Interview: Ross Karre, Suzanne Farrin, and Ashley Fure
Suzanne Farin, International Contemporary Ensemble, and Ashley Fure
Photographs: Luke Redmond (Farrin); DigitICE Media Team (ICE); Daniel Dorsa (Fure)
It should come as no surprise to anyone that when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a wave of concert cancelations sweeping through the spring and into the summer, with no definitive end in sight, the International Contemporary Ensemble would be especially hard hit. The group – established by the flutist Claire Chase in Chicago in 2001, and active in New York City shortly after – is well known for the emphatically busy, varied schedule it maintains. Events postponed or canceled outright so far this calendar year have included programs devoted to the music of Anthony Braxton, Kate Gentile, Tyshawn Sorey, and Anna Thorvaldsdottir, among others.
Now, like many other organizations, ICE is starting to transfer its ingenuity – and, crucially, its institutional partnerships and funding resources – toward online presentations. One recent offering found the ensemble presenting the streaming premiere of a concert involving the Iranian Female Composers Association, taped last summer at Lincoln Center, in lieu of a canceled live collaboration at Joe’s Pub.
On Thursday, May 28 at 7pm (EDT), ICE extends its virtual venturing a step further, partnering with two key presenters, Portland Ovations and the Library of Congress, to present a genuinely novel web-based setting for world premieres composed by two iconoclastic visionaries closely associated with the group: Suzanne Farrin, whose visceral music was to be featured on multiple ICE programs this season, and Ashley Fure, whose haunting “opera for objects,” The Force of Things, would have been mounted by ICE at Dartmouth College in April.
Along with performances pre-recorded to allow for high-quality sound and visual effects – and, in the case of Fure’s interior listening protocol 1, audience participation – the 90-minute event will include live chats with the composers and performers, conducted by WQXR radio personality Terrance McKnight, and a Zoom “lobby” for post-concert mingling. In addition to providing work for composers and performers, and visibility for presenters, the event will call attention to ICE’s Springboard Campaign, a just-announced initiative organized to raise $100,000 by July 31, to support the creation of 23 works involving 89 artists during the next four months.
In a recent Zoom conference call, three key participants in the May 28 presentation – Farrin, phoning from her home in Harlem; Fure, beaming in from quarantine at her partner’s house in Ann Arbor, Michigan; and ICE percussionist and co-artistic director Ross Karre, speaking from the ensemble’s Brooklyn HQ – talked about the compromises and opportunities involved in creating new works during a time of anxiety and isolation. The conversation ventured further into broad impressions of our present extremely online arts milieu, as well as thoughts about what elements of our present virtual reality might come back with us when we reenter the world we knew. (The interview was edited for length and clarity.)
STEVE SMITH: I’m going to start this conversation simply by asking how everybody’s coping with current conditions. Is the state of the world right now precluding creativity? Might it somehow be giving you space to focus? I’m curious about to know how people are getting by under present conditions. Suzanne, could I ask you to start?
SUZANNE FARRIN: It’s hard to answer. I’m looking for spaces of joy and creativity whenever they can happen, and I’m trying to let them in and be in that space as long as I possibly can, knowing that those moments come and go. When the prevailing atmosphere is sadness, then joy is kind of intermittent, sort of a sudden visitation, as opposed to when things are okay and sadness may be a sudden visitation.
For me, it’s not conducive to an incredibly creative period, because it’s just too sad, too stressful for that. However, anytime your life is disturbed, things start to move, and they move in every way: in your relationships, in your work, in your creative life. They start to go places, and those places are unique to that moment. So yes, there are some really interesting, unique places that I’ve been able to go to that I’m grateful for. And they are definitely a silver lining, because it’s hard to ignore the cost.
When you find those moments of joy and fulfillment in a context like this, you also can feel almost guilty for indulging yourself in the very act of feeling good about something, when prevailing conditions compel other responses.
SF: Yes, but there’s places where that’s always been the case. There are artists that have always lived through incredibly traumatic experiences, who have found liberation within that context. It doesn’t diminish the suffering. And it also doesn’t diminish the joy.
Ashley, have you found this time in any way conducive to doing creative work?
