In 2012 we presented the world premiere of Carla Kihlstedt’s At Night We Walk in Circles and Are Consumed by Fire, a major ICElab commission. Written for nine members of ICE plus Kihlstedt, the song cycle is based on images, impressions and textures taken from dreams from various sources, including the players themselves. We asked Carla to look back and speak to her experience working with ICE almost a decade ago:
There is, simply put, no way I could have created a piece like At Night We Walk in Circles and Are Consumed by Fire in any other kind of situation. Having the chance to work in a process-based way with such flexible and enthusiastic musicians, totally deepened my own sense of creative purpose.
The beginning of a new creative process is fueled by instinct, curiosity, and a healthy dose of hubris. The ICElab format invites vulnerability into the mix, which is a critical ingredient. It doesn’t make you put a feather boa and a [show light] on your idea right away, but lets you sit and play with it, until it is ready to reveal its true character. The extended timeline of my ICElab commission allowed me to ask questions and explore hunches. It’s a giant sandbox. I came in the early rehearsals with a million questions, and we spent multiple sessions over the course of 18+ months, sharing ideas, exploring possibilities. The subject matter was so personal – the musicians each contributed a dream that we then worked with and translated into song form. Many of the things we tried ended up in the compost pile. I wrote and rewrote several movements before truly understanding their purpose in the piece. The freedom to let the process determine the timeline was transformative.
My collaboration with ICE was pivotal in a couple of very tangible ways. As a classical music defector, my collaboration with ICE represented a kind of homecoming for me. My musical language was rooted in my classical training, but my creative discoveries as a composer/improviser/songwriter, happened in defiance of my classical history. In working with ICE, I was finally able to unify these two Jeckyl/Hyde aspects of my musical identity, largely because of how generous and engaged the players were as collaborators in the discovery process. There was an assumption that we would start with questions – both large and small ones – and a trust that we would find compelling answers to them all.
My creative life as a composer basically divides into two chapters: Before-ICElab and After-ICElab. In my After-ICElab life, I have a much deeper level of trust in my own creative process and the process of collaboration. ICElab helped me understand my own voice, and palpably showed me of the power of lending our ideas to a bigger community conversation. The resulting piece my have my name on it as a composer, but it really belongs to the community of musicians I worked with to create it.
– Carla Kihlstedt
Nathan has a recurring dream about a room that appears from nowhere in his house.
This is from a dream submitted to us by Lawrence Merkert about a man selling lives out of a motel room
I have an occasionally recurring dream that my teeth fall out.
Rebekah had this dream involving several members of ICE.
Some nights I wish that things would simply be what they appear to be and stay where I put them.
Claire, who at first said she had no dreams worth sharing, finally admitted to having one of the simplest and most beautiful dreams I’ve heard.. a sort of waking dream in which she slowly watches a backdrop fill with light, one point at a time. This is inspired both by that and by a dream shared with me by a friend in which, more fascinated than afraid, he felt himself die.
Many people have submitted dreams about flying. This one is inspired by Claire’s flying dream.
Jennifer had a dream in which she met herself as a young girl.
The words ghost and guest share an etymological root.
The people whom we conjure in our dreams are a bit of both.
This is inspired by a book of photographs and poems by
Wendy Given and Rafael Oses called Gæst.
“At Night We Walk in Circles and Are Consumed by Fire” was commissioned by ICE through the ICElab program.
Photos from our most recent performance with Carla Kihlstedt at Big Ears Festival 2019!
Photo Credit: Eli Johnson