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Where Both Players Are Co-Present: Hyperallergic on David Grubbs & Susan Howe’s ‘Frolic Architecture’

By Harriet Staff


Hyperallergic takes a look at the recent Drawing Center show that brought us Susan Howe and composer David Grubbs in collaboration. Frolic Architecture “is a delicate sound collage, rich with layers, solemn, and mildly, comfortably disjointed. At times it evokes a church; at other times, a summer evening; at still others, something so basic and pre-language that it suggests the existence of a unifying human voice, tentative but true.” Chloë Bass writes about how movement around the gallery space makes sense of the work. And that the project “can be most simply described as an act of fortified reading”:

…Howe’s live speaking is mixed with previously recorded and manipulated sounds, including recordings of her voice, which are played by Grubbs. The piece is composed but active: the voice (sound, not syntax) is the primary structure to which Grubbs responds. In an interview with Lynn Keller for the YU exhibit, Howe used the frame of psychoanalysis to discuss her work: “Who knows, maybe that’s why Freud’s patients lay on couches rather than sitting across from him. Because he didn’t have to look at them nor they at him. They followed each other’s voices and silences.” For Grubbs and Howe, it is much the same: during the performance, they hardly look at each other — he focuses on the computer and sound board, she on the page — but they work together with the generosity of listening.

After the performance I was able to discuss the conceptual underpinnings of “Frolic Architecture,” as well as the pair’s working process, with Grubbs. He refered to their collaboration, like Howe’s works on paper, as a kind of layering: “Layering is all important. Just a few do the trick, and not too thick. Isn’t the layering — the co-presence — suggested by the two of us seated side by side?” This particularly interested to me, as I often think of collaborative works as blending: rendering the contributions of individual artists inseparable as they come together in a single, coherent universe. In “Frolic Architecture,” it’s exactly the opposite: to work together is to create a space where both players are “co-present,” where each layer remains visible and active on its own. That simplicity requires that each element have its own clarity and value, both tonally, through a careful non-mixing of frequencies, and linguistically, through limited words. Layering is a way to hold moments together, a captivating rather than obfuscating force.

Read the full review at Hyperallergic. Also note that a previous performance of the work at Harvard University can be watched below. At top: Installation view, “Susan Howe: TOM TIT TOT” at the Yale Union (photo by Chloë Bass).

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, December 13th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.