ASHLEY FURE: It has been all over the map, up and down and left and right, and it has been that within the space of an hour, within the space of a day, within the space of a week. It’s really shifted, and I’ve really tried to be present with those shifts, and not try to sort of force what would feel like a moment of expectation of productivity. I think as an artist I’m someone who is more motivated by questions and by optimism, in a way, than I am motivated by grief. But I have tried to really sit into this grief, and sit into the sort of paralysis that I think is appropriate in certain moments of this.
I’ve tried to turn what for me is darkness into big questions that I can feel are generative, and those are questions about the state of my practice and what all of this does for it. It has to do with the state of our scene, and what it means for any of us to continue the habits that we were locked into: habits of mobility, habits of transference, in terms of how we’re sharing the work, just really basic assumptions about what that future might look like. I can find a generative space when I can dig into those big questions. But I also very easily – and, again, I’m trying to honor that slippage – fall back into deep overwhelm and a kind of heaviness.
I’ve been reading Kyle Devine’s Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music, and it’s just incredible supply-chain analysis: he goes through the history of shellac, and then CDs, and then the materiality of digital culture. I bring it up because it’s a brilliant behind-the-scenes analysis of the collective violence we engage in just by owning an iPhone or doing a virtual stream of something.
The thorniness and entanglements around this crisis go so far beyond the tragedy of personal health and sickness that is manifesting on the surface for so many humans on this earth right now. The scale of the systems that go into this moment, and into the violence that we’re all embedded in, they’re deeply overwhelming. I’ve tried to sit into that stillness and honor that paralysis when it emerges, and tried to let it into my body.
Ross, how are you faring?
ROSS KARRE: I’m doing well, and I appreciate the question. I’m in Sunset Park, in Brooklyn. I live just a block away from where the ICE rehearsal space has been for the last 15 years or so—Ashley and Suzanne have been there many times. And I have to say, it’s the most luxurious thing to have this space. There’s no other ICE staff or musicians who are coming, so that we can honor the true version of the lockdown, and I look forward to having colleagues back here again. Walking in here alone every day is an intense thing. The luxury of having all of my personal percussion equipment, and Styrofoam disks aplenty that were supposed to go to Dartmouth to be a part of The Force of Things in late March, is stark. But also, it’s a huge opportunity.
At the beginning, I was every morning from 7am to 10am making recordings and starting web series. That was what I was motivated to do, and still is. There were parts of the first few days for ICE that were quite scary, and I’m happy to say that we’re well beyond that, and things are going great for the organization. And it’s because we were able to call our composer colleagues and friends and be able to just check in and say “Hi, how are you doing?” first, and then say: “Whatever you’re ready to do – make work now, make work later, pause – we want to support that, and we’re going to advocate for supporting that.” And the motivating thing for me is that every time I bring up that concept with our partners, presenters, institutional, individual giving, they all say, “Yeah, sign me up.”
So it’s just an overwhelmingly generous time—juxtaposed against my own walk to get groceries, which is by the refrigerated morgue trailers. There’s now 73 52-foot semis with police protection, right there. I don’t know the emotional or psychological message that one is supposed to undertake to be able to have that binary in such quick succession: of what I feel to be a kind of luxurious privilege of art making with the most amazing colleagues possible, with amazing technology that allows us to talk like this, and then to go get food and walk by that place, and there’s gawkers taking pictures.
I don’t have anything to complain about, healthwise or artwise. I feel super, super, super lucky. So I think that as we’ve righted the ship and made possibilities – there’s a way to pause, there’s a way to make work, there’s a way to support other people making work – as those things come online, now I’m curious: what should we have done? What could we do better about those who are hurting most right now, as opposed to our most insular community? I’m curious about that. I don’t think we’ll accomplish that on the 28th, to be honest, but I’m glad that we put a ton of effort into making some radical art happen for as big an audience as possible.
I’m deeply curious to find out about how the May 28 event came about. The online performance you’re presenting with the Iranian Female Composers Association is easy to access mentally: you’re using footage from a prior concert in place of something that could not happen. But the upcoming event on May 28 seems like a bespoke affair made for present circumstances, and a fair amount of the music at least appears to engage with our present moment, too. Could you walk me through how you conceived and assembled this web event?
