Temperature Regulation: An Instrumental Arrangement
There is something magical about nighttime, the way it hangs in a fine balance between suffocating you with nostalgia and turning your mind into a sponge, ready and willing to soak in any fascination that comes your way. That is perhaps why one of the best times to experience things such as artwork and music is at night, at any point between its birth and death. It also explains why the contemporary all-night festival Nuit Blanche runs, as one advertisement proudly proclaims, “from twilight to dawn”, engulfing a majority of the downtown core of Toronto in a state of dreamy curiosity, with fluttering maps hiding ravenous eyes.
This year’s festival snuck up quietly and left just as discreetly, leaving behind a rather complex and hesitant reaction. Less projects were included than usual and the overall atmosphere felt muted, partially due to a fear of damaging the festival’s reputation further after last year’s public riots. It couldn’t compare to last year’s festival, I realized while roaming darkened streets and failing to connect with the performance pieces and video installations before me. This year didn’t compare, however, for a much different reason than simply distant and philosophical works bordering on ridiculous abstractions. It didn’t compare because I had experienced it the previous year not just with my eyes, but with my body.
I stumbled upon a posting that called for performers, either professional dancers or simply curious and eager individuals, to perform in a project called Glaciology, a contemporary performance piece choreographed by Anandam. Selected individuals would perform throughout the night by mimicking the movement of glaciers, their rise and fall, compression and dispersion. It’s a description that doesn’t do the piece justice, as I found out for myself when I heard drunk young men making lewd comments as they watched the “glacier” move down the sidewalk in silence, beginning in one end of the city and ending up in another by morning, a travelling jumble of crawling humans.
Initially I too struggled with responding to the piece, wondering what we would be doing when I attended the first rehearsal session. Won’t we just be crawling around on the ground? I thought. That’s pretty straightforward. The job proved much more acrobatic than I anticipated, however, as the various bruises and cuts on my body after each session proved - but even after the choreography and general mandate were perfected (watch out for each other, be mindful of personal space, don’t hesitate to use someone’s “cushion” as a resting spot), I didn’t feel the true magic of the piece until the director turned on the music to which we would be melting and freezing to. It was a composition that took the concept of "experimental" to a new level.
The first time I heard the piece, I was lying on the floor of the dance studio we were rehearsing in, looking up at the night sky through the mucky mansard-style glass ceiling. I was, to be honest, unhappy and afraid. My first year of university had just started and didn’t go according to the prescribed recipe I had mentally concocted for myself, going off of the words of others about how the people you meet during frosh are those you’ll know for the rest of your life. I hadn't met anyone, and took it as a sign that loneliness was all I had ahead.
Once the track came on, its ambient nature was enough to jolt me into attentiveness. I listened to it and reached towards the glass wall, gently twirling my fingers in what I imagined would be a pseudo-melting state, like a statue of Daphne looking out of a window in the Louvre after it closed and wishing it could return to its original state now that the daytime Apollos have vanished. I felt myself split down the middle, gravitating towards the endless deep blue ahead that I always felt an inexplicable longing for, the only possible parallel I knew being the way the Little Mermaid looked at land and wished she could join the human world.
I never would have guessed that the sounds that came about halfway in the track were actual recordings taken by the director in a glacial field. Only after she bestowed this small but magical piece of knowledge upon us did my understanding of the track become complete in my melancholy for another form that I’m not even sure I possessed. It was like longing for a past life, or a chance to discover it in the future, without the weight of too many scientific terms and biological calculations.
Nature is the first instrument we come into contact with. Some of its sounds are loud and impossible to miss — the howling of wind, the laughter or mourning voice of rain — while others have their own barely audible pitch, requiring the trained ear to pick up on them - the way in which shooting stars silently dissolve along the line of our understanding, coming dangerously close to traversing the field of curiosity. Yet not all sounds are for the typical ear, such as the illusive crush of ice as it chips away into the greater beyond. To hear it unexpectedly in a musical composition felt somehow like a rare treat, the difference between accidentally seeing a lover’s collarbone and being invited not only to see it but to gently brush your fingertips across it. To experience it mixed with instrumental music felt like being given a generous gift, entrusted with a nakedness very aware of its seductive powers.
Laying on the dance floor that late summer evening, I felt autumn’s fingertips scrape against the glass ceiling and the whispers of winter in my ear, the promise to exist between states and time so near I could almost grasp it. I knew then that many would dismiss Glaciology when they saw it in a few weeks, attaching to it a stream of judgements. But I didn’t care, because that was not the point of the project, I felt. It was a self-fueling organism that offered a chamber of intimacy for each participant, and once you stepped into it, the whole world became icy stars with blazing hearts, the dance of allure that constantly thawed and froze just when desire came close to possessing.
(The track, “Glaciology I”, was composed by James Bunton and can be listened to here, one in a five-part series.)