Friday, January 29, 2010

Sound + Movement = Sandy Ewen & Y.E. Torres

posted by Free Press Houston @ 9:54 AM

By Anna Garza

Sandy Ewen and Y.E. Torres are musical explorers of the vast unknown. A guitar and belly dancing duo who dare to cross uncharted territories without a compass for guidance and disregarding boundaries along the way. Accomplished artists in their own right: Sandy plays guitar in the Austin based band, Weird Weeds, and YET is a mixed media artist, muscle dancer and costume designer. Together, they are allies on a voyage to a brave new world. I had the opportunity to chat with them during a break on their epic journey.

FPH: State your name and what you do in this project.

YET: I am YET - Y.E. Torres. Ms. YET. I am a visual and performance artist. In this project, I dance. I am a muscle dancer.

Sandy: I am Sandy Ewen. I play guitar in this project. We improvise. We compose music together and it's more of a performance than a piece of music.

FPH: That was a segue into what I wanted to ask next. How would you describe what you do to someone who has never seen you?

Sandy: I always get weirded out by trying to describe stuff, like - I got on an airplane back from Mexico and I was talking to some guy about music. It is really weird because normal people don't have a context to what we do at all. I’d say I make sounds, I’m not playing a steady rhythm or necessarily in a tonality. Some of the things we do, I’m playing in a key of some sort but sometimes it is really atonal and it's just textural.

YET: I think when we first started writing about what we do; we did it very simply and said, "Sandy plays a loud racket on the guitar..."

Sandy: ... a terrible racket.

YET: A terrible racket. Sandy wrote it. We wrote it together, actually... "Sandy makes a terrible racket on the guitar. YET dances." Basically, what we do is a live improvised performance of belly dance and guitar. My body becomes an instrument. We are reciprocating, leading, giving, taking, forcing, pushing and it is a live performance that includes movement and sound.

FPH: How did this idea come about?

Sandy: I had a solo set, um...

YET: A Signal to Noise show.

Sandy: Yeah, right after that Jandek show... where you at the Jandek show?

FPH: Diverseworks?

Sandy: No, not that one...the second one. After the first Jandek show at Rudyards, I had a concert at Avant Garden later on that evening.

FPH: Oh, so this is a fairly new project. How long have you been collaborating?

Sandy: That happened back in March of last year, I think. Then we started practicing a couple of months after that. After I did my solo set, it was pretty short, some people couldn't figure it out and some people were asking what I was doing so I played some more.

YET: Sandy kept playing and I started dancing.

Sandy: YET jumped up on stage. It was an informal after show "show".

YET: I have already been dancing to non traditional music as a belly dancer. You know being exposed to experimental/avant garde/improvisation, I just started to develop a taste for it and started to belly dance to Sun Ra. Sandy and I are in the same music scene, go to the same events, we have the same friends. I really wanted to start dancing to this. The opportunity came up when Sandy kept playing at the show and I started dancing. We always make opportunities happen.

Sandy: We realized that it would work.

YET: Yeah, and then I was curating a monthly show at Avant Garden with the belly dance Tuesday nights. I asked Sandy to do it with me and then we started rehearsing and we started actually having practices. Opportunity keeps coming up and it's our favorite project.

FPH: How do you feed off of each other live? How do the ideas go back and forth when you perform?

Sandy: I watch YET and what she is doing. Usually... it's really interesting because it's not like playing solo at all. It's like improvising with another musician.

YET: Then again my instrument is my body.

Sandy: When I tend to do a solo set, it kinda tends to...

FPH: Is it the movements? The beat? What is it that you are trying to express? What is the goal?

Sandy: If there is a goal, we try to keep it mixed up. There are certain things which are easy to do which is like give in to a nice groove or sound... that is kinda boring- I mean, it's not boring, it is great but the key to making this project more than just the same thing over and over is to keep experimenting with different sounds and different ways of interacting. When we were running rehearsals regularly, we would do all these different exercises. We have the next couple of rehearsals planned out with things we want to try out - like different ways of interacting. We want to try out pieces where YET follows me or I follow her or pieces with a different pacing. We've been returning to this one concept piece called "Running through Rooms" where we think of a space you can create between two people interacting. The idea is to find that space, develop it, look around and see what it is like it then skip on to the next one. It is like a series of short pieces and if you conceptualize it and you know that is what you are doing, it is easier to stay focused. It is improvised but sometimes it is more of a guided improvisation. Usually we have a set list. We will say the first piece will be a series of rooms; the next piece will be a chalk piece, which maybe signifies a certain sound.

YET: When we perform I am listening to Sandy. I am also watching Sandy and Sandy is watching me. We have done different things with this project. I’ve danced on the radio on KTRU. Sandy and I are very conceptual and we are both open to poking the viewer. This project is pushing boundaries of what is creating what and movement and sound is like. For example, I am a belly dancer but I belly dance in the music scene because I belly dance with Sandy. We were in the Low Lives performance where we were projected in three different galleries simultaneously and doing a private performance at the same time. There are all these parallels of movement because Sandy's hands are moving in a certain way and her body is interacting. I am not making any sound unless a piece of jewelry is doing it but my breath is always making a sound. We have gotten further in working together and there have been things that have come out. Certain sounds we embrace like we have one called "Motorcycle Sound". One we call "Chalk Piece". I know that as we keep working together we start to create our own language. Our friends who are musicians, for example, have started to see me as a musician - and that is one thing really intense dancers are always talking about: the body is the instrument because I’m using muscles in a certain way. My stomach can go like this while Sandy is doing that or Sandy’s hands will make a sound and my hips will kind of accentuate that movement. It wasn’t until I saw a video of us, I think we both knew that it made sense and we liked it.

