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Art Work: an experiment in sound and movement

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"We're such a little drop in the bucket," says Chicago composer Gene Coleman. "You can't really even talk about what effect our work has, or might have, on this mass of popular culture. But you have to try to get more people aware of this stuff. Otherwise, all this information is going to be gone--there's gonna be reruns of Mod Squad, and that would be the world."

Coleman, a 30-year-old composer, musician, and painter, is doing all he can to give the world an alternative. He and Lauri Macklin, a Chicago choreographer, plan to direct a five-day sound and movement workshop for musicians, dancers, composers, actors--in fact, for anyone who shows up.

Coleman and Macklin see the workshop, which will culminate in a performance, as an opportunity for Chicago music makers and "movers" (as Macklin calls them) to improvise music and movement simultaneously. They plan to try to break down certain barriers--between music and sound, for example, and between everyday and stylized movement. They'd also like to test the prohibitions against musicians moving around the stage and against dancers making noise.

Dissatisfaction with traditional art forms has been the impetus for the development of the far-ranging interests of both artists. Macklin, 36, who spent ten years in France and three in Brazil, has studied acting and mime in addition to dance. But she always found it difficult to connect movement and speaking. As an actor, she says, "I was saying the lines, but I felt like there was no body there--the body's not doing anything. So I didn't enjoy it, it didn't feel good."

In Paris Macklin started to study mime, thinking it "a midway between theater and movement," but was not satisfied with that either. "Mime," she says, "is quite static. And also, the way it's taught, it's either very representational or very detailed--just isolated movements. And you do it for years. It's a technique, and you have to want to perform that technique."

Coleman, who grew up in rural Wisconsin and has a degree from the School of the Art Institute, played music in high school ("Doc Severinson arrangements of Frank Sinatra tunes") but only got excited about music in college, when he heard some contemporary work. After some ensemble playing, he began composing in 1984. He remains interested in visual art--he has made films and created paintings using compositional procedures borrowed from jazz, and gives his musical scores graphic notations--abstract artwork like beautifully shaded winding rivers for the musicians to follow. But he has become less and less satisfied with "the whole gallery system."

"There's this ersatz importance," he says, "because successful artists generate this object, it's sold, and there's this fanaticism about escalating prices. It has this level of currency because of money."

Coleman also likes the idea of getting out of his studio: "In doing composition, either choreography or music, you're involved with other individuals in a very exacting way: you generate these ideas, and other people are trying to realize them. Being a painter is totally the opposite--it's a very solitary sort of thing."

Collaboration usually requires a bit of making it up as you go along. But what if someone can't improvise? Coleman says that, generally, poor improvisers are "not people who are inexperienced; it's people who have a lot of experience and are not comfortable letting that experience go." Macklin agrees: "You have to be open to the basis of improvisation, which is that you don't know what's going to happen. If you think you already know how to do something, then you're not in the right state of mind."

But improvisation does need some structure, and Macklin and Coleman have come up with some exercises for their workshop participants. "People are going to move to someone improvising musically," Coleman says, "and then we'll reverse that process: the dancer will lead." Macklin adds, "Or there'll be contrast: 'No matter what he's playing, I'm not going to make myself be like that.'" Coleman would like to get away from the "one-dimensional logic" of sound and action that's evolved from film and television--"you see a gun, you hear a gunshot." If someone in the workshop is jumping around frenetically or writhing on the floor, he says, he might encourage a musician to "make a long, continuous note to go with that."

When asked about what audiences might feel about watching their work, Coleman says, "It's a demanding experience. It doesn't function like television, where you get bathed by it." Macklin says of the European approach to live performance: "People just go and see what it is." It might be nice, she implies, to try that here.

The workshop, sponsored by the Experimental Sound Studio, will meet 7 to 10 PM Monday through Friday, June 5 to 9, at Chicago Filmmakers, 1229 W. Belmont, with a rehearsal on Saturday, June 10, noon to 4. The performance, also at Chicago Filmmakers, will be at 8 PM June 10 and will include besides the workshop performance a collaboration by Coleman and Macklin. They will perform with dancer Patricia Mowen and musicians Kent Kessler and Rross Feller. The workshop is $35, $30 for students and ESS members. The performance is $5, $4 for students and seniors, $3 for members. Call 929-0478 for information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.

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