The Past and Future Converge

Two years ago I was lamenting about the fact that after working for so long in the realms of dance theater and large scale multimedia dramatic productions, I had created a great deal of work that lived for the period of a single show, and was never seen or heard again. Because I also create work utilizing sampled and processed sounds and soundscapes, I had developed and assembled large amounts of raw sound materials in service of those works. Those works also were rarely heard beyond their production dates, and it was often true that I developed a great deal of material that never even made it into use in those shows.

Moving my lament further, much of the time I was creating work that was being presented as sound tracks to be played on amplification systems. Even in cases where I performed music live, I felt invisible – detached from my audience.

With all of this in mind, I set out on a path to bring this work out into the open in different circumstances. I decided to uncover years of work – to revitalize it; to create new work based on raw materials created for previous shows; to re-envision how to bring it to the public; and to create a more direct connection with my audience.

Candy Kuehn’s retrospective at the Owatonna Art Center in 2018.

I launched this latest phase of my life work on September 23, 2018 with a concert at the Owatonna Art Center in Minnesota. My wife, Candy Kuehn, opened a major retrospective of her visual art work at the Center, exhibiting over 90 pieces of her wearable art, painted fabrics, sculptures and digital illustrations. It was a beautiful show, and I was asked to perform a concert as part of the artist reception.

Craig Harris performs GONE at the Owatonna Art Center in September 2018. Photo by Susan Schaefer.

They have very nice grand piano, and a beautiful space in which to present the work. We decided to project Candy’s digital illustrations while I performed.

I reached back into 2017 to create my concert program – not very long ago – to music that I had written for a dance theater production by the company Off Leash Area. They created a work “Dancing On the Belly of the Beast” which explored adult orphanhood, performed at the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis. The multi-generational cast were all adult orphans, having lost their parents at various stages of their lives. My mother had passed on two years before, and it was surprising to me how raw the emotions still were, and how intense it was to be delving into this topic – as I created the work, and as I collaborated with the artists and cast members in the show.

My music for this show included music composed for my sampling keyboard using recorded and processed piano sounds; and I interviewed the cast, recording their experiences and memories about their parents’ lives, their relationships, their passing, and their transitions into life beyond their parents’ time with them. Those recorded voices became part of soundscapes for different movements in the show.

One movement of this 1.5-hour long show was an emotion gallery – a series of reflections on various stages of the process coming to terms with this potent time of life. Artistic Director and Choreographer Jennifer Isles describes the work as follows:

Beast is a beautiful, ritualistic memorial, speaking to the intricacies of our family relationships, the complexities of grief, the voyage from guilt to gratitude, and finally to a freedom of the spirit.

There were 9 movements in our “emotion gallery”, which I performed live on my keyboard sampler with additional sound tracks played on a computer. My goal in advancing this work now was to create a version of this keyboard suite without additional computer tracks, so it could be performed solo on a piano in music concert mode, and the result of this initiative is what I performed at the Owatonna Art Center. The first movement – Passing – is based on the original musical ideas created for this show, material that never actually found its way into the final version of the dance theater production. I have since further developed it to create the first movement of the piano suite, representing the transition when the last parent passes.

Here is Passing, from the piano suite “GONE”.

Candy developed sequences of her photographs and digital illustrations to coincide with the emotions represented in each movement of the suite, which were projected above the piano as I performed. Here is a version of Passing that integrates her imagery for Passing:

There are 9 additional movements in the suite: Release, Nostalgia, Loss, Emptiness, Gratitude, Regret, Longing, Guilt and Freedom. I decided to add a final movement for the suite – entitled Earth and Sky – because it closed the suite with a reflection about life on earth and life beyond. Earth and Sky is another movement from “Dancing on the Belly of the Beast”. This is one movement where I played keyboard live with a pre-recorded track for the concert, breaking my goal of being able to perform the entire work on a solo piano without electronic tracks. A 5-part canonic component spanning 5 octaves is woven through the piece, so creating a version of this movement for solo piano is virtually impossible without at least four hands. This movement may not appear in every performance unless I decide to completely rewrite it. Here is the live version of Earth and Sky, performed in Owatonna, where I played the pre-recorded sound track comprised of plucked piano sounds, and I improvise with the track live on piano:

Here is the movement Loss, performed as it was heard during the 2017 dance theater performance, in its original sampling keyboard version using recorded pluck piano sounds:

The complete keyboard suite GONE will be performed in the first concert of my upcoming 2019 concert series “Untether”, which will appear at the Homewood Studios in North Minneapolis. Homewood Studios, an artists’ workspace and gallery/meeting space in North Minneapolis, is designed for local artists and their neighbors in the belief that the visible presence of working artists contributes to the vitality, self-image, and coherence of our community. The first concert of this 4-concert series is scheduled for February 12, 2019 at 7:00PM. Homewood Studios is at 2400 Plymouth Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55411. Also on the program for this concert is an abstract improvisation based on recorded materials from my 2012 show “It is SHE Who I See”. More about that later.

Stay in touch for more information about this concert series, and to learn more about the evolution of my work.