Composing Music for Dance: Joyce Lindsey and John Cartwright’s “Fluid”
John Cartwright is a veteran, and a very successful one, of many different New Dances works. As Thodos Dance Chicago gears up for the performance of this year’s edition, DancerMusic spoke with composer Joyce Lindsey about her original composition for Cartwright’s piece Fluid.
DancerMusic: How did John Cartwright reach out to you for this collaboration?
Joyce Lindsey: Jessica Millier-Tomlinson was subbing for one of the Modern classes at Lou Conte studio, and I mentioned to her that I was really interested in expanding my experience, when it comes to composing for dance, and for choreographers. She told me about the New Dances project, and about John Cartwright, and I gave her my number and John contacted me.
DancerMusic: What was the first idea that John talked about? How did you get an idea of what he might be looking for in terms of a score for his work?
Joyce Lindsey: I met John at his house, and I basically asked him, what’s the concept of your piece, what’s the main idea behind it? And he explained that he wanted to explore relationships between men — friendships, romantic, and just being associates. That was a good thing to start with, and then when we met other times, when he actually had choreography down, was when he had a better understanding of what how he actually wanted the music to flow through the choreography. I always ask dancers for certain adjectives, or emotions, or textures of sound to describe certain parts of their choreography, and then I use those adjectives and emotions, and those textures to influence me, and to give me ideas on what type of music to create.
DancerMusic: What were some of the ways that Cartwright described to you what he was looking for?
Joyce Lindsey: So he would say, in the first section he would want it to be calm and sort of ambient, drummy like, and he also said after that, for the piece to be minimalistic. Minimalistic in the way the sounds are responding to the small movements in the beginning. He also said that he wanted certain parts to be romantic, and he gave me examples of music for what he would like for certain parts of the piece, and I simply replicated the feel of those.
My aim for making music for dance is to create what is necessary for the movement to come alive musically
DancerMusic: You perform extensively for live dance classes, especially at Lou Conte and at Columbia College here in Chicago, and although you’re a multi-instrumentalist, you’re especially known as a percussionist. How does this composition, being more large scale, differ from what you can give to dancers on one instrument at a time when you play live?
Joyce Lindsey: I would say that when you’re outside of class, you have more control over what you create, and you have more time to look at the movement, and to see whether there are certain parts of the movement that need to be elongated through the music, or to see where the transitions are, and to figure out whether the movement itself is slow or fast, or passionate or angry, or sad. You have more time to think about it, and more time to figure out how to turn certain adjectives and certain emotions and certain textures, and how to express them through sound. In dance class, it’s a lot more spontaneous. It is very necessary to be present at all times, to know what the dancers need to get through a transition in an exercise. Whether I needed to play an accent on when their arm goes up, or when their foot goes down. You need to be very attentive to the movement, and be able to think in your head how you can musically support the movement.
DancerMusic: This score is quite electronic, yet as a percussionist most of your live performance is much more acoustic and traditional. Do you think you’re more acoustic, traditional background shows even in this electronic context?
Joyce Lindsey: Yes, there are a lot of things that I do live that are reflected in what I compose. My aim for making music for dance is to create what is necessary for the movement to come alive musically, and to emulate and embody the musicality of the movement.
John Cartwright’s World Premiere of FluidNew Dances 2017The Athenaeum Theatre, featuring an original score by Joyce Lindsey, will be performed along with eight other World Premieres at Thodos Dance Chicago’s , on Saturday July 16th at 7:30 PM and on Sunday July 17th at 3PM. Both performances are at in Chicago.