Patrick Quigley is perhaps one of the most prolific creative people I know. Not only do you know him as one of our resident Chroma bloggers, but he books and runs shows at The Well in South Bend, IN and is in at least half as many bands as Caleb Allan. Today, we have Patrick here for an interview to celebrate the (belated) 1-year anniversary of the Holding Space Soundtrack release. Holding Space is a multimedia project made in collaboration with Fischer Dance, Hannah Fischer, Corlanthum / Alyssa Neece, and Patrick’s solo project sailbear. The project features evocative, emotional choreography, cinematography, and music that need to be experienced to be truly appreciated alongside the creative insights we’ve received from Patrick here.
Fallon: The Holding Space Soundtrack is a fantastic experimental work that features equal parts experimental electronic and post-rock inspired ambient. It’s also the only collaboration you’ve done with Fischer Dance where the music was not performed live with the choreography, but rather it was produced as a series of short films. How did the collaboration of dance and electronic and (often arrhythmic) ambient music come together?
Patrick: Hannah and I have been working together for many years; she valued working with live musicians as a rare opportunity and I valued working with dancers as a rare opportunity. She introduced me to a neighboring world also within the realm of abstract art but whose medium was dance. Many of the same motivations, challenges, and techniques map in rough parallel between abstract dance and abstract music. The ambiance of it has just been a developed artistic decision by both of us to focus on creating an atmosphere or a space for the dance to exist in.
F: That leads perfectly into my next question: What kind of unique benefits or challenges do you find in writing music in conjunction with dance? Or perhaps more simply, how is it different from writing music for its own sake?
P: The overarching idea through our growth in collaboration with each other has been figuring out how to support and amplify the dance through music without getting in the way or being distracting. It's about creating atmosphere for the audience to experience the dance in, but also to build a platform on which the dancers, choreographer, and director can build from. Writing music alone takes on a more selfish angle; the goal is to be the thing that is paid attention to, the most interesting thing in the room. When writing music to support dance, the goal is to focus attention on the dance and to create a framework in which people can engage with the dance. What's so great about working in collaboration with dancers has been that there is a vast supply of motivation and concept to draw from and work to translate or convey. I love the process of learning and exploring another artist's vision and figuring out what that sounds like.
F: This is surely a model for collaboration people ought to take notes on. To my understanding, the collaborative shows with Fischer Dance, such as the ones for the debut sailbear soundtrack Take Me With You, are performed exclusively in South Bend, IN; could you describe what a typical live performance is like for those of us who haven't experienced one yet?
P: Fischer Dance has gone on the road a few times to perform in other places, but primary locations were always in South Bend. The previous director, Hannah Fischer, has moved out west to attend graduate school and I'm now working with the company in its re-branded form of New Industry under the direction of Chloe Ilene. Our performances are still largely exclusive to South Bend though we've talked about fostering a regional community of similar dance companies that can host performances for each other and start sharing the work geographically. To paint the picture, imagine an unused warehouse, old brick factory buildings that have sat boarded up since the past economic decline of our city. This is where most of our shows have taken place. The address is iffy, parking situation is bad, but the small crowd of people sipping La Croix and wine tells you that you're in the right place. Rows of folding chairs are set up to flank a stage that is just a scrubbed portion of the dirty cement floor. The lighting is simple but intentional, a combination of traditional theater lighting and home-made fixtures. The music comes from all corners of the room and the dancers are close enough that you can hear their heavy breathing, you can see the muscles in their feet tense and relax as they balance. Often these shows don't have a distinct narrative or storyline that you can follow, though it's easy to find identity in characters and relationships. Both dance and music flow freely from being traditionally recognizable to being abstract enough to ask “how is THIS music/dance?”. Shows run about an hour long and the audience is welcomed to stick around after the show for a talk-back where we can dialogue as a group about content of the show, reactions, concepts, and creative process.
F: That description is… stunning, to say the least. I no longer merely hope but eagerly desire to catch one of these performances someday.
