Saturday, March 08, 2008

Standing On My Name

I just spent the first of three non-consecutive months in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. All of February on the shores of Lake Michigan. I’m artist-in-residence for the UWM’s (University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee) Center on Age & Community. I will be meeting and conversing with a range of elderly who are in the midst of varying degrees of memory loss. Going through all the eventual recordings (I’m anticipating 20 to 30 hours), I’ll create a series of short text pieces that will then become one long monologue, about an hour long, with music woven through it all. My musical collaborator this time is Paul Cebar, who’s been leading his band The Milwaukeeans for a couple decades. Popular throughout the area and with a satchel full of classic songs, his musical palette moves fluidly into other areas as well, include intimate duos and trios which manage to sound traditional and fiercely modern, some of which will form the sound of our undertaking. (see

The residency is for three months, and I was free to choose my schedule, with a preference on the part of the CAC that it be during the school term. So I chose February, April and October. February in particular seemed a good idea for a couple of reasons. One is that I’ve done similar projects in the past, and, fearing that I’d fall into some sort of familiar routine, thought that winter would be a way of dropping some logs onto the tracks in front of my train. The other reason is more of a poetic overlay, as the people I’ll be meeting and talking with are in the so-called winter of their lives.

Winter was in full vigor, that’s for sure. The cab driver that brought Barbara and I from the airport to our university apartment gave us a running commentary on the cityscape we traversed. He also had up-to-date statistics on the season’s heavier than usual snowfall, with 55 inches having fallen by the end of January. Well, halfway into that first week of February, another foot fell, canceling a day of my preliminary appointments. A couple more snowfalls in the following weeks, while smaller, made many side streets impossible for two cars to drive simultaneously in opposite directions, one waiting for the other to pass. However, I was using cars only intermittently, renting a Zipcar to get to the facilities were I’ll be spending time (assisted living and day centers), and it was all fine with me. This was like the winters of my youth in Erie, Pennsylvania. Also, Milwaukee, with its ethnic neighborhoods and manufacturing history, struck me as a larger, healthier, and more attractive Erie.

The nature of this project, and the fact that I’ll be talking with and recording many people who no longer have the cognitive skills to sign a release for themselves, meant that this aspect took longer to set up than my previous experiences. Additionally, a short documentary is being made about the process leading to my final work, so language reflecting that had to built into the release form. Family members, or whomever has the power of attorney, needed to sign on their behalf, which meant that I needed to fully present myself and my work to the directors or other people in charge of these programs and sites. They could then both point me in the right direction for the people I want to record, as well as knowing which ones would be the easiest to gather the releases for. This was all made easier by the fact that Anne Basting and the CAC are known and respected and my initial meetings were all set up through her office.

In the final week I gave a lecture about my work at the university and was surprised and delighted by the poster that was created for the event. Having done such things at similar institutions in the past I never expected such a cool graphic – I mean, I’m standing on my name!