When you think of boxing, what comes to mind?
Rope-A-Dope and knockouts?
Or . . .
Avant-garde chamber music?
The performances of STRIKE! combine both of these art forms. This concept might seem like an unworkable combination but thanks to the presenters of the event, The International Street Cannibals, it comes off surprisingly well.
Both disciplines complement and add drama to the other. Both rely on rhythm and precision making the counterpoint between the visceral and the aural fascinating and fresh.
It is an enriching experience for both the performers and audience.
CyberGallery 66 had a chance to discuss in detail STRIKE! with its creator Dan Barrett.
Creator of STRIKE!
audio excerpt of his composition
"What Occurs in the Light Occurs in the Dark"
which is performed at STRIKE!
Click here to get QuickTime player
What is STRIKE! ?
STRIKE! combines boxing matches and contemporary chamber music, most of the performances taking place in boxing rings. In combining such seemingly disparate genres, the crowd at STRIKE! is unusually diverse, and, one might assume, incongruous. But the series derives much of its fundamental vitality from such a mix, a mix where everyone gets to learn a little about the other “world.” From this odd coupling, STRIKE! creates a perceptual apparatus where music has a chance to seen in the light of explosive engagement—both physical and interpersonal, while boxing is encountered in the light of chamber music.
The earlier performances of this particular series was given at Gleason’s Gym, in Brooklyn, where we have given nearly all of our performances. Gleason’s has been the training ground of 127 world champions, among them Mohammad Ali, George Foremen, Robert Duran, Mike Tyson and Zab Judah. Bruce Silverglade, the rather visionary President of Gleason's, who has served in this event in something of the role of Emcee, has also, during all of our Gleason's presentations, assisted me in marshalling the forces and steering the event while in progress.
STRIKE! is a phenomenon as much educational as it is presentational. Our audiences see and hear "hot off the press" compositions and musical ideas being fashioned before them.
There is an apt correlation to all of this. STRIKE! funnels its funds into a program which hopes to provide experiences for the children who train at Gleason’s; the seminars will deal with themes and subjects in various provinces of human knowledge—art, literature, music and mythology. Fashioned by John Hunter Gunn (Queen’s College, CUNY faculty) and myself, the program will emphasize learning, stimulated by the process of the pupil’s "enactment" and subsequent "empowerment." This will facilitate learning and equip the student with newfound abilities.
STRIKE! basically features short 10 or 12 minute "sets" of chamber music presented in alternation with 8-minute matches of 3 rounds each. At times, short verbal introductions might proceed each "set." The introductions orient the audience to the nature or background of the compositions, and sometimes to the origins of the more exotic instruments. This approach is less formal and livelier than program notes. The event generally progresses from boxing ring to ring, utilizing the spaces so that a smooth and seamless interlacing of music with boxing is achieved. The preparation for one performance goes on while the current performance is in progress. The configuration of the gym lends itself to urging the audience into different areas of the space. A theater-in-the-round forms around each ring, as audience and performers pass from one ring to the next. And as the audience moves from ring to ring, the mind and ear follow the alternating concert events of music, dance, movement and boxing.
Within such a context, the audience is neither sequestered nor imprisoned, as might be the passive audience in a concert hall. A democratization of space and function occurs: the audience is at leisure to move freely about the space; he or she may sit on the floor within inches of the ring, or on the boxing ring’s edge; one may choose as his seat a light movable chair, or he choose to stroll and nibble food; here taking in the concert at whatever proximity to the ring would gratify him; there allowing his curiosity to guide him momentarily away from the performing area to a punching bag that may now engage his attention; there toward the indolent examination of a boxing action photo in a far corner area of the gym. And the players, within the new psychological architectonics of this space, become—in a sense—boxers, independent journeymen. The boxers, equally, become instrumentalists: technicians and custodians of their tradition. In this way, the utilization of space becomes the setting through which the empowered participants—what otherwise would have been merely audience, athlete or artist—are released like so many caged birds.
What is the relationship between the International Street Cannibals and Strike! ?
STRIKE! flows from the Street Cannibals' philosophy of performance, the thematic core being the dismantling of conventions, the striving for textual renewal, and the resuscitation or introduction of ritualistic elements.
How long has Strike! existed?