RK: The real-world, live-in-person, whatever everybody’s saying these days to describe what we used to do was that on April 30, there’s a radical, amazing presenter in Portland, Maine, called Ovations—it’s run by Aimée Petrin, and she invited us to do a project connected with the Dartmouth event and our project at Wellesley, because of the New England fine-arts granting organization that allows you to put three presenters together in a tour. That tour started last October at Wellesley, and we were supposed to continue at Dartmouth and then finish up in April. The latter two were canceled, so we first got NEFA interested in how to redirect the resource, and then Ovations was super generous in redirecting the resource toward an online opportunity.
Some of the same pieces, especially Suzanne Farrin’s new work, were going to be premiered in a one-two punch, April 30 and May 8. So when I called the Library of Congress about the May 8 performance and said, “The Ovations series is interested in supporting a live stream; do you want to join?” then both institutions contributed resources. So it’s a three-part co-presentation with the International Contemporary Ensemble, Ovations in Portland, Maine, and the Library of Congress, with an event that will have world premieres. And downstream, artists’ permission pending, we'll enter the Library of Congress’s permanent archive.
SS: I want to be certain that I understand properly. Ashley’s piece, interior listening protocol 1, is new for the occasion, and takes into account all of these conditions that we are living in: distance, isolation, and so on. But there was, I presume, a previous conceptualization for Suzanne’s piece, “Nacht,” involving actual bodies in the same room. Is that accurate?
RK: Correct. Ashley, do you want to just jump into describing your piece, which is created for the circumstance?
Photograph: Daniel Dorsa
AF: This piece that I’m going to be sharing came out of that stillness I was describing as being a real condition of this moment. When it first hit, people went through very different realities. Folks with kids suddenly had no daycare, folks were teaching, the pressures on their time accelerated. I was in the opposite condition. All my teaching got canceled. We were supposed to load in Force of Things 10 days later, and that got canceled. My normal travel schedule got stilled. I found myself really inhabiting those first couple of weeks with an excess of time and attention, which was intense in its own way.
I found in that time I could not do any of the previous pile of work I had. Of course, we all carry deadlines around, and we all carry certain habits; they felt so inappropriate to the scale of this moment, like a vector that was veering off to a no longer viable future. So I didn’t make work for a couple of weeks, and then I just started feeling that sonic hunger again. It came out of this process of reflecting on what might my very particular sensibility have to offer this moment, or this specific physical circumstance of quarantine.
There wasn’t a super easy answer for that, in the sense that my work has over the last couple of years really been about this kind of full-body immersion, this sense of three dimensionality and sound coming at you from all directions. I don’t really think in album formats. I’m not really creating work that is meant for stereo reception; I don’t really work with flat screens. There’s more and more visual elements in my work, but they really aren’t designed for that kind of capture, that kind of presentation.
I was thinking about that constraint, and thinking about being locked in our homes with the conditions of this kind of transfer: laptops, shitty computer speakers, flat screens. How might I create something that feels powerful, or specific to my sensibility? I got inspired by Pauline Oliveros’s investigations and experiments of the interior, and I started thinking through, okay, what is lying around me right now? What are the household objects through which I might create some of this three dimensionality and some of this type of sound I’m very, very hungry for—which, again, acts in resistance to MP3 compression and being stuck passively staring at my screen.
So that meant, to the comic delight of everyone in my isolation pod, I walked around with various funny objects, pressing them against me in various parts of the house, for four weeks. I really got attracted to and excited by this very basic filtration process that I started discovering with these Mason jars—or it could just be big Ikea glasses, anything that’s sort of cylindrical that fits over your ears. I started exploring that phenomenon in really, really, really slow choreographies, and I just found it grounding. It really took me out of the moment and into my body, and it had a lot of these physical and meditative consequences.
That was how I came to the instrument of it. Then I started composing really for the process of this live filtration, and thinking about what types of sound – again, really not banking on any hi-fi mechanics, just with the basics of shitty computer speakers or whatever – might work in the interaction of these objects and that sound source that feel custom-designed to produce these very dynamic and very full-body artifacts. The tactile exploration was then the process of composition. I just started doing what I do: testing and hearing and refining, thinking about these complex microphenomena, but also complex architectures in time.
