The Splits (Rehearsal)
Work: “The Splits: Red/Blue” is a performance about division and its opportunities, featuring a duet for one “split” instrument performed simultaneously by two musicians in different locations– in this case a “Red State” (Virginia) and a “Blue state” (Connecticut). “The work begins with the bisecting of various instruments,” Benson explains, cutting then along their length, creating two separate instruments. The two halves must then be played simultaneously by pairs of musicians to complete a musical score.” For the “Red/Blue” incarnation of “The Splits” project, Benson partnered with composer and cellist Alex Waterman to create music to be performed across a geographic and political divide, taking advantage of the electronic disruption typical of cell phones and Skype. While existing “nowhere” in the electronic ether, the music is designed to speak to place– political identities in the two sites. The divisions in Benson’s work are manifold. She only splits cheap, mass-produced. “Made in china” instruments, not wishing to violate the musician’s sense of duty towards fine, often-handmade models. In so doing she reveals a market divide. Literally cut, the instruments also refer to schisms within the music industry; the common practice of splicing tracks, using synthesized instrumentation, and thereby cutting out the instruments and the musicians who play them. At all levels, “The Splits: Red/Blue” is about the disruption of traditional aesthetic processes. Benson’s actions exclude the instruments from any traditional use, yet her rupture creates new arrangements, sounds and ways to perform. She exploits these opportunities, and their means of conveyance, to address many kinds of conceptual categories. By extending her project to encompass physical distance and political landscapes, she suggests there may be different ways to evolve, new ways to find unity. Divided but synchronous, “The Splits” exemplifies that the whole is greater then the simple sum of its parts. Excerpt from “Borders, Boundaries, Parameters of Many”, by Hitomi Iwasaki. Introductory text from the 2013 Queens International catalogue, Queens Museum: The magic of sound and music is further incorporated in Jane Benson’s “The Splits” series. For the artist, a transplant from the U.K., bi- and multicultural lives are embodied in a pair of bisected musical instruments– piano, guitar, or violin — are played in duet by two individuals in two remote locations. Poignant and virtuous at once, the technologically mediated (i.e. via Skype) duet produces unimaginable effects of its own, facilitating a space of contemplation of global migration, physical and metaphysical distances we’ve come to embrace in out lives. “Extended Play: TeWhenuaCentroChapineroCorona” is a dual channel video work featuring two performers in remote locations each playing half a bisected guitar– one in Corona, Queens and the other in Centro, Mexco City — and performing together via live AV feed. The work explores the different musical, social and political aspects of division and connection using technologies of splitting and linking to imagine new forms of transcultural communication between two disparate parts of the world. Of Jane Benson’s ongoing series “The Splits” (2010), “Extended Play: Tewhenuacentrochapinerocorona” is the first duet performed across an international “split”. Thus, extending the split duet to an exploration of cultural and social distance and connections, as well as, the disruption and regeneration of traditional aesthetic processes. “The Splits” work begins with the bisecting of each string instrument lengthwise to create two separate instruments. The two halves must then be played simultaneously to complete a musical score, so are thus made for duets (quartets, octets, or dectets) and composed and performed in collaborations between the artist, musicians and composers. While the act of splitting at once destroys the physical and functional integrity of the instrument, it opens up unexpected, graceful evolutions: the split instrument facilitates the creation not of new music but of new communication. Each musician performs on half a classical guitar synchronizing a scored and improvised musical dialogue in which diverse traditions interact with, develop and expand alongside one another; where in spite of the distance between them, the two halves of the guitar resonate with the same music. The physical act of splitting and the technology of virtual linking permits a live conversation in strings, mimicking the spontaneity and character of communication more commonly held over Skype. The performance takes place in the living rooms of the two musicians providing an extraterratorial space, and stage, for this transcultural sound exchange. Sebastian Cruz, originally from Chapinero, Bogotá, performs from his living room in Corona, New York City and Misha Marks (who grew up in TeWhenua, New Zealand and once lived in Corona) performs the complimentary half of the duet from his home in Centro Historico, Mexico City. Combining the people and sounds of multiple cultures the work proceeds by exploring and extending the kinds of dialogue that division enables; the split guitar creates new arrangements, sounds, ways to perform and to connect. Catalogue text by Rachael Teagle from the “united states” exhibition at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, 2012.
Photographer: Jane Benson
The Splits is a new collaborative visual and musical project that extends Jane Benson’s ongoing interest in transformation into the realm of collaboration and performance. Centered on acts of cutting and splicing, regeneration and proliferation The Splits will gather artists, performers and audiences across borders of geography, nation, and identity, to create a series of multimedia events dedicated to the concept of change.
As if caught in various stages of molting, Ms. Benson’s work explores the transition and transformation of both physical materials and conceptual categories. In every phase she finds or cuts her way toward the pleasure and humor in becoming something else, often by turning things physically and ideologically inside out or upside down. Thus, in “Wig Head (Ann and Jane)”, 2009, clay family portraits are worn as toupees; in “Yellow Room (Mother)”, 2009, intricately cut floral wallpaper simulates a collapsing thicket of foliage; in “Venus, I Love You”, 2009, a prosthetic limb simulates a tree’s branch.
The Splits begins with the bisecting of various string instruments into two halves, cutting them along their length, creating two separate instruments. The two halves must then be played together to complete a tune and are, thus, for duets (or quartets, octets or dectets) only—pieces which she is creating in collaboration with musicians and composers. The act of splitting at once destroys the integrity of the instrument as an object, and disrupts the conventional process of aesthetic creation that the instrument traditionally permits. Splitting is not merely an act of destruction, however. Instead, it opens graceful passages for imagined evolution: the split instrument becomes a newly creative instrument, permitting the creation not only of new music, but new communities (visual artist, the composer, the musicians, and the audience). Ms. Benson has “split” two violins, a viola, cello and double bass: all, cheap, mass-produced string instruments made in China. This choice was made after various discussions with musicians revealed that such objects were not considered to be “real” instruments at all. Thus, cutting into such a “fake” violin would spare the destruction of a beautiful, handcrafted instrument.
In addition to splitting the string instruments Ms. Benson is making a series of Split Scores (sheet music deconstructed specifically for The Splits). Because each half of the split instruments has only two strings, and therefore plays a limited range of high notes or low notes, the scores for the performances will be deconstructed for each player. For example, the musician playing the half of the instrument with the high strings plays from sheet music with the low notes cut away and vice-versa. The premiere performance of The Splits will involve all ten “split” instruments performing an original score by New York composer Matt Schickele and will be held at Henry Street Settlement: Abrons Arts Center, New York, on February 27th, 2011.
The music for the premiere of “The Splits”, is itself split: duets that parry ideas back and forth, incomplete melodies searching for their other half — a surprisingly accessible wash of strings, sometimes enraged, sometimes contemplative. Written specifically for these unique instruments, Schickele intertwines rural and metropolitan traditions in what can only be described as “alien folk music.”
Benson is also exploring different performance possibilities, for example a geographically “split” duet where one musician and instrument half is in New York and the other half in Mexico. In this instance, the duet will be completed in two geographically and politically distinct places uniting people and ideas across international boarders. (The musicians would play at the same time, each synchronizing their performance with a live feed of the other.)
In every phase The Splits will embrace the pleasure and humor that is to be found in being and becoming something else, and will gather people across the world together in a series of performances dedicated to the concept of change.