Female boxer between rounds
Two years; but I dreamt of it, and planned it 12 years ago, after reading of French director Jacque Copeau's staging of "Twelfth Night" in 1913, in a boxing hall, in Paris. Discussions with composer Arthur Kampela helped me to envision to a keener degree, the kind of event I was looking for. And my friend, bass player Mat Fieldes had provided some invaluable input, with regard to the music that might actually accompany the boxing.
I approached Bruce Silverglade in 2003. After a number of delays, the performance at Gleason's took place on December 7, 2006. Franz Hackl was instrumental in refining the conception of the performance staging. The team of Franz, Gene, Dave Taylor, and Tyler elaborated on the performance scheme. Out of these discussions, Tyler turned my notations of the program and staging into workable diagrams. This process always precedes every performance.
Who are the main participants in it and what do they do? What is your role in it?
STRIKE! uses many of the players of Holding Tank (another Street Cannibals' performance series), and all of our core players participate. In STRIKE!, the Street Cannibals are joined by boxers, who not only box in actual matches, but who are urged to utilize shadow boxing in a way that functions as kinetic dance, which may accompany or be accompanied by music. As the staging of this event can be intricate and its coordination a rather touchy issue, the roles of our stage manager, Tyler Lerned, and of our technician, Chuck Moses, are expanded. Weeks prior to the performance, Tyler sits down with Chuck, Director of Programming Gene Pritsker, Co-Director Franz Hackl and myself. We work out the "figure" of the concert: the staging and physical flow. Tyler then works this out on diagrams, and shortly thereafter sends us a full "notation" of the concert's staging. In the concert, the video projections of the brilliant VJ Astrid Steiner ("VJ Luma") are used to highlight and illumine certain human elements and themes of the performance; which, at times, can acquire the flavor of annotations to a text. At other times—a web of superimposed subtext. For the most, I pilot the general event, helped along by Gene. But it is, however, the execution of Tyler, Chuck and Franz that really allows this performances to take place, to construct a framework within which the superb work of musicians, composers and boxers can be exhibited. And all of the team—Franz, Gene, Tyler, Chuck, Dave Taylor and myself—make sure that events and staging go according to the “figure” of the concert which we’ve composed, and the notation we've provided to the performers.
Thematic sound design created by Franz Hackl—chiefly composed of sounds acquired from Gleason’s during the periods in which the boxers train—enriches the intermission.
What are the goals of Strike! ?
To show the commonality of these two passionate activities, or, if you will, rituals. Even a casual observation of Man’s history and of human affairs would easily convince any sentient being that a passionate engagement with our tasks, and a sense of purposeful ritual are essential to a vital existence, and must have certainly been indispensable to our survival. Participation, whether it be that of "audience" or of a "performer" requires the same intensity. Without that intensity there is no living ritual, no living through and with life and the world, no real communication, and, for that matter, no community, no tribe. Also, immersion and an awareness of the consequences of neglect are prerequisite. Boxers know and live this respectfully. If they disregard stern necessities in the practice of their craft, they will be, and inevitably are, reminded forcefully.
The serious and at times motionless intensity of many of our historic performers have shown us this kind of immersion: the work of Pablo Casals, Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Horowitz, Jascha Heifetz, John Coltrane, Emannuel Feuermann, Oscar Peterson, Art Blakey and Art Tatum. For these artists there was little show, unlike, for instance, some of the violin and cello soloists of today’s marketplace, or many of our pop artists. If an athlete carried on to the degree that we sometimes witness among many of the present favorite instrumental soloists of the market, he or she would fail irreparably; and if they were boxers, they’d get knocked out, their health consequently compromised. Boxing can teach this lesson: stick to your work, and don’t be afraid to be dead serious. Chiefly, don't bullshit. Focus on the task at hand, and concern yourself with the apprehension and meaning of its details. This has always been the native and rugged terrain of art, ever perilous as the Florentine poet's selva oscura. Fools, however, a host of them, rush not only in, but invariably claim ill-earned dominion. As to whether the demands of a craft and an "historic grammar" were ever really known by many practitioners of "performance art", lip-syncing or of the likes of the most sanctified Mr. Warhol or Mr. Cage, will remain for me forever in question. So the message of STRIKE! bears an accent of rigor, as it carries into the province of music some of the honest and hardheaded ethos of boxing and athletics.