The third step was reaching out to an artist friend. Much of Pauline’s offerings in this vein take text form or graphic form, but I was interested in something that had a bit more sculpted sonic drama to it, and that was accessible to anybody’s participation. That’s how I got to the idea of this video score, and this mimicry. I invited a visual artist into that process to see if they might help me play with this visual surface, help me add a little bit of distance between myself as a sort of yoga instructor [laughs] and the participation of the audience member, and to play a bit with the mediation and hyperdigitality of this type of transfer. Not to try to hide it or evade it, but to really use it as another moment of honesty to being in this moment, and how we’re all trying to reach through it into our bodies, and into ourselves, and into each other.
So that was the kind of windy path: I made a thing, I made it entirely in a spirit of humility, on my own time, on my own dime, and just started sharing it with some friends. And Ross was like, Oh my God, I love these jars! [laughs] Can we play these? Can we share these? It was just a really simple process of friendship that brought it to this moment of showing the series.
Suzanne, your piece was originally conceived for very different circumstances. How were you able to reconceive it for the circumstance at hand?
SF: Yes, it was conceived for a concert format. Part of the process that I mourned, and still do, is that I really, really enjoy the rehearsal process. That’s kind of it for me; that’s where everything happens. The premiere is kind of a side effect of the rehearsal process. I love working, and I love working with other people, so that is a really, really important component for me feeling like I’ve actually written anything.
When I’m just by myself, it’s imagined. It’s idealized, or not, but it doesn’t quite yet have a life of its own. So that first process is the measure of whether or not something is going to exist for me. I didn’t have that, and I wasn’t going to have it. So what can exist from my world, and my process, and the relationship I have with music? How is that going to live without that key element?
Once I had some neurons back in place, I could look at the piece with a new distance, which was very helpful. It’s a key point in the compositional process when I can achieve that; I can really understand more of what I’ve done. I sort of was forced into having that distance. And that was actually a poetic part of the original work that I had written, which was a big collection of multilingual translations of poets, mostly from the 12th and 13th centuries, and then also some ancient Greek poetry and Emily Dickinson: a personal, multilingual set of poems that went in a lot of different directions, but had a metaphysical link between them, all through my filter.
One of the commonalities is that most of the works are translations, and the aspect of translation became more and more important to me in this new space, because it really brought to life the magic of translations that simultaneously creates distance and also removes distance from an original object. I felt like I was zoomed in to the nose with ancient texts, and then I also felt I was totally zoomed out telescopically to the rest of life and the planet. I was feeling like my phrases and my material and everything that I was trying to project needed to also project a long arc, and that arc was going to land somewhere that I couldn't see—and I still can’t see, because I think we’re not even going to be returning from this. We’re so transformed by this, I don’t even think that the thing that I throw out in the world is going to land again. The gravity has shifted.
And then there were some really practical concerns. A piece that involves some sort of movement onstage and interaction between people, which a lot of the movements had, didn’t make any sense in this context, and wasn’t going to be possible. One of the movements jumped out as being appropriate, and that’s the one we’re doing. There are some features that make it more workable, but really, it was also that the musical content felt right. So we’ll do one of the songs, called “Nacht.”
The parts have been recorded by the individual performers in isolation, and then brought together afterward in post-production, is that correct?
SF: Yes. Ross calls it a chain letter, and I think that’s really appropriate. We started with percussion, and then voice.
RK: We’re playing around a lot with that format. I hope we don’t have to do it forever, but it is interesting. The most fun part is that we started this process with four experts in the ICE collective, Levy Lorenzo and Josh Rubin and Nathan Davis and me, as audio people. And now, 30 of 36 people are totally fluent in microphones and interfaces and how to make their sound the way they want to, and make the digital thing an extension of their instrument. That’s really liberating, for a lot of reasons.
In this process, in step one of having the percussion, maybe in this case I’d count the beats aloud to have some sort of temporal reference. But the performers then choose their adventure in the next stage. They can hear me without counting, or with counting, or with a visual conductor or not, whatever they think works best for them. Then they send me that and I stack up the next. And then the third person has both, and they stack up the third, and the fourth person has the first three. By the time it wraps around to the quintet… Suzanne, I think you might add your sound today or tomorrow, right?
