In the Middle of the Room

Jeff Morris and Elisabeth Blair

In the Middle of the Room came about as a live sampling improvisation with composer, vocalist, and poet Elisabeth Blair during a residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. In my live sampling improvisations, I partner with one or more acoustic musicians and I bring software I created, which cannot make sound on its own: it can only capture sounds from my partner in improvisation, live in the moment of performance, and transform them into something new, to reintroduce to the performance. This highlights the liveness of the listening experience, as the audience recognizes the mediated copy of sounds the human performer just made, at once noticing how the copy lacks aura (after Benjamin) and also adding value, retrospectively, to the original moment now past. Listeners can then hear the sampled sound gain a new aura of its own as it transforms and acts as an independent voice in the improvisation, influencing the performance and the human performer in turn.

Elisabeth Blair brought to our improvisation session some notes she had made while interviewing an elderly friend. Elisabeth Blair’s stream-of-consciousness navigation through and about the interview material reflected the scattered thoughts of a lonely, bored, regretful, and nostalgic aging mind that is aware of its own gradual failure—it is here that the creative work separates from a factual biography of the interviewee, instead letting a new abstract character emerge, inspired by fragments of a real life’s recollections and reflections, the dots connected in new ways by our imaginations and artistic intuition.

Fascinated by how it developed, I re-entered the improvisation, this time as a performing video artist. I built a rudimentary video titler (so I could perform by typing on the screen) and fed its output to a video feedback engine I have used in previous works, which transforms any image into new abstract forms and the behavior of which is shaped by sound. I typed in real time, in response to the music, words, and the things in between. The text switches among distinct modes of interpreting, reflecting, responding to, and misreading the words I heard. This compounded pattern of chopping and rehashing also led new meanings to form as the sound and the text jumped fluidly from one statement to another.

About the Artist

Jeff Morris creates musical experiences that engage audiences’ minds with their surroundings. His performances, installations, lectures, and writings appear in international venues known for cutting-edge arts and deep questions in the arts. He has won awards for making art emerge from unusual situations: music tailored to architecture and cityscapes, performance art for the radio, and serious concert music for toy piano, robot, Sudoku puzzles, and paranormal electronic voice phenomena. His music is on Ravello Records.

Elisabeth Blair is a feminist, poet, interdisciplinary artist, and podcast host. Her poetry is forthcoming in Feminist Studies and S/tick and has appeared in Eunoia Review and Lady Lazarus Journal. Her chapbook, We He She/It, is available through Dancing Girl Press.