Rock goddess Leda feels it coming, from deep down, from the ocean.  It won’t bow to her grief.  Hear it?  Lust, longing, life, chaos.  The music.  The Stranger.  SOUNDING is a new cross-disciplinary production for seven characters that pays homage to Ibsen’s LADY FROM THE SEA.  It synthesizes cinematic video from Leda’s point of view with dialogue and an original songscape influenced by Patti Smith, Bartok and Portishead.

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SOUNDING challenges current attitudes toward grief.  A multi-media play written by Jennifer Gibbs and directed by Kristin Marting, it synthesizes original dialogue and lyrics with cinematic video and new music.  Leda – once New York’s art-rock goddess (actress Okwui Okpokwasili) – now lives a different life as wife to a psychiatrist.  But a Dionysian musician from her past, The Stranger, refuses to release her.  As she mourns the death of her infant child, Leda confronts the disorder and outsized desire The Stranger brings in the form of one crazy weekend where ex-lovers collide and realign at a ridiculous rate.

Although a new work, SOUNDING is inspired by Ibsen’s LADY FROM THE SEA.  Jennifer has used Ibsen’s structural methodology as a model, unfolding narrative and character to create a quirky suspense.  Ibsen’s play challenged audiences with a depiction of unbridled feminine sexuality, mapping one woman’s confrontation of fate in the form of overwhelming desire.  It was the kernel of loss in his text – the child hardly mentioned – that we found most compelling as we created our original work, in dialogue with Ibsen’s.  SOUNDING is a story driven by a gendered grief: a woman’s for her baby.  It focuses on Leda’s resurrection in the midst of mourning.  Her fractured selves – Mother, Artist, Wife, Lover – collide in the realm of the paranormal to ignite a new life, in which she embodies a powerfully unified, free self.

SOUNDING stages Leda’s emotions as uncontainable, outside the social construct, tantamount to madness.  This way of experiencing grief is well-documented by psychiatrists, yet there is no longer a place for its expression in our culture.  SOUNDING places grief back on the cultural stage in a way that highlights its societal function.  Leda’s passion unlocks wild, longed-for changes in the lives of her family and friends.

Her loss is bound to her sexuality and her creativity, precipitating a personal and artistic crisis.  SOUNDING is structured around Leda’s daily ocean swims, when she re-enters the world of the past: The Stranger and the music they made together.  While swimming, she re-experiences performances that were turning points in her relationship with The Stranger.  Now he returns to her from the water at the height of her grief, materializing more and more, offering Dionysian release.  Each song/swim functions as a mythical signpost.

Jenny and Kristin are creating these sequences – and the piece as a whole – through a highly integrated synthesis of video, music and live action.  Video shoulders a vital part of the story, being more narrative in function than is typical on stage.  They use the power of image not only to replace language and convey meaning and events, but also to build character – The Stranger is entirely a video creation.  The music is being composed in tandem with the video, enhancing each visual gesture.  Backed by a rich soundscape, Leda sings live to the audience and interacts simultaneously with two levels of reality: an interior video world and an exterior world of other people.  Okwui’s jazz and soul background offer an inspired, improvisatory opening into Leda’s psyche.  SOUNDING composer Kamala Sankaram manipulates found sounds and combines them with an unusual assemblage of instruments including cello, violin, electric guitar and accordion, synthesizing classical composition with rock and electronica.  Kamala’s chamber electronica music for SOUNDING is influenced by artists as varied as Patty Smith, Bartok and Portishead.

The storytelling role of the video in SOUNDING and its sheer amount is a great challenge.  Video is shot from Leda’s POV, pulling us inside her memories, dreams and perceptions.  Images and techniques from surrealist filmmaker Maya Deren have informed our approach.  Three projection surfaces will represent iconic cornerstones to Leda’s story, with a defined relationship between the images in terms of palette, rhythm & timing.  Using techniques to distort time and perspective, the video highlights the way that Leda’s world contrasts and conflates with the world around her.  Is The Stranger alive or dead?  Real or hallucinated?  The mystery driving the story forward – The Stranger, his pull on Leda and his relationship to her lost child – unfolds in this video realm of music and limitless ocean.

While SOUNDING is layered and experimental, Jenny and Kristin want to tell a story that anyone can access and enjoy.  With its deep integration of video, music and text, SOUNDING will offer audiences a way to absorb emotion outside of traditional narrative constructs.  It invites viewers to explore the value and function of loss in our culture and, ultimately, to tap into a mythical understanding of grief as a holistic transformation of the self.


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