But one must not be led to think that the goings on of STRIKE! are exhibitions in the humorless and grim exercises of the will. The series is fraught with invention and insanity, as the novelty of context allows for so many unexpected combinations. It invites a high degree of experimentation, and invariably gives rise to many welcome monstrosities.
an improvisational assault
Left to Right: John Clark, French horn; Dave Taylor, bass trombone; Franz Hackl, trumpet.
For instance, we may witness composer Dary John Mizelle enter into a boxing ring in which Borislav Strulev and myself are carrying out a 2-cello full-out improvisational assault; the former, in a Sprechstimme (a type of chanted speech) of simulated German, appears to be howling at the moon, the existential vacuum and the agony of his childbirth, while Dave Taylor, barks out, in unmentionable splutters, the musical equivalent of the utterance of a sacred bagmen on the bass trombone. All this in accompaniment and a response to and in exhortation of a boxing match going on in another ring. Or one may see a boxing match enacted by a trumpet player, French horn player and bass trombonist, in which the former two circle bob and weave with the musical emissions and physicality of their instruments, in an attempt to read the sheet music that has been onto each other's shirts while the bass trombonist stays within the action in the role of referee.
What has been the public and critical response to Strike! ?
People enjoy the challenge of trying to discern its meaning and intent behind this event. Alan Lockwood of the NY Press was taken by it—loved it—and thought it inimitably unique. Hans Janecek of Austria’s main paper, Die Kronen Zeitung (Vienna), went crazy over it and has shown an ongoing fascination with the project.
STRIKE!'s Composer in Residence/Director
audio excerpt of his composition
which is performed at STRIKE!
Click here to get QuickTime player
What are the best and worst aspects of Strike! ?
I number also among the strengths of the project the inherence of educational elements, both those of the actual performances , and those of an actual learning program. These elements lend to the overall picture a certain philosophical coherence.
Incidental, however, to the dual emphasis on expositional and educational components, are problems endemic to the writing of proposals for the project. It requires diverse strategies, great discernment, and the capacity to condense a profusion of ideas into concise descriptions and unified, practicable formats
What is the future for Strike! ?
We’ve already had our first international installment of STRIKE! at the Outreach Festival, in Schwaz, Austria, on August 3, 2007. Besides the four concerts which we are planning for the future at Gleason’s in Brooklyn, we are setting up for a show at Gleason’s in London within the next few months; we anticipate a show in Russia, as well, for the late spring.
Thank you Dan for your time and thoughts.
You got it; the pleasure's mine.
The core group of STRIKE! is essentially the same personnel as those of The International Street Cannibals:
Dan Barrett (Creator of STRIKE!; General Director of the International Street Cannibals); Gene Pritsker (Composer in Residence/Director of Programming/guitarist), Franz Hackl (Artistic Director/trumpeter, composer, producer), Dary John Mizelle (Assistant Artistic Advisor/composer/actor), Dave Taylor (Artistic Advisor/Bass Trombonist), Margaret Lancaster (Flutist), Arthur Kampela (composer/singer/guitarist), Michio Suzuki (clarinetist), John Feeney (bassist), Greg Kitzis (violinist/violist), Jay Elfenbein (electric viola da gamba), Charles Coleman (baritone), Borislav Strulev (cellist), Samuel Blaser (trombonist) and Julian Kampela (djembe).
Our technical staff is comprised of Tyler Lerned (Stage Manager and Director of planning) and Chuck Moses (Technical Director); Astrid Steiner (AKA “VJ Luma”) is our Resident Videographer and VJ.
Bruce Silverglade, the President of the famed Gleason’s boxing Gym – New York, London, and an internationally known boxing promoter, is the Coordinator and Emcee of STRIKE! .
Dan Cooper (bassist of Uta Lemper)
Mat Fieldes (principal bass of Absolute Ensemble)
John Clark (French Horn/faculty SUNY Purchase)
Jose Moura (electric bass)
Dave Rozenblatt (principal percussion of Absolute Ensemble)
Anne Ellsworth (Alphorn)
Amanda Mottur (belly dancer)
Featured ensembles: B3 (Franz Hackl, John Clark, Dave Taylor); Extraordinary Rendition (Jay Elfenbein, Samuel Blaser, Dan Barrett); The Arthur Kampela Band (Arthur Kampela, Greg Kitzis, Jose Moura, Dan Barrett); Sound Liberation (Gene Pritsker, Greg Baker, Dave Gotay, Mat Fieldes, Dave Rosenblatt); Noizepunk and BorisLove (Gene Pritsker and Borislav Strulev).