Avant-garde sound concerts have finally found what’s been missing from the experience — pillows.
“Gorintō” is a new music sensory experience from Austin-based composer and interdisciplinary artist, Drew Silverman. For one weekend at the Ground Floor Theatre, Silverman and a crew of sound artists and designers are presenting an evening-encompassing show that will transcend traditional concert practices and, with a cushion-filled lounge-like seating arrangement, invite audiences closer than ever to the ephemeral beauty of music.
“Gorintō,” April 25-27, Ground Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale Road, $5-$20
Performances of “Gorintō” will be opened and followed by music from guest artists, including Bohemian Cristal Instrument from the Czech Republic, Austin-based Matthew Seidel, and Dallas’ Xinexport. The show is a co-production with COFTG, the Austin sound and new music collective.
Silverman frequently works with the dance and theater community, having composed scores and soundscapes for Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company, Austin Dance Festival, Sarasota Contemporary Dance, Austin Shakespeare, Me-Mer-Mo-Monday and Drone Camp, among others. Taking influence from a wide breadth of music genres, he first became particularly interested in the realm of soundscapes while studying the 20th century composer, Pierre Schaeffer.
“I can’t remember the exact quote but the biggest trajectory shift for me was when I read something like, ‘the world of music may be contained within do-re-mi, but the world of sound is a lot more expansive than that,” Silverman recalls. “And that just opens up a lot of doors when you hear someone say, hey, it’s okay if you like the sound of a door slamming or the sound of water — it doesn’t have to be this traditionally arranged set of sound or notes or even tontalities.”
For “Gorintō,” Silverman draws inspiration from the Japanese buddhist pagodas (sacred structures) of the same name. In the Buddhist faith, Gorintōs and their five-part structure represent the five different elements that make up everything in our world: earth, water, fire, air, and void. The performance attempts to adapt the thematic consilience of these structures and apply it to the world of music and sound.
“Gorintō as an object became a metaphor or beacon for that type of thinking for me — everything being interconnected,” Silverman says in discussing the show’s thematic construction.
“I’ve always been super interested in soundscape works, classical, heavy music — I wanted to see if they could coexist and be not too distracting.”
But “Gorintō” takes this element of consilience further by not just convalescing genres and sounds, but also by challenging the typical observation-oriented nature of music performance. On a slightly raised floor, attendees will gather on a padded ground, surrounded by musicians and a quadraphonic sound system. Silverman says that this encompassing, encircled experience is meant to break the wall between performers and listeners.
“I wanted this piece to feel a lot like the audience is more of a part of an organism than watching a performance — to build the concept of being with each other, one organism moving through this space and time.”
Above the audience, images and lights will be projected using the Austin-born audio and graphics program, Synesthesia. The program will react to the live sounds of the performing ensemble, creating new shapes, colors, and images for viewers to get lost in. The show’s visual designer, Zeke Cisnero, will be directing the system live alongside the ensemble to create a truly dynamic visual experience. (This story’s lead image is Synestheisa-produced.)
“He’ll be able to change the temperature, the layers, and the visuals that the textures interacting with too,” Silverman notes, “It’s all very reactive to what we’re doing in the moment.”
Instrumentally, “Gorintō” will utilize synths, percussion, cello, found objects, and more, featuring the talents of performers Adam Bedell (of Line Upon Line Percussion), Jessica Eley, Claude McCan, Fumihito Sugawara, and Silverman. Besides an opening overture, the performance will be made up of five movements composed by Silverman, with each representing an element of a traditional Gorintō.
In the transitions between each movement, performers will use objects they’ve personally chosen to create unscripted sounds that they feel represent the elements they are moving between. “The intention was to give everyone ownership,” says Silverman, “It was really important to me to have flexibility and input from all the musicians.”
While the ensemble performs, audio engineer Chris Medders will freely shift sounds between the four audio channels aimed at the audience, creating brand-new and unpredictable audio-directional experience. “Instead of a two channel stereo, there’s four channels plus a sub frequency channel as well,” Silverman says, “so he has twice as many spatial options.”
Flexibility and openness is expected of the audience as well. While encircled by the sounds and projections, attendees will be encouraged to lay down on provided pillows, rugs, and other comfortry. The purpose of this unexpectedly disarming concert setting, Silverman says, is to help audiences vacate their typical role as a distant observer and, by establishing their own level of comfort, become part of the sounds around them.
“It’s very similar to what I talk to the musicians about,” Silverman says in reference to the improvisational moments of the composition, “I want the same energy from the audience where they get comfortable really feel like they have skin in the game too.”
To help this process along, attendees, like the musicians, are also encouraged to bring personal objects to the performance. Basically, anything cozy-inducing. “Pillows, blankets, if you wanna bring a stuffed animal that you care deeply about — whatever’s going to make you more comfortable, go for that.”
In presenting a new kind of environment to engage with performers and fellow music lovers, “Gorintō” is trying to make sense of the power of shared and equal experiences that are only made possible through sound.
“We’re all apes trying to figure out how we fit into this existence and how to treat our world, each other, and ourselves. As flowery as that might sound, that’s probably why I like projects that are immersive,” says Silverman.
“It’s not about observing — it’s receiving.”