Sandy: We knew it was working. We would look at the video of it and be like, oh all these ideas, all these concepts we had thought are working. It actually comes across and it is nice.

YET: The thing, too, is that we don't have any models to go by. I recently found out about a belly dancer who danced with Borbetomagus – which is a noise band in New York and they sent me a flyer. I have never heard of an avant garde belly dancer. One thing that is really interesting is that Sandy has been, for a long time, the only girl in the Houston improvisational scene, probably Texas.

Sandy: I don’t think that is totally fair but, yeah.

YET: It may have changed recently but to a certain extent.

FPH: You have mentioned you are constantly monitoring each other's sounds and movements on stage. Does that create tension or uneasiness or is it something peaceful and cohesive?

Sandy: I think we are pretty comfortable with it.

YET: I think emotionally, yeah. But in terms of the sound, it depends on the music. Who is to say we won't go to a place that might be conflicted. Ultimately, we are still improvising so there is no set thing and we still need to find an ending. It doesn't always work and sometimes it does. We may not feel the same way after a piece has been made.

Sandy: It is feeling comfortable with duration. It is hard to know how long things should be and to judge time. You are playing in front of people and there are expectations about how long a set should be and how long a piece should be. It is not like I want to play into people's expectations but at a certain level you want to get through all these different things and places.

YET: Another thing, too, if we take everything we have done so far... we have dealt with different audiences and have approached them- even though we aren’t doing the same thing.

Sandy: We challenge them. The people who go to the improv shows, you can play weirder stuff for that. But we are going to be doing the belly dancing show and I am going to try and keep my sound palette to something that is less than completely abrasive.

FPH: Speaking of audiences and pushing boundaries, do you ever want to play to a non improvisational crowd? Maybe play with a rock band?

YET: The next show we are playing with belly dancers. We are going to be the weirdest thing there.

Sandy: We did Westheimer Street Festival and plugged in to the side of La Strada.
YET: We did it along side another dancer and guitarist.

FPH: How was the crowd reaction?

Sandy: People were into it. People would watch us for a little bit and move on. We never had a huge crowd of people staring at us.

YET: We did have one wave that came in. One of the things we talked about was me, who was half naked, well not really half naked but, with belly dancing, there is a lot of mid section exposed. Then Erin Joyce, who is a modern dancer, was wearing a t shirt, a black leotard and hot pink tights. She didn’t wear shoes so her tights were tearing up. Visually it was like, what the fuck is going on? And of course we did it renegade and just plugged in and went for it and it just worked. It wasn’t like we were in this particular space and we were aware.

FPH: I would think it would be pretty difficult with the drunken, raucous crowds.

YET: We were super aware...

Sandy: I don't think it was the most focused of sets. We were doing it as a quartet the whole time so it wasn’t totally what we do. We were there presenting something that was totally different than anything else that was going on. There I was sitting on the ground in a parking lot with my guitar on my lap, plugged into an amplifier that was plugged into an extension cord that was plugged into a building that we have not talked to, playing with a pet brush and pieces of chalk and screws and all sorts of metal I found in the parking lot.

YET: And Erin is doing these big lifts and her legs are up. And there was one point in time when this kid ran up and he started going like this- emulating belly dancing moves. We started picking him up and carrying him around and I think he was just happy to be touched by a girl.

FPH: What I think is so radical about what you are doing is breaking down preconceived notions of what music or performance should be.

Sandy: I think some people are uncomfortable because they are not used to seeing half naked ladies and it is a noise show. So, on one hand, I am not a noise musician but it is on the noisier side of things. There is this dancer that I need to do what I am doing, because my solo sets are more linear, and with something to respond to, work with and create something together. The sound is completely different than a solo set so I think it is required. At the same time, there is this improv audience and more conservative people and they just don’t know what to think. It is bringing a weird kind of sexuality into a music that is usually pretty male dominated.

FPH: You have mentioned doing a recording session recently. Are you putting out video or an actual record?

Sandy: We are going to put out vinyl. We aren't actually going to put out records because that is expensive but what we are going to do is get used records and color on the covers. We are going to sell vinyl at shows. But it is going to be random records we don’t want to keep.

FPH: But the video session on Monday?

Sandy: Oh, that is going to go with the show on the 30th. There is going to be a projection behind us and Chris (Nelson) is going to put together a video combining different takes. I think he is going to slow it down so there isn’t this timing weirdness.

YET: Chris Nelson is an amazing videographer. He did Toy Punks. They played it at Aurora and they played it at Domy.

Sandy: We see a broader future of him doing live video with the projections.

FPH: What is next for Sandy Ewen and Ms. Yet?

Sandy: We are going to go to New Orleans. We do not have a schedule or a plan but it is going to happen.

YET: We are definitely going to do a tour before half the year is over.

Sandy Ewen & YET will be performing this Saturday January 30, 2010 as part of "A Moving Theater of Absolute Uniqueness or the aesthetic pleasure of pioneering creativity" at the Frenetic Theater 5102 Navigation 8 pm $15/$20.


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