Tivoli, New York
PEOPSSONGS in Pickens
You know that feeling, of the project that has been on your stovetop for a long time, but never quite made it to the front burner? PEOPSSONGS was that for me. Begun in 2011 and then tabled through almost five years of touring and then starting a family, it began to seem as if I would never get around to it, and that if I finish it soon it would never get done. Enter the Rensing Center. Tipped off by a friend and previous Rensing resident, I applied and was accepted for a summer residency. For three weeks, I could indulge the fantasy that I had no responsibilities, family, or life outside the library (AC helped) and focus on the blank slate and the blank page.
|Workspace in the library|
The artist Fly is one of the most prominent graphic artists to come out of the '80s/'90s Lower East Side squatter scene, documenting punk bands, the Tompkins Square riots, and the drifters, visionaries, and charlatans passing through that world. Her longest-running project is a series called "PEOPS": single-page, head-and-shoulders portraits of the characters and scenesters she's met, surrounded by transcriptions of her conversations with them during the sitting. A few are well known – Lydia Lunch, Art Spiegelman, John Zorn (who says "Her visions should be read every morning instead of your daily newspaper") – but most are anonymous members of what used to be known as the underground.
I went through Fly's archive, selected thirty of her portraits, and edited their words to provide a text for a song cycle. In keeping with the radical populist communitarianism of the artist and her subjects, the cycle was to be for a capella groups of any size, choral & polyphonic in the style of Eastern European village song or southern Sacred Harp singing.
I pretty quickly settled into a routine - a long early-morning run on the Doodle Trail in downtown Pickens (only possible before the heat really sets in), an hour or so of piano exercises (I'm also trying to get my hands back in shape for some upcoming shows in the fall), and then down to work, either on the spinet or the library pump organ. The pump organ, because of the sustain, was particularly handy for writing choral parts. When I hit a wall I'd enter the pencil scratch into Sibelius (a computer notation program) in the hopes that hearing even a tinny MIDI version would nudge me toward the next section. Failing that, lunch.
|Two weeks' work on the floor...|
Around dinner, I'd put in a few hours of garden work: trimming hedges and kiwi trees, weed-whacking, and, mostly, battling wisteria. I think I'm going to have a kind of PTSD about wisteria.
The other residents and I didn't get out much, but I can recommend a couple things: for swimming, Devils Fork State Park (about 20 minutes away); for 75-cent pool and cheap beer, Smitty's on Moorefield outside of Pickens. There's a fancy new Goodwill in Easley. Definitely check out the old-time and bluegrass music on the third Saturday of each month at the Hagood Mill. And for random junk and lots of used guns, the Wednesday flea market (I picked up a silver-dollar belt buckle and a new used Swiss Army knife).
In theory, I've told myself repeatedly this month, there's no reason I shouldn't be able to get this kind of work done at home. But in practice, of course, a substantial creative project sometimes requires time bracketed off and set aside with no distractions or excuses (procrastination, of course, still worms its way in). Many thanks to Ellen and the Rensing Center for providing that time.