Baltimore’s FlucT Becomes the Sun — in Live Dance Performance of Salamander Wool’s ‘Solar Solipsis’

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FlucT, on the set of 'Solar Solipsis'

All in all, it’s not terribly surprising that Salamander Wool’s recent Ehse Records release — the eclectic, psychedelic Solar Solipsis – is now being realized as an extended movement piece by FlucT, a local avant garde dance group headed by Sigrid Lauren and Monica Mirabile. The album, a mostly instrumental, narrative sound collage that follows the sun’s journey through the sky, is virtually an art installation unto itself, mixing cinematic, spatial soundscapes with idiomatic rhythms and grooves.

It’s the kind of album that deserves to be called an “experience.” Every piece of art is experienced, of course, but some seem to stretch beyond the physical limitations of the medium: painting that evokes the invisible, sculpture that evokes movement, music that evokes color and shape. No doubt the title influences my psycho-musical reaction, but listening to Solar Solipsis, I find it’s hard not to visualize a hallucinatory desert landscape, scorched by an unclouded sun.

It’s that visual, narrative quality of the album that prompted Ehse Records’ founder Stewart Mostofsky to approach FlucT about adapting it into a “live, visual production.” FlucT in turn called on their cadre of choreographers — including Grace Smith, Pilar Diaz, Meredith Wallace, Sophia Mak, and Caroline Marcantoni — to aid in designing the emotional, interpretive performance.

By the way, all of Ehse’s releases are available as free downloads on their website. So feel free to pop over and have yourself a listen before the show. If you’re prone to cherry-pick, I recommend “Reptile,” the track in which the album comes closest to a song — in the chords-plus-melody-plus-lyrics sense of the word. For the other end of the spectrum, try “Solar Solipsis.” And if you can, listen to it on headphones — at a couple moments you will feel the sounds travel directly through your eyeballs.

Recently, I asked Salamander Wool (real name: Carson Garhart) about the record and his thoughts on its live realization, and I also asked a few questions of FlucT about their process. Carson’s questions are first.

Solar Solipsis is “eclectic,” but in such a way that its influences are not obvious. From your point of view, does it have a musical ancestry?

I suppose the musical ancestry “noise” —  i.e. the Residents and the weird Americana strain of the past 100 years — would be my generic answer. But also soundtrack music and 20th century electronic composers. Really, however, all kinds of influences in other mediums such as traditional mythology, cosmology, Gothic romanticism, baroque, Bauhaus, neo-platonism, hermeticism, surrealism, science fiction, etc…

What was your “goal” with the record? It’s mostly instrumental, but not totally, there is the occasional periodic dance beat, but it’s rarely sustained for long. Where did you imagine the music being played?

The goal for Solar Solipsis was to make a balanced cosmic day in mimicry of the sun’s arc. Using this basic structure, I compiled a compendium of recordings spanning as far back as 10 years. These songs were chosen as the most outward “solar” expressions that could represent symbolically different parts of a day.

Ideally I hope that a song can transport someone into another world for a moment. So it can be played anywhere really.

Image and motion are very important to me when constructing a piece of music, I love how these combined with sound can be so all encompassing. Naturally I am pleased that these songs will now have a wonderful visual counterpart.

Do you play that music live?

Playing these tracks live is very difficult without a lot of resources I don’t have. Anyway I prefer to move on once this kind of material is crystallized and thrown on the fire. If I had a 10-piece band perhaps I could do justice to my studio arrangements, but I would rather tread on into new music.

What role did you play in the conception of the FlucT performance? Will you be participating?

FlucT asked me to write impressions for each track that they could pull from for choreography, but other than that I have given it over entirely to their care. I have been going to rehearsals and it is fantastic; they are really coaxing out a visual narrative that I could have never conceived, and it seems that it makes perfect sense as a dance piece.

After much deliberation I have decided not to perform. The reason for this being that I feel it would take attention away from the dancers, and like I said above, there would be little I could perform without a massive starship.

And here’s my interview with Sigrid Lauren and Monica Mirabile of FlucT:

The press release emphasizes the performance’s multi-disciplinary approach. Is it a dance piece, something else?

The production is post-dance or perhaps something else. We want the audience to be excited about the opportunity to be immersed in a more diverse, complex environment. The majority of our dancers are not trained in dance but they are humans, they are artists, they are complex individuals. We wanted to harness and cultivate that about each character/mover. We wanted to use their individual expression, emotionally and physically to produce a more captivating existence. Our country, the mainstream level of society, has set a specific tone for human expression and how we communicate. We control and regulate our physical and verbal expressions each day.

In Solar Solipsis we wanted to exaggerate the instinctive and primal expressions that exist within every bit of our human existence. We want to be affected by something more than simply a beautiful or grotesque physical movement.

There are a lot of choreographers involved? How did you divide up the work?

We sat back to back and listened to each song together, jotting down notes like colors, movement, abstract thoughts, etc. We prefaced our meditations knowing what time of the day was to accompany each song. Once we had completed a series of these exercises and solidified concepts for each piece, we looked at our choreographer list. Monica and I, individually, made piece associations to specific choreographers. When we shared our list with one another, we selected almost 100 percent the same choreographers for the same pieces. We have been extremely satisfied with the work from our choreographers.

Solar Solipsis is a particularly cinematic piece of music. And it purports to follow the sun on its journey through the sky. The press release implies that the performance follows the same program. How clear-cut of a narrative can we expect?

We wanted to mesh Solar Solipsis’s auditory representation with relative emotional responses to illustrate the effect the moving sun places on us throughout the day. This performance is a kind of avant garde abstraction of the internal/conscious world meeting the physical/material world, if one is looking for a narrative they see the layers of connections.

Each song uses a different method to express an emotion. Some of the songs are eight-count choreography and some of them are what we call “narrative based” which means the “dancers” follow a story in their minds while they authentically move to the song. The color of the gradient lighting design, the design of the costumes and the facial expressions of the emotional characters all depict the time of day and the mood, this may follow the arc as we know it, but it is not a hero’s journey. There is no one main character and the ultimate boon is interpretive.

Did working with music that shifts between periodic beats and free rhythms provide challenges or opportunities?

We were extremely inspired by the free rhythms and the diverse sound throughout the album. For particular songs, we knew from the beginning that these dances would follow a practiced, narrative improvisation. In our experience, this is when some of the most powerful contours and hypnotic expressions are created. This practice defines concept, emotion and the power of freedom for the specific character in each scene; it is a beautiful metaphor on how to function in life.

It wasn’t until we actually began choreographing with 20 dancers that we realized the difficulty in working with such free beats and polyrhythms. Using counts with this music was sometimes not the best fitting tool when creating choreography. However, the diversity of movement that the music has inspired is one of our favorite outcomes.

“Solar Solpsis” will performed June 29th and June 30th at the warehouse space Penthouse Gallery, on the 1511 Guilford Ave. in Station North. Admission is $5 – $10 (sliding scale).

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