SF: Yep, I’m in the middle.
RK: We’ll send it back to Alice [Teyssier], who’s singing, and if she wants to rerecord her track, she’ll have the context of the first four. So we can chain-letter and then loop it back onto itself, until the interpretation feels like we were in the same space. And we’ll get there—but it’s four minutes long, and it’s the only four-minute piece that ICE has ever taken three weeks to record. [laughs] We have Ryan Streber from Oktaven Audio helping, doing mix and mastering and adding reverb. It’s fascinating.
SF: Everyone has to do so much. It’s a huge increase in effort, actually, which is interesting. It’s just a change in that relationship with the work.
The two other performances that are part of this concert – Suzanne’s solo harp piece, Polvere et Ombra, and the performance of Messiaen’s “Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus” with Suzanne on ondes Martenot, are also both recorded? Is any part of this performance being done completely live?
RK: Nothing is. We’re not trying to trick anybody, either. Nothing is live-streamed in terms of someone playing synchronously with the audience experience. Everything is prerecorded in different novel ways that will be presented differently. So for Suzanne’s harp solo that Nuiko [Wadden] recorded, we’ll use the commercial recording of that, which sounds amazing, and then add a kind of journey through the notation, which is super novel. You'll be able to watch the notation go by, kind of like Score Follower with Adobe after-effects mixed in. And then for the “Louange” we’ll start with Suzanne and Jacob Greenberg, recording in their places. You can see their domiciles, and then we’ll weave our way through the Abrons Arts Center to Roulette. We’ll take a little journey through some New York spaces that are really important to us.
It’s really impressive that you’ve put so much creative thought into the production, and that we really are getting four very different and contrasting presentations within the same concert. That said, I’m genuinely curious about the extent to which any of you have partaken in this burgeoning new world of fully livestreamed events, and what your feelings are about those initatives. Ross, I’ve seen your face on my various screens several times now: during the Worldwide Tuning Meditation series – Pauline Oliveros, again! – and in a binaural duo with ICE cellist Katinka Kleijn for the Quarantine Concerts from Experimental Sound Studio. And now, ICE will be programming two nights of concerts for that series in June.
RK: The short answer is I watch something every day. I don’t always tune in to the full duration of an event; I’m also interested to see how people are shifting the duration towards 25-minute experiences. I don’t quite understand the marathon gesture—no offense to Claire [Chase], no offense to Bang on a Can, but I don’t understand why we would want to put in any more time in our seats. So little snapshots for me feel best. And to that end, if we are going to be binaural and with screens, I’m more interested in how this stuff is distributed on Instagram than I am on scheduled streams. That’s just a consumption behavior I happen to love; I think Instagram is amazing, full stop.
Do you mean the spontaneity of it?
RK: I think that it somehow has not become a super political soundboard. It is very image- and self-involved. I feel like you can choose your own adventure there, and create something that doesn’t try to be more than what it is. It still tries to be a screen and earphones, and I feel like that’s a more effective distribution mechanism for a lot of the sounds that I want to make in here.
But then in the stream category, I’m interested in the sense of occasion. That’s what Claire and Bang on a Can have done so well, and Third Coast Percussion as well, which is a masterclass in a sense of occasion. That sense of connection with audience members who are thousands of miles apart, that’s what we need right now, and I’m grateful to those three for setting the tone for how to do it. We're piggybacking off that and trying to say, well, if we do have this two-dimensional screen that’s 16 by nine, what can happen in that frame that might be what would normally happen in the lobby—which is, ICE members would talk to audience members and make a connection. What can the screen do to help with that?
The interstitial commentary that Ashley and I and Suzanne and Terrance McKnight and Nuiko Wadden will do on the 28th will hopefully also do that. And then at the very end, we’re hoping to host a virtual lobby, which is going to be a chaotic Zoom call with a different breakout room for each ICE member. We’ll probably fail and get Zoom-bombed, but what have we got to lose? It’s an experimental moment… it’s never not been, but right now it feels like the presenters are willing to experiment with us, too.
