The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Elliot Harvey has always viewed music as more than just sound – and as more than just an individual endeavor as well. That is why his Sunday, January 13th event at the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMOCA) was a massive and moving collaborative performance instead of just another run-of-the-mill music show. So many artists and mediums packed into one venue can be tricky, but even with a packed house, the night was a successful cross-section of personalities and perspectives.
Recording and playing under the name A Stick and A Stone since 2007, the album “Night Vision” that premiered in Philly on Sunday night at PhilaMOCA is Harvey’s second release under this name. The music is inspired by an intense, summertime dream experience that Harvey had back in August. The vision inspired him to tackle the songwriting process from a fully collaborative route. Assembling a menagerie of visual artists, dancers and performers – many of whom Harvey is friends with or has worked with before – he set out to build his vision from the music up instead of the other way around. Having formerly composed music for others’ images or performances, this process was relatively new territory.
Much of the content that emerges from Harvey’s haunting vocals and eclectic collages of sound is deeply mired in the struggles of gender identity. Harvey, who is transgender, explores the healing process that often accompanies accepting the disharmonies between outward and inward manifestations of gender. Forgoing hormone therapy to preserve his soprano voice is one such decision that Harvey had to make and one that directly affected the end result of his art.
Beyond the issue of gender, Harvey’s music is also layered with the bittersweet explorations of his dreams and their spiritual or fantastical sensations. Here “Night Vision” is not just a lucid dream, but a way to see through the darkness as well. Mythological images of Jupiter devouring his son are nudged tightly against the physical and metaphysical longings for water and visceral descriptions of the body. All of these disparate elements are knitted together by Harvey’s expert storytelling, sharp images and emotive voice.
Among the many performers and visual artists contributing to Harvey’s multimedia meshing of visual and auditory experience are shadow projections by Sean Glass and Karl Wheeler, an experimental drag performance by Ruby L.L. Voyager, acrobatics by The Dandy Vagabonds, dance by The Movement Brigade and Stone Depot Dance Lab, puppetry by Valeska Pupuloh and animation by Adelaide Windsome. Visual artists inclue: Corina Dross, Justin Duerr, Erik Ruin, Mandy Katz, Fiona Bearclaw, Jill Lavetsky, Abby Miller, Joshum Harpy, Katrina Avocado, Aaron Porter and Annie Mok.
Pupuloh opens the show with a strobe light simulating the spinning rotors of aerial vehicles for the song “Helicopters” and proceeds to create a shadowy puppet world, not unlike ours, in which technology and nature are in uneasy balance. Poet Shayna Sheness provides a jarring performance in which monotonous, day-to-day tasks and bizarre rituals are executed in jerky, uncomfortable movements, even pouring a glass of water to drink.
From here, the collective of artists will also perform two more dates in Providence, Rhode Island on January 15th at 186 Carpenter and in Brooklyn, New York on January 16th at the Panoply Lab.
PhilaMOCA is located at 531 N. 12th St., Philadelphia; email@example.com; philamoca.org.