Thursday, October 15, 2015

We present to you.... The Tang Readers Chorus!!!

Ian Byers-Gamber / Machine Project

After a whirlwind two week residency at Skidmore College and the Tang Museum, the 23 members of Liz Macy's gamelan class joined forces with the 5 members of the readers chorus workshop sessions to form TANG READERS CHORUS!!! We performed a program of 6 pieces, 4 of them brand new pieces written by students and 2 from Readers Chorus LA. 

Fall had arrived, and on this chilly night, we began the program outside with a brand new piece called "Politeness Counts," which was performed right next to its namesake- a shopping bag sculpture by Jonathan Seliger.

THANK YOU so much to everyone who participated in Tang Readers Chorus and to everyone who came out to watch us perform. It was a whole lot of fun and I hope that a Readers Chorus might continue at Skidmore!!!

Tang Readers Chorus performing "Politeness Counts" on October 1, 2015

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Liz Macy's Gamelan class gets everything and the kitchen sink...oh and Kanye too!

Ian Byers-Gamber / Machine Project
Liz Macy's gamelan class had everything and the kitchen sink thrown at them yesterday! First we tried out Will Kaplan's new piece "Timewarp" (above) which everyone picked up quickly. It was especially interesting when we started walking as a circle. One student aptly pointed out that it felt like we were protesting, especially with the word "Now" being chanted (alongside "Past," and "Future.")

Next we ran "Politeness Counts," also a brand new piece, hot off the press and inspired by a large grocery bag sculpture standing outside the Tang Museum. Students got together into 2 huddles and cheered- "2, 4, 6, 8 who do we appreciate?!" ending each time with someone shouting out the name of a person they'd like to thank, and what the reason for wanting to thank them. Some people got a little shy and felt put on the spot, but I'm hoping for tomorrow's performance we can think of some people we'd genuinely like to thank. Also, I'm not sure how effective this was, but we warmed up with an SNL exercise where one person begins talking and their partner tries to say exactly what they're saying at the same time.

We tried Kate Kendall's "Butte/Mesa" once again (this time it was recorded) which I am envisioning as being performed in the lobby of the Tang with half the group standing on the staircase, and the other half standing perpendicular on the floor. This piece takes quite a bit of stamina so I think it would be wise to go at a slightly slower pace so we can sustain the piece a little longer.

The hardest piece of the evening was probably Jordan Dykstra's "Hooked Up & Going Steady" which I had brought with me from Los Angeles. It is very difficult to get people to whisper! : D (maybe it's youth?) It was, however, very easy to see the poetry and potential of Jordan's piece. Perhaps with more time, we could get this piece down. Nonetheless the class were super good sports for giving this piece ago. One student even asked to do the piece again. And now that I am thinking of it, perhaps it will work to run this piece tomorrow. I had envisioned seeing it performed in the "Affinity Atlas" exhibit at the Tang...

The last portion of the class was spent very quickly arranging a new piece by gamelan class member Sayeed Joseph who had the structure for a piece based on old Kanye West song lyrics and new Kanye West song lyrics. With the help of his classmates we quickly arranged the beginning for a new piece.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Politeness Counts

Monday, September 28, 6:30pm - As I sat in front of the Tang waiting to get in for our evening workshop, thoughts of the Thursday performance circled around...The idea was to move throughout the museum with the pieces, but where to start? As student athletes were coming and going from evening practice, and the "Thank You" grocery store paper bag sculpture by Jonathan Seligman stood in front of the museum, lightening struck- what about a short readers piece that expressed gratitude through sports team huddle cheers. One that came to mind was from my own high school days- "2, 4, 6, 8, who do we appreciate? ___________ (enter name here)!!!"

I ran it by the Tang Readers (seniors, Alicia Graziano and Liz Aaron) who confirmed that the cheer still existed and were super supportive and encouraging of the idea (: D).  Like the Readers Chorus in LA, we quickly worked out the kinks and formulated the foundations for the cheering score. My hope is to run this with Liz Macy's gamelan class of 25 tomorrow. Fingers crossed. For now the piece is titled after the sculpture it was inspired by- Politeness Counts.

The Tang Readers Chorus gatekeepers Alicia Graziano and Liz Aaron in the Machine Project installation.

Test driving time

On Sunday night we welcomed a new member to the chorus and dove right into test driving and working out a new piece by Will Kaplan on time (listen above). Three words for three people- we were each assigned "Now," "Past," and "Present" and tried out different rhythmic configurations of the words according to Will's sense of time- blurry and overlapping. With Melia's help we plotted the configurations.We're hoping to unleash a version of the piece on Liz Macy's gamelan class  of 25 people tomorrow!

As our Thursday performance date nears, and with our Tang Readers Chorus repertoire at 5 pieces (possibly 6 with an EDM inspired piece by a student from the gamelan class), my idea is to perform each of the pieces in a different part of the museum, ending at the Theater built inside the Machine Project installation on the second floor.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Hooked up and going steady.

For our second Readers Chorus workshop at the Tang, 3 brave souls who had previously participated in the psychic reading workshop with Krystal Krunch came for some group reading. As I had previously discovered with the gamelan class (see 2 blog entries below), starting off with Kate Kendall's "Butte/Mesa" piece was a perfect introduction into reading together, in rounds, while following a visual score indicating volume increase and decrease. We then warmed up a little more with the Readers Chorus counting/attuning warm up (see 2 blog entries below).

