Storyscapes w/ Tilted Axes

2021 will mark the 10th anniversary of Tilted Axes: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars as an evolving project. As part of our activities this year, we have resumed work on our “Storyscapes” project for New York City for the 2021-2022 season. Here is a collection of writings I created for about the project during the past month.

Part 1

Through community workshops, Tilted Axes: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars turn the stories and histories of people inside of NYC neighborhoods into public performances that preserves them for the future as a shared legacy and point a way to a vision of a better city for all.

“Storyscapes” is a site-specific musical procession based on melodies and rhythms given to Tilted Axes: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars by neighborhood residents in a workshop. They are the composers. These melodies etc. will reflect local places and events and will be developed into a free performance for the community. A workshop will be announced that is open to the public. The workshop can be held in a community center or a small rented space.

Tilted Axes is self-contained and requires no special equipment. The participants come with a story about a neighborhood location that they would like represented in sound. After listening and sound exercises to warm everybody up, Tilted Axes members will listen to each person’s story and ask them come up with a sound, a melody, or rhythm suggestive of that place: themes. Tilted Axes members will learn these themes and play them back. They will transcribe these themes on-the-spot for further work in the next session. In the next session Tilted Axes members develop these themes and put them together as a narrative. Selected participants (the “composers” and others) will aide in the running of the session. They will do a test walkthrough, with guitars (amps off), and fine-tune the narrative and the movement. The next day will be a dress rehearsal and a performance of the resultant work throughout the neighborhood with a grand participatory finale.

Tilted Axes takes on aspects of spectacle informed by municipal band tradition, avant-garde theater, and world music. We take music out into the world and seek transformative projects meant to change community conversation. We are an apolitical organization, but it does support science, arts programs, and renewable energy whenever possible. We aim to present what is possible. As artists, we need to communicate more than what we stand against or why particular policies affect us negatively, because limiting our commentary to such reactions would confine the social imaginary to existing political frameworks and systems that we do not control. We have to show a vision of what is possible.

We should also present our vision of who we are, and show why that vision is a positive one. We can imagine and visualize a message that’s not necessarily only about action but more about shifting narratives and imagery. Art is central to social and political change, not peripheral. In the small things, we see the large things. “Storyscapes” is a natural extension of our community work. The best narratives will come from our audience. We have a history of telling stories well through music and spectacle and we aim to extend our group into the communities of NYC that would benefit most.

Part 2

I am a New Yorker. I like New York. And I like cities. And it’s not my desire to make New York more suburban. I want to explore the significance of sidewalks. One purpose of our performances are to attract attention to the cityscape. We are fascinated by urban design and architecture, by monuments and public parks. To understand the city one has to understand places of mixed use for these are the generators of diversity. One of our aims is to get people to appreciate these many details they encounter daily.

A great way is by unexpectedly encountering us performing a musical procession in their neighborhood. People will stop, look, and listen. We break their pattern and give them a moment to reflect. It is powerful stuff to see a multitude freeze for a moment, sometimes for minutes, sometimes to drop what they’re doing and join us. These moments are transformative and changes the conversation. These unexpected events gives the passerby a chance to reset, to refocus, to see what has been right in front of their eyes all along.

“Silent” is a the well-know acronym of “listen.” Our city needs moments of silence, to listen to the city, to better hear each other. “Storyscapes” will have these moments. Our goal is to create a forum in which we listen to the neighborhoods and incorporate their stories into our public presentations. Throughout every decade, one NYC quality stands out: resilience. It’s heard in every story. “Storyscapes” will be a testament to NYC resilience.

Research for this particular project, as something that Tilted Axes would undertake, predates the pandemic. The idea itself is a sort of secular ceremony meant to consolidate the oral and documented histories of a neighborhood in the form of a public performance. I would liken it to a Passion Play if that as a reference wouldn’t scare off too many people, but it is true that there is an element of ritual needed to be effective. This is shown to be true in almost every culture. The difference is in our combination of the entertainment and authenticity as elements in an art form that celebrates our city.

