The Autopsy Project
This piece, another collaboration with André Gingras, has a structure based on the seven stages of an autopsy. Like a lot of André’s work it is concerned with the human anatomy in a removed, almost clinical way, laced with a dark and deviant sense of humour. Here, there were two particular areas of exploration, the history of the Manhattan Project (the group of scientists brought together to develop the first atomic bomb) and the anatomic studies of Leonardo da Vinci. The set is based on a Parkour (look it up – related to free running) training rig, and some of the movement material developed out of training sessions the dancers had with Parkour pioneer Action Hank (I’m not making this up…).
The set was quite a sound-sculpture in its own right, producing all sorts of squeaks, bangs and rattles. One of my first ideas was to mic it up and actually use it as a kind of instrument, but in the end I decided it was quite noisy enough already. I did, however, record various samples from it, which make up some of the metallic percussion you can hear. Other sounds I used are my old favorite short-wave code transmissions (which give an appropriately cold-war feel I think), and various bodily sounds to link to the autopsy theme. I also wanted the music to have a slightly harsh, unpredictable, and (literally) electric feel to it.
The premiere of The Autopsy Project took place at the Korzo Theater in Den Haag, the venue of André and my first collaboration back in 2002. It was part of the Holland Dance Festival 2008.
This section is the sort of thing that is impossible to document, but since it was (in my opinion) the core of the whole piece I thought I should include it in some shape or form. You will find it very murky and dark, very quiet (at least to start with), and there’s an ugly great big edit in the middle. It’s a very long section, very static to start with, with a very minimal and imperceptible build in the music. It works well on stage, but really doesn’t come across well on video. So the edit (you can’t miss it) is just to show the beginning, and then how it ends up.
The music at the beginning was actually the biggest challenge for me in this project. André wanted to use Elvis singing ‘Love Me Tender’, but it was just too much. I spent ages on this, and eventually came up with this ‘ghost of Elvis’ sound. It’s deceptively simple – I had to do some very clever (though I say so myself) FFT processing to remove almost all of Elvis’s voice whilst still retaining the essence of Elvis, and still being able to hear the words. I’ve ramped it up a bit for the video, it was actually extremely, extremely quiet in the production.
As you can probably hear, the music for this section is primarily based on breath sounds. I found I could play some interesting psychological games – using only in-breaths or only out-breaths or irregular, unnatural patterns make it very uncomfortable and tense (I think)
To be honest, the music for this wasn’t originally intended for The Autopsy Project. It was a tune I was working on just for fun at the time – André happened to hear it, and before I knew what happened it was in. I was trying something quite odd, and trying to marry some rather pretty sounds with some very ugly ones – it seemed to fit quite well anyway.