Present Tense Pamphlets Look to the History and Future of Score-Based Performance

During the Block Museum’s Spring 2016 symposium “Performed in the Present Tense” artists Mashinka Firunts and Danny Snelson, shared an open call for a unique series of artists scores, a project they dubbed the Present Tense Pamphlets.  In the tradition of Charlotte Moorman’s Avant-Garde Festivals, Dick Higgins’ Great Bear Pamphlets, and La Monte Young’s An Anthology of Chance Operations, the Present Tense Pamphlets would feature an expanded array of score-based practices, shared freely through a hybrid digital and print publishing platform. This August 2016, Firunts and Snelson announced the culmination of the project, with an innovative collection performance scores made available for public download.

The Present Tense catalog comprises 31 titles, and its 48 contributors radiate outward from the series’ geographic concentration in Chicago. These Present Tense Pamphlets include but are not limited to:

  • Scores for live, imagined, or impossible music
  • Notations for lecture-performances or pedagogical scripts
  • Diagrams for dance, movement, and stillness-based works
  • Abandoned concepts or realized abstracts
  • Seeds of narratives and novels rendered as graphs
  • Computational scripts for executables, viruses, or humans

 Certain works in the series explicitly address and reconfigure historical predecessors. Among these, Allen Conkle and Vanessa Dion Fletcher’s Veggie Joy queers Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy (1964), re-rendering it as assemblages of grass, ooze, corpuscles, and “lemon parsley dressing.” Jennifer Karmin’s art is a concept art is a process playfully revisits the instructional poetic structures of Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit (1964). Taking Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A (1966) as a departure point, Linda Tegg, Joshi Radin, and Brian M. John’s Score for an Interspecies Audience Awaiting Trio A revises the dance sequence into choreography for nonhuman, horticultural agents.

Other works in the series approach the score through digitally-enabled strategies. Becket Flannery’s Pedagogy rewrites the programmatic repetition of Bruce Nauman’s walking piece into a reptilian narrative unfolding against an ASCII art studio. Angela Genusa’s Sure To Come Here Once More: A Performance Of 10 Minutes And 39 Seconds For Cepstral®’s Synthetic Voices recodes the language of spambots as a script for synthesized speakers. Wilmer Wilson IV’s On Our Way to the Wrong Town draws on the pataphysics of Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952) for a performance recipe that comes into fruition in the form of computer-generated imagery. Looking toward past publications alongside future performances, the series articulates a range of approaches to the score in the present.

A note on the digital files: each PDF features scanned images of paper covers with interiors comprised of digital files submitted by respective contributors (these range from a single image to hundreds of pages of code). This format’s function is two-fold. First, it points to the PDF’s inherent tension between print and digital publication. Second, the scanned covers present an archival gesture that nod toward the series’ origins in the Great Bear pamphlets and 1960s radical print publishing, on one hand, while directing attention more broadly toward contemporary distribution networks, on the other.

Present Tense Pamphlets are published in conjunction with the exhibition, “A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s – 1980s,” organized by the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, in partnership with the Northwestern University Libraries (January 16-July 16, 2017). The series was also launched in coordination with the Performed in the Present Tense symposium, co-organized by the Block Museum and Mellon Dance Studies, and co-curated by Susy Bielak and Amanda Jane Graham. Present Tense Pamphlets are made possible through the support of Northwestern’s Department of Art History, with additional support from Mellon Dance Studies, the Dance Program, and the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities.

The Present Tense Pamphlets are held in the Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection, John M. Flaxman Library Special Collections, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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