What would make this project necessary and timely is in our finding of stories from neighborhoods that need to be heard. We aim to amplify the important stories, of communities by way of its individuals, in poignant, intriguing spectacles that will capture a broad audience.

As the composer/producer, I see a number of organizations that have been doing smaller, singular aspects of the “Storyscapes” project I’m proposing here. It would be a great opportunity to reach out to these organizations as potential collaborators. Working under one umbrella we could consolidate our research and our citywide reach.

In the meantime, every project that Tilted Axes has done has been a steeping stone toward this work or has been a training period to educate a crew of admin, managers, and performers for projects of this scope.

2021 marks the 10th anniversary of my ensemble Tilted Axes. It began as a solstice celebration and, over the years, has become the work I am most identified with. All of our work is given free to the public. There is a lot of love coming from the public for our free events and workshops. It’s my life’s work.

In a sense, everything that “Storyscapes” encompasses is a culmination of our recent work and is the natural nest step. Since the project was first conceived in 2019, a number of concrete steps have been taken to begin. Grant proposals were sent out, but most were canceled in that cycle due to COVID. Of the funds that did come in, significant time was spent with hired admin to research the project, to check its viability, and to perform outreach to kindred organizations.

Last year was bittersweet: It was the first year we received a major award from NYC, but the pandemic hit. The good news is how we were able to adapt and create new and noteworthy works that connected with the public just as deeply as ever. Now, with “normalcy” on the horizon, we resume our “Storyscapes” and other live performance projects. It was the focus of our Fall Fundraiser and we enter 2021 already in the midst of that work.

Part 3

My aim would be to do three iterations of “Storyscapes” with Tilted Axes, each one in a different borough of NYC. For the project I would create an inclusive staff that knows the city well. Positions would be a Program Coordinator, Community Outreach manager, Content Producer, Music Coordinator, and Audience Development (PR).

There would be production roles: Program Development, Section leaders (ensemble), Movement director (choreographer), Stage Manager, Audio/Recording Engineer, Photo/Videographer.

There would be Post-production roles: Audio Editing, Video Editing, and Augmented Reality Producer (smartphone audio of community stories that play for the audience during the processing as a narrative device. This audio would also be used for post-performance podcasts). There are post performance opportunities.

There will be costs: rehearsal space, musician fees, transportation, cartage, printed materials, postage, AA batteries, misc. materials. Our previous events provide realistic templates of the necessary costs.

Community storytellers would not receive an honorarium because it could discolor the integrity of the journalism, but a small donation to each community center seems appropriate.

For this project, there will be an extra focus on the elders in each community since they would hold the greatest value in terms of oral tradition. We want to preserve these stories before they are lost to time, no matter the reason. This complements our underling NYC theme of “resilience.”

I was born in Detroit where I made a name for myself as a teenager who wrote prize-winning classical music and went on to perform in original post-punk bands at night. I moved to NYC when I was 22 to “find my fortune” and I found it in the Lower East Side as a composer for famous avant-garde political theater companies.

On tour we gave workshops called “A Day in the Life of the City” in which we would take the stories and concerns of the community we were performing in (USA and Europe) and turn it into a street theater performance. This is the basis of the training I bring to the “Storyscapes” project. One thing that stood out for me at the time was that I was working with artists of all kinds of backgrounds who were multigenerational in age, from teenagers to octagenarians, each and everyone brilliant in there own way. I had finally come home: New York City.

NYC put me in proximity to a lot of my heroes and I was able to work with and learn from them in different ways. I even won a Coney Island Film Festival Award!

I traveled to Bali and learned about the community music of the gamelan and performed it with new music groups in NYC. I created my own production studio and put on concerts and made albums. My academic history is checkered at best, so it’s a deep honor that I became an instructor at the NYU Film School based upon my life achievements. Perhaps most importantly, I created Tilted Axes, an urban ensemble that combines everything I have learned up until this point.

Patrick Grant, January 2021, New York City

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