Fragile Beauty, a blog by Bill Stevens: vol. 2, No. 5 - A Year Like No Other 

Fragile Beauty, a blog by Bill Stevens: vol.2, No. 5 - A Year Like No Other 

Like many, 2020 started out with so much promise. I received word on a number of international conferences and festivals that I had applied to. In May I was wait listed to present and perform at the International Association for the Study of Popular Music International Conference RE-peat, please!, May 14 - 16, 2020 at the University of  Antwerp, Belgium, the Netherlands and in June I was invited to perform at the International Society of Improvised Music at the University of Melbourne Conservatorium of Music in Melbourne, Australia from June 3 - 7, 2020. I also submitted a powerpoint presentation on an Examination of the Music & Performance Practice of Miles Davis, 1960 - 1969 to the Nordic Journal for Artistic Research at the Stockholm, Sweden University of the Arts for their open call on the theme of “One More Time, Let’s Do It Again”. Additionally, I submitted both new music and videos to the site Cities and Memory for their project, Future Cities and Stay Home Sounds, as well as a video for a project sponsored by Roger and Brian Eno to accompany tracks from their new album Mixing Colours. 

Although the video projects are still moving forward, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in cancellations and postponements for the conferences in Belgium and Australia. It has been approximately nine weeks since New York City was placed on a stay at home directive by Governor Andrew Cuomo. My planned performance in Australia was to be on a piece I originally put together as a proposed commission to the CTM Festival in Berlin called “It’s Only Fiction Until It Happens”. The theme of the CTM Festival was on liminal phenomena and liminoid states which are transitional phases in which a familiar order sees its values and symbols destabilized; norms are suspended or turned on their heads. They thrust us into the grey zone between the two sides of a supposedly clear demarcation. We find ourselves in ambiguous spaces, somewhere between a past that is no longer valid and an ever becoming future. 

I took a radio podcast from the BBC called “America’s Friends” and I have distorted and manipulated much of the dialogue so that you at times hear the message clearly; however more often than not the message has difficulty coming through. We tend to ignore what we cannot make out no matter how much we try to make sense of what is being said and why. It is a piece that speaks to the constant barrage, 24/7, of Donald Trump whether through tweets, press conferences on the White House lawn (there are no formal press conferences under this President), news reports or rallies. He is a master at distraction and whether it’s his use of “alternative facts” or of the bully pulpit that he has to drown out all other voices as we find ourselves living in a reality star’s universe completely focused on him. 

Here is a SoundCloud rough, unmixed audio file that I recorded of the piece once I received word that the conference would be postponed to a later date: It’s Only Fiction Until It Happens 

As the world closed in March before I would hear as to whether or not I had received an official invitation to the conference in Belgium, I did receive word on the postponement of the performance planned for Australia. I hope to share much of this musc and the videos with you in the near future. 

Needless to say, these past two months has dramatically changed the environment for public performances and for the arts all around. I don’t believe anyone has an idea of what the new world will look like for the arts as we move toward opening up the country and the world once again. The one encouraging sign is that the arts seem more vibrant even in isolation. We have only just begun to hear what music is being composed, what new choreography is occurring in dance, what new artwork is being developed in studio spaces all over the world. What feels at this moment like an intermission is setting up to be an amazing second half. Time to take our seats.