That's an amazing gesture. There’s no exact parallel between what’s going on online and what we experienced and perhaps took for granted in the so-called real world, but there are new things emerging… I mean, the idea of a live chat during a performance feels very anathema to me, in a very instinctual and severe way. Yet when I’m watching some of these concerts happening on Twitch now, and there’s a very lively chat going on alongside the video window, there is a certain something about it that evokes a sensation of being in a room with people—not all of whom are keeping their voices down, but you see them interacting and responding in real time, and there is something at least gesturally familiar about that. Ashley, Suzanne, are you checking out any of this stuff?
SF: It’s complicated. I really try to limit the amount of time that I’m on the computer. But it’s all an adjustment of your reality, and the realities between people are very different right now. We have this sort of insanely shared experience, and yet the application of that experience varies a lot, and can vary within a household from minute to minute. The intention of sitting down and seeing something might be there, but who knows what’s going to enter into that space and take you away from that.
I have mixed feelings. They are our tools, and I see how they can work really well, and I see how they can leave us feeling emptier sometimes afterwards. So I’m trying to stay flexible. And it’d be ridiculous to be hypocritically critical about this format as I’m participating in it: I’m also the head of a music department, so I’ve had this whole village of people to shepherd into a new environment. Those have been the tools that have kept everyone connected and alive and healthy, and music has taken an even more important role in the lives of the people in that circle. It’s thanks to Zoom and all these other formats that we’ve been using, and when used appropriately, just like anything, I think they are certainly powerful—and they also can be abused, or misused, or taken for granted, just like any other thing.
AF: I have engaged in a few events. They’ve also been – I think that’s a really interesting word, Ross – occasions. I’m feeling a lot of screen fatigue often, and I’m sort of tuning my interaction with this platform, to get it to feel not draining but generative. I find the ones that do that have some kind of live connection feed me a little bit more than the types of sudden online programming that are just sort of presenting archival archival materials. For me personally, I’ve gotten more out of those senses of encounter.
I also have been similarly surprised at, just as a recent example, Claire’s living room concert, seeing the chat while the premieres are happening. But it was beautiful to see Pamela Z and Marcos Balter and Liza Lim, everybody just saying “hi.” It felt like a spirit of such positivity and encouragement. I am, probably more than most, social-media illiterate and resistant in my daily life, so it’s not a platform that I engage in all that often. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how this has felt.
I do think it’s hard to make sound together over the internet in a way that feels satisfying, and so I actually feel attracted to the format we're approaching for this concert on the 28th, because it’s using this as a gesture of transparency and openness. The conversations are in real time, we are talking to each other spontaneously, but we've put a lot of care into preparing the sonic offerings to best be received in whatever kind of fidelity can feel most satisfying.
I think Claire did a really great job of having good microphones, and a solo person in a room can get more out of that. With multiple people in multiple rooms, there’s a gesture of community that just feels like, “Oh, cool, we’re all here,” but on a deep, visceral sound level, it’s a little harder to make those work. So I give a lot of props to ICE and to Ross for dreaming up this hybrid format, which is really trying to grab the best out of these different types of media constraints.
To close, I wonder if anybody has had any thoughts about how things that we’re observing and learning in this moment may filter into, or alter, the way we approach our work once we’re clear to proceed back into the real world?
SF: I don’t think we’re really going back. Yes, we are going back to getting into proximity with each other, and sharing things like subway cars. And that will be amazing in its own moment, just to be able to live around other humans and not be afraid. I think it will be overwhelming to hear live music again, played by multiple people at once. I think our ears are so starved for that that it will be overwhelming, and perhaps we will never forget how much we value that experience.
But something that’s been really profound for me, that I want to ask myself to take forward, is just thinking differently about work. My attitude and the perspective that I have about work have shifted quite a lot. Right now I’m working I don’t know how many hours a day; it’s an insane amount, because there’s just a lot to do. But I have a new sense of priority, and a different threshold for certain types of stress, and zero threshold for other types of stress. So I think it’s had an impact in understanding what is essential, and what are places of joy and happiness and fulfillment and satisfaction, and where people with values are really trying to live them.
