Ali McGhee is a journalist, creative writer, and academic. Her work has appeared in The Edgar Allan Poe Review, Romantic Circles, Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary...
This Friday and Saturday at Diana Wortham Theatre in downtown Asheville mark the Asheville debut of Black Mountain Songs, a choral and visual performance created in the spirit of Black Mountain College, a revolutionary institution founded in the 1930s that became a center for avant-garde artistic production. The performance of Black Mountain Songs is nested within a larger conference, Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center's ReVIEWING, but you don't need to go to the whole conference in order to see the show.
Black Mountain Songs brings together some of the finest and most talented musicians who have been inspired by the legacy of Black Mountain College. Curated by the National's Bryce Dessner and Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire, the performance includes pieces from both curators, as well as Caroline Shaw of ground-breaking a capella group A Roomful of Teeth, among others. The songs themselves are performed by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus with musical accompaniment from composers. Gus Solomons, Jr., a member of Merce Cunningham's dance company, will also perform.
I had the opportunity to hear a few of the songs, which move from the strangely otherworldly to the gorgeously uplifting (check them out here, plus an interview with Parry, Dessner, and others from the project). I also got the chance to speak with Parry about the project.
What was the process like of creating Black Mountain Songs and bringing so many people together into one project?
Appropriately explorative and sprawling and without an entirely clear outcome in mind when we began, and although we knew certain key elements that the show would contain, we were very much adding and collaborating and expanding the idea, contents and framework of the show as it went along based on what it felt like it needed. There was a definite sense during the entire process of moving towards an end point that would celebrate and demonstrate both the spirit and general approach of Black Mountain College.
What challenges (or pleasant surprises) did you face over the course of the project?
What are you looking forward to re: the experience of performing this work in Asheville, so near to the site of the original Black Mountain College?
The Vibe! Really looking forward to just breathing the air there and being in the landscape and soaking up the spirit energy of the physical environs. I'm extremely sensitive to physical energies of places, so really looking forward to being in the actual place that gave rise to this giant, gentle wave of culture / counterculture that we're still feeling the ripples from.
What has Black Mountain College and its legacy meant to you as a musician and performer? Was there any particular figure (or a few) who have been especially influential for you?
Hugely influential for me—the hybrid of back to the land / classical arts / avant garde investigative / utopic/ collaborative / anarchic / organized / artistically disciplined / freeform spirit of the place is kind of a benchmark reference point for me. An ideal of sorts. Buckminster Fuller is an inspirational figure. Likewise Cage, Rauschenberg, Ruth Asawa...
Black Mountain Songs will be an evening of stunning performance and unforgettable music. Tickets for Black Mountain Songs are available here. Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m.