SLEEP, PlayCo’s new collaboration with Ripe Time, is a new theatre work based on the short story by internationally acclaimed author Haruki Murakami. The group NewBorn Trio created an original score that they perform live during the show. This work-in process has three public presentations at the Japan Society this month. The NewBorn Trio are artists Katie Down, Miguel Frasconi and Jeffrey Lependorf. As and ensemble they have performed in various venues throughout New York including Issue Project Room, Unnamable
Books, The Brecht Forum, and the Hudson Musical Festival and were awarded Jerome Foundation and Mid Atlantic grants to tour areas of the Balkans and create workshops in improvisation and experimental sound using found objects with children and teens. They recently spent some time talking with us about their work and the history of the collaboration.
How did you find each other and begin working together?
It all started when the members of the trio were invited to perform at a festival in Kosovo. Each of us knew at least one of the others, but the three of us had never actually performed together at the same time before this. So, in 2011, we headed off to Kosovo, as a brand new trio, to help them celebrate their one-year anniversary of being a country. On a Skype call, the festival organizers asked us for the name of our trio. They needed it right away for the posters and such. We hadn’t thought of one yet, but because we had just come together for this occasion we quickly said, “Uh, we’re the “NewBorn Trio.” Really, just to say something, but they were so delighted—it turns out that “Independence Day” in Kosovo is called “Newborn Day”! Our first recording features a photo of the word “newborn” spelled out in giant sculptures in the main square in Prishtina, Kosovo. We like to think they put it up just for us.
When and how you discovered Haruki Murakami?
We love Murakami. Jeffrey probably has read the most. He lived in Japan way back in 1983 and he’s a diehard Murakami fan. “Sleep,” the short story the play is based on, is actually one of the very first things by Murakami he ever read. It comes from a collection called “The Elephant Vanishes,” which he read in the early 90s when it first appeared in English. He’s been hooked ever since. The rest of us have enjoyed reading his work and are excited to be delving in further.
What is your process of collaboration like as a group in creating music?
It’s been a magical process working together. From our first time playing together, we’ve mostly just started playing without negotiating a thing beforehand, and our sense of how we’ll fit with each other has only grown stronger the more we’ve performed together. We’ve never rehearsed “pieces.” We share foremost a fascination with the mysterious and profound nature of sound itself, and we each love listening to and responding to what the others do as we go. We mostly want our performances to be as enchanting and transporting to us as to our audience. “Playing” for us doesn’t just mean “performing”—it really means that we’re at play.
How/Is your process different when creating music for a theatrical piece? What new challenges are there?
It’s certainly a new experience for us as a trio, though each of us has experience creating music for theater individually. Mostly, we’re not improvising in the way we usually do. The actors rely on us as much as we rely on watching and hearing them, so we do need to fix cues and settle on a number of elements that won’t change. We’ve had to create something of a score, which is not how we usually work, but we’ve done it in such a way that what we’re doing remains fluid and responsive. While we have decided the kinds of thing we’ll be doing at each moment in the play, and the instruments we’ll play at any moment, precisely how we do that is a bit different each time. So, the main challenge for us is remaining true to our improvisational working method while fully serving larger the vision of the piece and the necessity of matching scene changes and lighting cues and such. We’ve mostly just been simply trying different things in rehearsals, experimenting as we go, much in the way that we traditionally work, largely intuitively, different things again and again until something really clicks, and then we chat, scribble notes, and settle on cues, key textures, and instrumentation so that we can try to do it again. It’s important to us that we never do things exactly the same way each time, but we also want to support the actors and not throw them off. It’s a balancing act. Maybe what we really want to be is tightrope walkers.
What does your sound illuminate about Murakami’s story?/ What is the role of your sound in this story?
A particular joy of working on this piece is that we’ve been invited to have our music play a role here much like the actors do—what we’re doing isn’t the usual incidental music for a play. Murukami’s writing can be elusive and ungrounding; it causes us to question everyday actions and what they mean, what’s behind them, what lurks. He makes us re-exam everyday actions as unexpected, miraculous, sometimes even dangerous. Reading Murukami is like looking at something we see every single day but feeling like somehow, today, it looks entirely different. We’re working to heighten that feeling. A lot of what we play, hopefully, enhances the dreamlike nature of the story, but hopefully also the scary thrill of what lies just beyond the edge of the ordinary.
What is on the horizon for Newborn Trio? What upcoming projects are you excited about?
This is our big project right now, but we’re working on setting up our next tour and recording and hope to announce that soon. We do like a little planning, but so far every day is an improvisation for us and we’re doing what we can to keep it that way. For more info about us, visit: www.newborntrio.com.