Reimagining Brian Moran’s "PS122"
Hi, I’m Matt Hannafin, curator and director of the Extradition Series, and I want to tell you a story.
In summer 2001, I was a percussionist in New York, looking for collaborators. I received an email from guitarist Chris Forsyth about a show he was putting together at a bar on the Lower East Side, featuring himself along with an electronics player “recently returned from several months in Southeast Asia.” I went, I listened. The electronics player was named Brian Moran. He was tall, thin, and intense, dressed in a tight black suit. The room’s electricity was not being cooperative, and Brian’s instruments kept cutting out. He was clearly angry, but I loved what he was doing anyway. After his set, I introduced myself and got his email, and we began a correspondence. I’d recently also met a volcanic pianist named Dan DeChellis and was interested in putting together an improvising trio. Both Dan and Brian agreed to try it out, and from the first minute we realized we had something. In September 2001 we played our first gig under the name Chainworks, and the trio remained our main musical project for the next two and a half years.
Following DeChellis’s move to Pennsylvania, Brian and I continued working as the duo Shunyata, collaborating with artists such as trumpeter Nate Wooley and Zen flower arranger Cynthia Spencer. Brian’s approach to electronics was completely unique, influenced (he told me) by his career as an experimental dancer and performance artist, from which he’d only recently retired – but, it turned out, not for long.
In mid-2004, while attending nursing school and studying Tibetan Buddhism, Brian was coaxed out of retirement for a one-off solo dance performance at PS122, an East Village performance space that had been created in 1980 from an abandoned public school. Nervous at bringing a new dance work to life after several years of inactivity, Brian created a 15-minute sound piece to provide structure within which he’d improvise movement. Largely vocal, the recording merged elements from Brian’s day-to-day life: comments on his state of mind while preparing the piece, fragments from medical textbooks and Buddhist talks, comments on activities around him in the moment, and sounds from his New York neighborhood, combined with flourishes of electronic noise, cassette recorder sounds, and extended silences.
It was a memorable soundtrack, and a memorable performance. So much so that when my wife and I moved to Portland in 2006, I asked Brian for a copy of the audio, thinking that I’d like to create something with it in the future. Maybe add a percussion part? I wasn’t sure.
Flash forward to 2018. The Extradition Series was in its third season, and were presenting the first shows of our Recital Series at Performance Works NW, a dance-focused art space founded in 1999 by dancer/choreographer Linda Austin. Real life led to a Facebook friendship with Linda, and a few weeks later I was surprised to that Brian had left a comment on one of her posts. Turned out they’d known each other for 35 years. Also turned out both had premiered their first-ever choreographed works on the same program in 1983 – at PS122. Linda sent photos of the two of them performing on other bills. I was getting a surprise glimpse of Brian Moran 1.0, in the early flower of a dance career I mostly knew from stories.
So of course I remembered the recording from 2004. And of course I approached Linda with an idea: She’d take the same approach Brian took to his original, recording her thoughts on recreating a work by one of her contemporaries from 1980s NYC. We’d merge her audio with Brian’s original audio, and Linda would choreograph her own movements while also referencing elements I described from Brian’s original dance.
Linda agreed and added another suggestion: She’d be in New York two months before the Extradition summer concert. What if she got together with Brian and taped their conversation about the piece? Yes, excellent.
At this writing, it’s all happened and happening. I merged Linda’s ruminations, Linda and Brian’s conversation, and Brian’s 2004 original audio into a new audio work that bridges 2004 New York, 2019 New York, and 2019 Portland. Linda is busy working up ideas and choreography. The performance is two weeks away. But a lot of years are packed into it, stretching back to the downtown New York scene of the 1980s, through Linda’s 1990s move to Portland, through Brian’s work with me in the 2000s, and on through to today. Will someone in the audience on July 27 be struck by Linda’s performance and ask her for the audio, then in 2034 take it out and create a third new work from it?
How wonderful would that be?
You can see Linda Austin recreate/reinterpret Brian Moran’s 2004 PS122 dance at the Extradition Series 2019 Summer Concert, Saturday, July 27, 7:30pm at Performance Works NW: 4625 SE 67th Ave., Portland. Also on the bill are works by Alvin Lucier, Lo Wie, Eva-Maria Houben, and Angharad Davies.