In June, I live-scored Unearthing, a three-person contemporary dance piece by Daloy Dance Company, at the Dance.MNL Festival at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
The story of how I found myself singing for this remarkable piece stretches back to September 2015, when I first saw Ea Torrado, Daloy DC’s artistic director, perform at a tiny alternative crafts bazaar in Quezon City. I was, simply put, blown away by her performance: barefoot and with only a handpan providing sparse musical accompaniment, she danced in the noisy courtyard with fearless, graceful abandon. I introduced myself to her and sent her some of the improv music I’d been making with friends, and we bonded immediately over a shared interest in intuitive self-expression and arts-based forms of meditation. Soon after I got the Vocal Meditation sessions up and running, we began an open-ended conversation about a possible collaboration for a piece that she was working on, something that would involve elements of babaylan philosophy and require some sort of intuitive chanting.
Once I moved back to Singapore for the postdoc in January, the conversation continued intermittently over Facebook and Skype. Sometime in May, Ea sent me a message asking if I’d be willing to chant for Unearthing, a piece that Daloy was to stage in two festivals–an ambitious inaugural dance festival in Manila, organized by three of the country’s top ballet companies, and a sprawling arts festival in Takamatsu, Japan. She’d had a dream about me the night before, she said–and despite prevalent misgivings about commissioning live music for financial and logistical reasons–took the dream as a sign to see if I was game to do it.
Part of babaylan practice includes the transmission of knowledge through dreams, so: big flashing green light. Besides, who was I to pass up an opportunity to work on a genuinely exciting project that let me use both left (academic) and right (artistic) sides of my brain? I said yes. I flew back to Manila twice to observe rehearsals and participate in the performance itself, and asked my good friend, ethnomusicologist Tusa Montes, to score the piece with me. I also took the gig as an opportunity to use a vocal microphone looper for the first time.
We scored and recorded the music live in Manila; the recording was then used for the Japan show. The video below is a montage of excerpts from the show overlaid with the live music by me (on vocals and singing bowls) and Tusa Montes (percussion and kulintang).
There’s a lot that happened that I am in the process of
unpacking unearthing (heh), both as a researcher and an artist. Suffice it to say that the time and money needed to become part of the show’s unfolding were very well spent, though not in the tangibly straightforward manner of a monetized transaction.
I’ve been thinking a lot ever since about what it means to make art for art’s sake–about why art (more than any other human activity) should have its peculiar purpose and subsequent pull–and all the ambivalent politics of reciprocity that should entail. My friend Steve, himself a musicking academic, would probably urge me to think about the economy of the gift and its possibility of enchantment. For me, the dividends will emerge gradually, retrospectively: in the work of making sense of what’s happened, what it means, and why it matters.