2021 Comissioned Artist
Interdisciplinary artist Luisa Muhr presents Babəl—an experimental interdisciplinary performance piece in three movements that explores the essence of communication. Babəl investigates the human vocabulary of expression that we share beyond language. The piece uses voice, instrumental music, the amplification of ambient sounds, and physical movement to practice a form of communicating that returns to multidimensional expression, past the 2-dimensionality of written and spoken languages, in a ritual-esque installation setting.
Luisa Muhr (Creator: Composer, Director, Costume Designer)
Jen Anaya (Voice, Movement)
Trina Basu (Violin)
Judith Berkson (Voice, Accordion, Electric Organ)
Patricia Brennan (Vibraphone, Percussion)
Wendy Eisenberg (Guitar)
Rebecca El-Saleh (Harp, Voice)
Tamrin Goldberg (Voice, Movement)
Luisa Muhr (Voice, Movement)
Luke Stewart (Bass+)
Babəl consists of composed music and structured improvisations.
In the biblical fable, “Tower of Babel,” God fears the power of a unified people that share a single language and causes them to speak different languages, so that they won’t be able to communicate anymore. This image builds a metaphor of a recurring, almost timeless, theme, as being reflected in different societies in many forms and shapes. What Babəl explores more than anything is: What happens when we look beyond verbal language? What are other ways of expression and communication?
And of course, sound and music, as well as movement, play an integral part in this exploration, which is predominately reflected in the piece’s three movements (Pyramid, Cube, and Rotunda).
The first movement, Pyramid, is based on my previous installation exploration, “Sounds of Physical Listening”, performed at Pioneer Works in May 2019. Forgoing customary playing of instruments, vocalizing, and/or moving in space, this deep-listening ritual focuses only on the amplified sounds created by the physical engagement of each performer with their instrument and/or body. Challenging preconceptions of what music and sound are, this movement reveals what lies underneath sound-making: physicality and breath.
Cube or “Calls” is another structured improvisation where performers “call” to one another through improvised musical phrases and gestures.
The final section of the piece in the “Rotunda” formation around the audience, called “Tongues”, works almost like a game, where each musician rotates and arrives at an instrument that is not theirs, exploring a more unfamiliar or new “language”. As a base for this structured improvisation I created hand-made scores, woven out of paper strips of oscilloscope images of audio recordings of the phrase: “Everyone on Earth had the same language and the same words”. These audio recording each represented a different language, recorded by the performers who have a background in more than one spoken language. The graphic scores will be screened during this section for audience members to see, however, are purposefully not synchronized with the rotations of the performers.
The self-designed and hand-made (sewn and painted) costumes add another layer to invite you into the world of Babəl.
I want to thank the incredible performers, the Roulette team (especially Woramon), Rebecca Franc, and the institutions who have supported us: the Jerome Foundation (through Roulette Intermedium), the Austrian Cultural Forum, and Foundation for Contemporary Arts.
I also want to thank the people who have been an additional support system to me in various ways in this process, particularly Shrenik Ganatra and Joey Chang.
Enjoy this exploration!
Luisa Muhr is a multi-lingual, multi- and interdisciplinary performer, improvisor, director, installation artist, sound artist, and theater maker, originally from Vienna (Austria), lives and works in New York, and is at home in the experimental/avant-garde. As a performer she specializes in performance, vocal, movement, installation, sound, and theater arts. Luisa is also the creator and curator of New York’s leading interdisciplinary womxn/non-binary artists series Women Between Arts at The New School (CoPA) and a member of the vocal-movement ensemble Constellation Chor, the free improv band PlayField (577 Records) the audio-visual band Dilate Ensemble, and the online NowNet Arts Lab Ensemble. Her creations have been ranging from interdisciplinary installation performance works, experimental and music theater pieces, improvised music and movement, graphic scores and compositions, to video works, writings, and opera. Luisa was a Music Artist in Residence at Pioneer Works, with Arturo O’Farrill at the Rockefeller Pocantico Center (both in 2019) and has been commissioned by the Austrian Cultural Forum (2018 and 2020) and Roulette Intermedium (2021). She has collaborated with artists such as Iva Bittová, Daniel Carter, Kenneth Goldsmith, Shelley Hirsch, Frank London, Arturo O’Farrill, Jenny Romaine, Peter Schumann, Sarah Weaver, John Zorn, and through Constellation Chor with Claire Chase, Sarah Hennies, Ashley Fure, and the New York Philharmonic. www.luisamuhr.com
Luisa Muhr: Babəl is a Roulette commission and is possible, in part, by the Jerome Foundation. The Jerome Foundation, a long-time supporter of young composers, was a mainstay in Roulette’s early development and continues to help us fulfill our mission by presenting ambitious work by promising artists. This project was supported, in part, by a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant and received additional support from the Austrian Cultural Forum New York.