It's pretty commonplace for soundtracks to release independently of film and video games, but many argue that it can be hard to understand a soundtrack without the work it was produced for. Do you feel the soundtrack does something different for the listener when it's released independently of its original context?
P: I always have reservations about releasing soundtracks separate from the shows they were developed with and for. The goal in the creative process is never for them to stand-alone, though I've found it's important for people who have come to see the shows to be able to listen later and use it as a tool to remember or recreate the experience in their minds. I think listening to the soundtrack completely separate from any experience of the show is a more abstract experience, it's like hearing half the story. Because the Holding Space project was specifically created in the studio, I'm very proud of the quality of the final pieces. I think if any of the soundtracks I've produced stand well on their own, it's Holding Space.
F: With that in mind, please, tell us about some of your creative inspirations for sailbear and the Holding Space Soundtrack in particular.
P: Finding and exploring inspiration with the dance company has been a large and important part of our process. Sometimes it looks like capturing a feeling and talking through associated thoughts, experiences, sounds, and movements. Sometimes the process is less idea-oriented and more location or physical experience driven. We've spent time considering what it's like to have lost something and not been able to find it despite all effort, like the word on the tip of your tongue that never is revealed. We've examined our bodies as machines. Physical and emotional ideas of support. We've been to the beach. We've searched for the spirit and life and new purpose of old abandoned buildings. Each piece in Holding Space stands on it's own and within the collection, the common theme throughout was consideration of our physical location and the space that we occupy.
F: The sounds you craft that reflect these themes have a such varied selection of textures, from lush pads and shimmering delay-drenched guitars to triumphant trumpets and otherworldly synthesizers; what's your process for crafting a sound library for any given piece?
P: On the outset of Holding Space I had this grand plan of working in collaboration with other musicians for each piece. I realized quickly how much work that was going to be and scaled back the collaborative effort a bit. It takes a lot of time and energy for a musician to get into the rhythm of collaborating with an artists outside the music world. I ended up collaborating with 4 other musicians on 4 pieces. The sound palette for those pieces are highly influenced by the instruments brought by those other artists. I'm sure you won't have a difficult time identifying guitar, vibraphone, and trumpet. As for the library that I worked to build for Holding Space, I try to work almost essentially with hardware instruments as opposed to computer-based software sound sources. This means that budget becomes a player as I'm constantly searching for instruments that help express what I'm trying to get out and are inspiring to play, but within a reasonable hobby budget. I spend a lot of time rotating active instruments in and out of my current setup, re-learning old friends and digging into older instruments deeper than I did the last time. Just before I started recording Holding Space I had purchased a Waldorf Blofeld synth which becomes one of the two primary voices in the collection. The other primary voice is my Korg SV-1 which is the most inspiriting instrument that I own. It just begs to be played. Moving forward into new projects, I'm playing around with the idea found instruments, objects not meant to be instruments but have some interesting voice to be coaxed out and amplified like kitchen sinks and panes of glass.
F: Budget instruments and working within constraints reminds me a lot of my days dabbling in chiptune. Guess its never too late to jump back in * runs off to the nearest garage sale. *
Ahem, uh— to round things off, I want to check with you about any projects in the works we should know about, sailbear or otherwise.
P: The newest sailbear project that's right in front of me is another evening length live show called Sensimotor. We're exploring instinctual or learned physical responses to different actions or impulses. We're spending time exploring silly questions about randomness and chaos. It's difficult for a computer to create something truly random. Similarly is there anything that a person can create that is truly random? It seems every reaction is a choice that follows some specific reason. That's the project where a lot of the found sound research is going to show up as well. I'll also be scoring a silent film this summer for a series that's popped up in South Bend and there's rumors that I'll be working with South Bend Civic Theater to score a production of theirs this coming fall/winter. Outside of sailbear, Lune is working on a new record. It's a slow burn gritty rock and roll project that I'm really excited to be working on. Dad Jokes is playing a bunch of fests this summer and hopefully writing new music as well.
In case you haven’t yet, you can experience the Holding Space films right now for free on the Fischer Dance website. You listen to the Holding Space Soundtrack and explore Patrick’s other sailbear works on Bandcamp.