RK: That's amazing.
SF: I don’t think I’m going to get caught up in a lot of bullshit. [laughs] That’s the short version. I think there will be even less, after this—that’s my hope, anyway.
RK: Institutionally, I think there won’t be room after this for organizations that aren’t actively engaging in anti-racism, anti-oppression. That will be the new norm. That’s going to be a proactive part of every organization. The aftermath of this, from institutional funding toward organizations like ours and toward academic institutions, will have a lot more emphasis on making the world just. Tying the money upstream of us to that cause is going to have a huge and positive impact on contemporary music.
AF: I echo both of those very profound insights. I would just maybe add the kind of climate impact and potential of this… it’s been riveting to watch. Of course, we’ve all splintered and slivered apart, but there’s also been global collaboration around the scientific problem of the vaccine, and watching how fast that mobilized, watching the scale of emissions plummet. It’s been humbling and shocking, and I hope will be motivating, to see actually all of those things that we consider impossible in terms of what it’s going to take, the scale of collective action it’s going to take to give us any fighting chance of evading ecocide… I don’t even have words for how to hope it unfolds. But there’s something about our collective vulnerability and its intensity right now, the way this has brought us all to our knees, that hopefully can be really life-giving to our future.
I also would just say, I never knew how much I would miss strangers, the exuberance of anonymity, and the hunger that we all have for each other. Not just our loved ones, but for the ones we don’t even know, haven’t even met yet, and for all the kind of magic that happens with spontaneous encounter. There’s so much to learn from that. And I really do hope that we will all come through this really attuned to that hunger, and really respectful of it.
I had a friend describe how there’s a way in which we’re kind of all stuck in a Black Mirror episode right now, with how freaked out and mediated we are. A friend was talking to a 16-year-old. That’s a generation that really grew up in pure text messaging all the time, and this particular teenager was feeling like really dissatisfied. It’s interesting to watch kids who are younger, but actually don’t really think this cuts it at all. It’s really not a substitute for the kind of chemistry and pheromones that exchange when we’re all in our multisensorial kind of completion.
This has sort of temporarily accelerated us into the kind of techno enclosure that could have taken a couple more decades to get to, if we had just boiling-frogged our way there and not really noticed the heat rising. But I have hope in how bad this feels that it might also help the younger among us, who don’t remember a pre-digital reality, approach it a bit more critically, or at least understand its limitations, and how much more we need than this.
SF: Absolutely. I feel like I should add one small thing that came up in conversation the other day with a friend, and then I woke up thinking about it. Ashley and Ross and I, and you as well, we all kind of know each other, and we have a healthy skepticism about the political situations generally in our country, even under better times than now. I always had that sort of perspective. However, I didn’t realize that I really still held out hope. I realize I had the privilege of getting to the age I am now without experiencing something like Katrina, only witnessing it as an outsider, and feeling the horror as an outsider, and having the understanding of an outsider. That is an incredible humanitarian disaster, but I didn’t live through it. I wasn’t on a roof somewhere.
I’m not stuck on a roof now, either. However, it’s the first time that I can, because of my privilege, physically experience the limitations of this country, and the disappointment of expecting a certain level of ingenuity and organization and humanitarian effort, and then not see it. Even though I have very good friends in Italy, and I was not in denial at all about this, I still didn’t think that we were Italy. I would tell my friends, Oh, Italy has a good health system, actually, so it’s significant that they’re overwhelmed.
I could see how the situation was ripe for that disorder. And it was early on in the process of people coming to terms with this, we had so much time—we don’t even have to go into it. But what I feel like is a new realization for me is that I lost that hope and belief. I want to have hope and belief again and I want it to come from a place that will heal us. I want to see the ingenuity of people, and their ability to organize with each other, become the default for this population. All of this great work is there—and it's heartbreaking, because it’s not part of a structured belief system that people deserve to be healthy and live.
The International Contemporary Ensemble presents “Aural Explorations,” featuring music by Suzanne Farrin, Ashley Fure, and Olivier Messiaen, on Thursday, May 28 at 7pm EDT, live on YouTube; details and R.S.V.P. at iceorg.org.