Percussionist and composer Susie Ibarra will premiere her new work, Pintados Dream (The Painted's Dream), a concerto for percussion and orchestra, in collaboration with visual artist Makoto Fujimura and ACO, at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall on October 19th. The piece grows out of a collaboration between Ibarra and Fujimura that is both organic and ongoing, as interviewer Rebecca Allan learned recently.
Successful collaborations between musicians and artists always have the mark of naturally-occurring phenomena. The particular sensibilities and interpretive powers of each collaborator are made stronger and clearer in contrast with one another, and a new work emerges that would not otherwise have been possible.
The fruits of one such collaboration will be harvested this fall when (The Painted's Dream), a concerto for percussion and orchestra by Susie Ibarra with visual projections by Makoto Fujimura premieres on ACO's "Orchestra Underground Hybridity" concerts. This project is one of several collaborations in the past three years between Ibarra and Fujimura. They initially worked together on an opera, Shangri-La, performed at The Kitchen in 2005.
Makoto Fujimura's paintings reflect his ongoing exploration of the dialogue between American abstract art and nihonga (19th- and 20th century Japanese painting as distinct from the Western aesthetic tradition). Working with techniques that originated centuries ago, Makoto employs methods that could have been practiced by a medieval manuscript illuminator or a 15th-century Chinese painter/scholar. His colors are derived by grinding pigments by hand from minerals such as azurite and malachite. Mixed with water and a binder, these vibrant, granular colors are applied to handmade papers that yield varying surface textures and degrees of translucence. Makoto's semi-abstract paintings and installations are realized in such a way that they can suggest something as specific as a branch of flowering quince in a cloistered garden, or, as open-ended as the emotional atmosphere of a poem by T.S. Eliot.
While Ibarra's Pintados Dream is grounded in the structure of the orchestral score, the composer will primarily be improvising on drums. Thinking about the relationship between planning and improvisation in a musical score, or for that matter a painting, I found Makoto's comments about his choice of natural materials particularly relevant:
"I am more and more convinced that the imperfections are more important to define humanity than perfected products. Acrylic and synthetic mediums can accomplish great feats in design and other plastic applications, but in direct painting, I believe that natural mediums.... have "memory imprints" of the past, and Japanese materials in particular (reflect) a collaboration with nature, heritage crafts and art."
In response to a question about his artistic friendship with Susie, Makoto replied: "She has an unusual breadth of philosophical (not just artistic) range to account for traditional influence, while carving out a new frontier of avant-garde, and I have both a deep appreciation for her aesthetic and her humanity."
Recently, I spoke with Susie Ibarra about her upcoming concert, and her collaborative friendship with Makoto Fujimura. While we spoke, Emanuel Chan Rodriguez-Ibarra, the composer's eight-week-old baby boy, was burbling and cooing in the background, while she tried to lull him to sleep. Ibarra's conversation is punctuated with bursts of mischievous laughter coupled with a genuine sense of curiosity.
R.A.: Susie, how did you first come in contact with Makoto?
S.I.: We met at The Kitchen, when I was playing a solo at an event and Makoto came out to see me. We just hit it off, but it took six months before I actually called him and invited him to collaborate on a work in progress. We did a piece at The Brecht Forum where I was playing solo and Mako was painting.
R.A.: What was it that drew you to Makoto's paintings?
S.I.: Mako has an aesthetic that is very beautiful. He does water-based work, and we are both "water people" (laughs) and his work is also very subliminal and subconscious. He also uses natural pigments, along with gold and silver leaf and and also pearl.
R.A.: Could you describe your collaborative process? What do you talk about together?
S.I.: We don't really talk about the work, we talk about life, you know? Actually, he knows how long a piece is going to be and I give him a computerized score. There are certain specifics but also you want to "give it" to your collaborating artists and let them bring what they want to the table.
In Pintados Dream we decided that I would be on the right, and he on the left. In a way, this is an installation piece for Mako. He's really creating it for the space, painting on site, and most likely he will project images onto the musicians.
R.A.: Where does the title of the work (Pintados Dream) come from?
S.I.: Pintado is a colloquial term for "the painted ones" of the Philippine (Visayan) Islands. (The pintados' skin was adorned with elaborate, complex tattoos that covered all but the wrists and feet. The tattoos became painted tableaux that resemble a kind of lacework across the body.) In this piece, I am improvising on drum set, with a fully-scored orchestra. The work has rhythmic and melodic cycles that move, so there is an element of trance. Mako was just recently in Japan, researching some of the indigenous tribes, and visiting the Ainu people. (In traditional Ainu culture, women tattooed their mouths.) He was also looking at textiles in Sapporo.
R.A.: I'm thinking of the enduring power of the classic collaborations between Martha Graham and Isamu Noguchi set to Aaron Copland's music.
S.I.: When I first saw Copland's Appalachian Spring performed, I thought that Noguchi's sculptures were more like the dancers, and that the Graham dancers were in the "background." The main energy was in the sculptures. I have a future project at the Noguchi Museum doing a piece with his sculptures.
R.A.: I can't wait to see that. Thank you, Susie. I look forward to experiencing your performance with Mako and to your future works!
Allan, M.F.A., is a New York-based painter.