Szu-Han Ho & Samantha Topol
Installationand Performance
Julius Caesar | Chicago, IL

Performed by Szu-Han Ho and Ellen McSweeney on 06.23.2012

In both music and painting, an étude is a short, preparatory work for practicing technique. In the spirit of producing a focused daily exercise, we created an étude in duet form that is influenced by the learning process of songbirds, who communicate through call and response. Songbirds, known as oscines (in Latin, 'a bird giving omens by its cry'), are capable of creating virtuosic repertoire using a combination of mimicry and improvisation. The text at the base of the sound work and printed piece was generated by sending one line of writing back and forth across time zones over the course of two months. We resisted creating any other rules, and the text progressed according to our individual associations to the étude, our syntactic and semantic responses to each other, and the possibilities of language in relation.

This performance explores the tension between a dyad through improvisation and structure. The structured reading is based on The Mirror Duet, sometimes called the Tabletop Duet, a piece written for two musicians who play sitting across from each other, reading the same sheet of musical notation. Part I is read upside-down from Part II, forming a musical palindrome. The piece is generally attributed to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), although it is not listed in Ludwig von Köchel's catalogue of Mozart's complete works. [The Allegro duet in G major performed as part of this exhibition comes from the 3rd edition of Vier Spiegelkanons, published by Möseler Verlag Wolfenbüttel in Germany in 1951.]