a number of years ago, in a fit of inspiration, i drew up plans for an orchestra comprised of natural objects and instruments made from them. after a few days of writing and making diagrams of the arrangement of players, i shelved the plans and forgot about them.
in 1999, i had been giving solo performances using natural objects, and several friends suggested that i might involve other players. the orchestra began nagging me, so to speak...my initial idea was to give the sounds of stones, wood, shells, etc., more mass wothout necessarily making them any louder (imagine a whole room full of people tumbling stones in their palms...) this proves in practice to be a tricky thing. give a group of people a pile of stones and the instruction to "make sound", and sooner or later certain organizing principles come to the fore. the tendency to play in periodic rhythm, for instance.
i have noticed that during my solo performances, i reach a state of listening that includes everything that is happening around me. the sounds that i am making, the sounds of the audience (if there is one) or the building or space i am in, all become one thing; a continuous net of sound. i forget myself, as it were. this is the state i aim for each time i make sound, and i want to know if a group of people making sound can reach this state together. i come to this state by "only just" making sound, without trying to force it into a structure of any kind, and listening intently. this is how the animist orchestra approaches performance as well.

the orchestra began playing together on june 5, 1999. the original members were: myself, Eleanor Gallagher, Dave Knott, Mike Shannon, Jeffery Taylor and Robert Millis. it took me awhile to adaquately explain the process, but after a few weeks of getting together once or twice a week, things started to happen. a number of approaches were tried.

(from my journal of the time):
june 5
it occurs to me that one of the appealing things about this method of sound performance is the lack of an accepted notion of virtuousity. to impress others with our long hours of practice to obtain our skill is not the aim. i do believe that many people have simply forgotten how to listen, due to our need to constantly shut out large portions of our daily environment. (popular musics may be nothing more than an acoustic masking device to help people concentrate on their tasks. funny that for all the music industry's focus on "high fidelity" or "perfect sound reproduction", its audience is not really listening!)

june 12
(dream) am sitting talking to a friend and someone else the we've recently met.we are outside. it occurs that there is a rabbit next to us, who does not seem concerned about being so close to humans. i am amazed that it is so "tame". the acquaintance is non-chalant and places a flat piece of glass next to a mud puddle as the rabbit proceeds to roll around in the mud. it then rolls onto the glass and constructs a figure there, which we hold up to scrutinize.

june 24
Talking with dave while playing the cassette of the june 18 rehearsal, i explained to him my want of removing the "human brain (mind)" element of our playing, to create sound fields out of which formations will happen. he said something to the effect that if we could accomplish this, the results would sound "like nature". i agreed and said that that was indeed the aim. to remove, as much as possible, the intent to "make music"or "express ourselves", and just let the sounds be. this is why the natural objects work so well. thay don't lend themselves to being easily controlled.

the basic difficulty lies in the tendency of the mind to wander, or "become bored" and seek to invent things to alleviate its boredom. the simple instruction to continually re-listen, to turn one's attention ever toward the sounds, was met with degrees of success depending on the mood or energy level of the various players on different days. at one point a sound-notation system was devised and sound scores written, to help keep everyone focused. at the same time, a set of terms came into use in order to talk about the actions we were performing to make sound.

an example of a simple score, along with an explanation in "animist" terms:

any sound/as quietly as possible/sound field - becoming - bones/palmed/around - becoming - sticks/in any manner/around - plus - solo(dave)/anysound/in any manner -becoming - pine cones/plucked/sound field - becoming - stones/palmed/sound field - becoming - feathers/in space/sound field - plus - any sound in any manner (sparse) - becoming - nuts/palmed/sound field - shells/in any manner/around - becoming - any sound/as quietly as possible/sound field.

others in the group had their own ways of explaining what we were on about. Mike once brought up the buddhist idea of "not-doing". a notion i have a particular affinity for. Dave became for a time enamored of the idea of errant energy. that our practice was tapping into energy that was not finding release in his day-to-day life.

once everyone became better at concentrating on the sounds it was found that scores were not really needed. a simple plan helps, but free improvisation works equally well when everyone remains in the present moment.
animist orchestra gave its first public performance at Eric Lanzillotta's house on August 14, 1999 to a small audience of invited friends. the soundmaking was well received, and it was noted that at the conclusion of our "sets" no one felt the need to applaud. our sound simply faded back into the general background sounds of the house and neighborhood.
our next performance would be in a very different space. on April 7, 2001 the orchestra played a short "set" as part of anomalous records' "an uncommon nature" event, held in the confines of a former naval brig in the Sand Point neighborhood of Seattle. our sounds may have been lost for a portion of the audience in that cavernous space, but the recording is very interesting, including all manner of "outside" sounds. the next day we met at Jack Straw studios (unfortunately without Eleanor, but with the inclusion of Marina Granger), to record a live performance (sans audience). this performance was later broadcast on KEXP-FM in Seattle, as one of Doug Haire's Sonarchy radio shows, and released by anomalous records as "wuwei".

later that same year, the orchestra was invited to play for the Arts-in-Nature Festival, held yearly at Camp Long in West Seattle. since some of the members could not attend, the trio of Jerman, Shannon and Knott played one performance, and Susie Kozawa and Rachael Jackson joined for the second. these performances differed from previous ones not only in the number of players, but also in the fact that was no long history of practice with the new members. while perhaps not strictly in keeping with our intent, the performances were still quite interesting sonically. the room in which we played, a large wooden-floored, high-ceilinged chamber, was in a building called 'the lodge'. this building was also the information center for the camp as well as the festival, and it housed public rest rooms. sounds of people moving through the building as well as sounds of traffic, (both foot and motorized) from outside, mixed with our playing. at one point Dave was moved to try and include the audience in our soundmaking and handed a small windchime to the person in front of him, indicating that they pass it around. for a short time this happened.

on April 12, 2002 another impromptu animist orchestra performed for the Sound Culture Festival held at ASU West in Phoenix Arizona. the members were myself, Karinna Mesquita, James Roemer, Right Meier and one other person whose name i unfortunately cannot remember. Karinna, James and Right were all ASU students. the performance began outdoors in a paved concrete courtyard with a burbling water fountain, and then moved indoors. most of the audience followed our movements. this performance was video taped.

currently, Dave Knott is reviving the practice of the orchestra in Seattle by meeting with new interested parties (in the very same living room where it all began).

in the intervening years, sporadic performances by different groups have occured. in 2005 most of the original orchestra convened at eric lanzillotta's house to play. in 2007 the ochestra swelled to 11 members to perform in seattle at the good shepard center chapel. the performance was recorded and videotaped. a pine cone ended up on ebay!
in may 2009, with the assistance of the austin new music co-op, a 19 member orchestra performed a piece written expressly for them. i hope to make available recordings of these last two performances.

set up in Jack Straw Studios

Dave Knott in the lodge @ Camp Long

Mike Shannon in the lodge @ Camp Long

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