After seeing Lateduster perform a new original soundtrack to the 1926 German Expressionist film Variete for the Sound Unseen Film Festival in September 2001, my friend and visual artist Jason Jaglo introduced me to choreographer Emily Johnson, knowing that she was looking for composers / musicians to collaborate on a new piece she was creating for the Walker Art Center’s Momentum Series in July 2002 with her dance / performance company, Catalyst. Jason thought Catalyst + Lateduster would be a good fit, and he was right. We collaborated on Plain Old Andrea, With A Gun, and then decided to continue working together on Fierce : Whole in 2003, after which I became Music Director and lead collaborator for Catalyst for over a decade, from 2004-2015, creating several original scores and performing in hundreds of performances across the USA, including The Thank-you Bar (2009), which earned a NY “Bessie” Award for “Best Production” in 2012. It was an amazing, humbling experience to create and tour and perform that piece for audiences all over the country, including sold out runs in both Anchorage, and Homer, Alaska, which inspired the work. The Thank-you Bar was the first part of a trilogy of works inspired by Johnson’s reconnection to her Native Alaskan Yup’ik cultural roots and the land where she grew up. The second part was Niicugni (Listen) (2012), and the third part was SHORE (2014).
Emily Johnson interviewed in This Week In New York for The Thank-you Bar at New York Live Arts: (excerpt)
twi-ny: You collaborated with James Everest and Joel Pickard of BLACKFISH on The Thank-you Bar, and the duo will be playing a special concert on November 12. What is it about their music that draws you to them and made you want to work with them?
Emily Johnson: BLACKFISH music is dramatically mind altering for me. When James [Everest], Joel [Pickard], and I started work, part of our process was to improvise together in a room, daily. We’ve continued that process, as much as we can when we tour, and out of it James and Joel created their project, BLACKFISH. As BLACKFISH, they perform improvised concerts in conjunction with our tours. I love their concerts — and I love that they’ve developed this entire project out of The Thank-you Bar. On the twelfth, they’re releasing a gorgeous limited edition, letter-pressed, eight-CD collection of some of the concerts they’ve recorded over the past two years. John Scott heard their concert in Vermont this summer and has since worked with them for music for his new work. He very endearingly asked my permission first.
In The Thank-you Bar, they don’t play as BLACKFISH; they play as James and Joel. What I most appreciate about them is their specificity and dedication to improvisation. The music they composed for The Thank-you Bar is set; it came from improvisations, from bouts of memory and discussions of the jukebox I mentioned (that at my grandma’s was filled with classic country). The sound of dislocation and rerouting to find home is what they built for The Thank-you Bar. It makes me want to work with them again and again.
One day, early in the process, I was rehearsing in a separate studio. I came down and they told me to sit on the floor. They proceeded to play music that layered inch by inch and sound by sound, as they appeared and disappeared, until a reverberating chorus echoed off the walls. I remember slapping the floor and exclaiming/laughing at the genius of it. Them: missing. Music: building. We’ve kept it. They basically choreographed the beginning of the dance.