Since we had a small group, it seemed like a good opportunity to try out Jordan Dykstra's "Hooking Up and Going Steady" for the first time. The score can be seen on the "Score" page of this website. I definitely have visions of this being a piece conducive to filming; with numbers being gently called out from different directions (this makes sense if you see the score).

Next we read Rob Brown's "Whitney Houston" piece (recording is above). The piece was originally written for 4 people, and although we first ran it with 25 people in Liz Macy's gamelan class, it was interesting to hear it still come clearly through with the minimum 4.

Lastly we read through Readers Rajio Taiso/Readers Radio Calisthenics which also worked out great. My sense of what we can perform for our Thursday, October 1 performance is definitely shaping up.

Is it you? - Mining intercultural communication content

Students of Cathy Silber's Intercultural Communication Class.

On Tuesday I got to visit with the students of Cathy Silber's Intercultural Communication class who are closely examining the nature of communication and the understanding and misunderstanding that can occur depending on context and background. On this day, we talked about all the different understandings that can occur in simple English phrases. With 60 minutes together, after a quick introduction about "Readers Chorus" we dove right in to mining content for a new Readers Chorus piece.

The following is a list of all the expressions that were generated and will be turned into a new Readers Chorus piece.

Are you coming?
Is it you?
What's going on?
What's the case?
Do you want [a] change?
Do you need anything?
Shut up.
He can't help himself.
She can't help herself.
It'll be light.
You're right.
How are you doing?
I'm done.
I took care of him.
Are you awake?

We also learned some new expressions - -

"Is it you?" - A wonderful Turkish expression--not really a question, but rather an affirmation and space filler. For example upon coming home, someone might call out "Is it you?" acknowledging your presence.

"Seasons" - In Dutch culture one can express their age by describing it in terms of the season they were born. A Spring born person could say, "I'm 18 springs young." It reminded me of the expression that sushi chefs always ask at the counter when they realize I am Japanese, "Where is your country?" Meaning where in Japan are you from? In Japan, it wouldn't be anything special, but there's something about being asked that question here that is reassuring and a moment of shared connection. 

"It'll be lit."- (this was just new for me and Cathy!)
Haruko: "You mean like, "the party'll be bompin'?" 
Student: "Yes, but no one's said that for years."

Kecak > Buttes/Mesas > Kamikazes > Milkshakes

Tang Readers  Chorus began with a bang at Liz Macy's Gamelan class this past Monday. With just 90 minutes together, Liz was kind enough to give us all a taste of "kecak" (a Balinese group chant) by throwing us right in for a few rounds (it's a work out for sure). I assured them that compared to kecak, Readers Chorus would be a breeze! The class consisted of 25 students with tons of energy, all of whom were open and willing to give Readers Chorus a try.

After the frenetic warm up with our brief foray into 'kecak' we brought the pace down with a Readers Chorus counting/attuning warm up-

1. Standing in a circle, one person in the group counts everyone in, setting their own desire pace with "1, 2, 3" after the "3" this person chooses a number that the group will count up to. For example, if they choose the number "7", the person starts the group off by saying, at a steady and chosen pace, "1, 2, 3, 7."

2. After they have announced the last number, the group begins to immediately, at the same steady pace, count from "1" up to the last designated number, IN SILENCE. When they reach the final number, that final number is said out loud. Hopefully you will all get there at the same time. The kicker? People may NOT keep time by bopping their heads up and down or tapping their feet.

3. Try a few times in a circle facing each other, then try a few times in circle but with everyone's back to each other.

We then went right into Kate Kendall's (CalArts) "Butte/Mesa" piece. I have learned very quickly this week that this is a wonderful piece to begin a Readers Chorus as it gets people reading right away while also being aware of the possibilities of a drawn score that takes on the form of the subject matter. The group of 25 was split into two and after running the piece several times over it dawned upon me that the coming and going of the text and volume sounded like wind blowing through the desert. Everyone looked at me a little oddly when I mentioned this, but that's definitely what I felt. For some students the shape of the score and the rhythm of the rounds reminded them very much of EDM music. We're hoping a new piece will come from this connection!

Next we went right into "Readers Rajio Taiso/ Readers Radio Calisthenics" by yours truly (Haruko Tanaka) and everyone took to it right away. Rather than going into "Japanese George Clooney takes American Ken Watanabe to get sushi" it made sense to go into its prequel, which is structured as a warm up- Japanese words that are commonly found in English, read in structured sequences. I think we can definitely run this piece.

With just 20 minutes remaining, I felt that perhaps I was pushing my luck, but went ahead and asked if we could run "Whitney Houston," a brand new piece written by their fellow student Rob Brown ('17) who had beamed in the score from Hangzhou, China, where he is currently working very hard on a semester abroad. The group took to the piece like lightening. Rob, who had previously taken Liz Macy's gamelan class had composed the piece with "kecak" in mind. Below is a recording of our reading after just a few minutes of reading --

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Tang Readers Chorus convenes tomorrow, Monday 9/21 at 5:30pm

We'll be meeting on the 2nd floor of the museum inside the Machine Project installation seen above.

The "Tang Readers Chorus" convenes for the first time tomorrow at the museum. Join us Monday 9/21 at 5:30pm to learn what a Readers Chorus is and delve right in!!! All are welcome! Any questions, feel free to email Haruko at

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

First of all, what does a Reader's Chorus sound like?

This is an excerpt of the Reader's Chorus in Los Angeles performing "Black White Oratorio" written by the American poet Robert Lax (1926-2000) and British literary critic John Beer.

It can also sound something like this....

This is a performance by Reader's Chorus in Los Angeles of "Japanese George Clooney takes American Ken Watanabe to get sushi."