Dead Horse Bay…thoughts from the future… was written for two violins and a live-projection video. The music can be performed with or without the film. When performed without the film, liberties can be taken in regard to the number of repeats within the various sections. Individual movements can be performed as stand-alone movements. The ideal presentation of the video is to include both wall projections and to project the film’s image through a large cell phone prop that is placed in between both performers.
The video is an amateur documentary I created showcasing a long-forgotten part of South Brooklyn called Dead Horse Bay. I filmed the footage over the course of several visits during the spring and summer of 2019. During the filming process I became fascinated by the island’s history. In the 19th and early 20th century, Dead Horse Bay was the location of numerous industrial horse carcass-rendering plants. It was also the site of New York City’s primary garbage landfill in the late 19th century until the mid-1920s when all of the inhabitants—many of whom worked as laborers on the island—were forcefully removed and their homes leveled to the ground. The city transformed the island into a peninsula by the 1950s by using trash as topsoil. Since then, the landfill caps have broken open and remnants of garbage, dating back to the 1800s, can be found along the beach shore. Fresh pieces wash up onto the beach every day.
During my first visit to Dead Horse Bay I was shocked by the sense of abjection. I felt I had entered a liminal space on the edge of civilization. The beach was littered with old domestic trash such as glass bottles, plates, shoes, stoves, and the occasional horse bone. The scene on the beach was terrifying and weirdly mystical. It was beautiful to see how the trash was becoming part of the natural landscape; the inorganic mixed with the organic, both seemingly woven together at times. The various pieces of garbage projected an aura that I imagined as music. My original idea was to bring pieces of the trash into the concert hall and both performers would play music while hovering over the objects, as if an occult-like ritual. But since the trash was possibly toxic I decided it was better to film the objects. I shot the footage with my iPhone. Experiencing the bay through the lens of my iPhone was perhaps more significant than seeing the bay with my bare eyes. When I first viewed the video footage everything seemed to be more intense and haunted. I was completely transfixed and my mind became possessed by one idea: “This garbage is telling us thoughts from the future!”
For the first performance we created a very intentionally homemade, trashy-looking, large cell phone made of a shower curtain and square chunk of foam. The phone’s screen displayed the video and acted as a third character to play along with the two violins. Two large projections of the film were also displayed on the walls surrounding the performers. In addition to being about garbage, one of the aims of Dead Horse Bay…thoughts from the future… is to create a feeling of human solidarity with non-human objects. My other aim was to have the work explore the demonic nature of our cell phone-obsessed reality. Through our phones, our minds are being shaped and controlled by machinic algorithms in ways beyond our full knowledge. The technological singularity has arrived in its nascent phase and we can feel it controlling us. Every time we turn the thing on, we should in some sense say to ourselves “This is a portal into another dimension, do I want to stick my head into this vortex to be devoured?”
NYC world premiere (featured in this video):
February 22, 2020
Tenri Cultural Institute
New York City
Aimée Niemann, violin
Charlotte Munn-Wood, violin