actions and artwork they were producing. How wonderful to be inspired by the possibilities of this type of collaboration!