On Spending Time With Time With People (With People)
Tim Parkinson’s opera Time With People is without doubt a curious and unconventional work of art; a stage strewn with hundreds of objects immediately imparts this. However, it employs the recognizable versus the shrouded, the everyday versus the unique, and the individual versus the collective in ways that speak to everyone.
Like most operas, this collection of works (numbered Op. 1 to Op. 7) is considerably longer than the average piece, our realization running roughly seventy minutes. But when one thinks of opera in the “traditional” sense, one’s associations would be both useful and misleading. For while many of the trappings (such as conventional singing and instrumental accompaniment) are left behind, essential operatic qualities are most certainly present—those of a temporal nature. It is the temporal arts (as well as their intersection) that form the core of this work, including music, theater, dance, and storytelling. The music one encounters is in many forms; now recorded and canonized, now rhythmically notated, now “sight-heard” on headphones and recreated for the audience. But this semi-conventional music works in tandem with a multitude of other musical sounds that can be resultant (e.g. walking through objects) and/or intentional (e.g. shaking a box to hear what happens). Interactions on the stage are prescribed to a degree, but both the group and the individual must make preplanned decisions and decisions in the moment. The one opus overtly involving dance specifies repetitions and spacialization, but not the specific body movements. And the stories that it seems to convey can be as grand as the gradual discovery of the world of music from the domain of sound or as private as recalling a childhood memory; in any case, the narratives one infers provide many avenues of thought to follow.
Reflection, be it fleeting or protracted, is a necessary part of preparing, performing, and experiencing this work. The score itself leaves a significant amount of decision-making to the performers, which is one reason a.pe.ri.od.ic (whose members are very much at home with this process) is well-suited to performing it. As is often the case with scores largely based in text descriptions, what is merely implied or is intentionally left out can be as important as what is explicitly stated. Many rehearsals over the course of months have given us answers (and questions) that would be difficult to obtain otherwise. Also quite tellingly, the spoken/chanted/whispered text of several movements are overtly reflective. With phrases such as “i wonder what is happening now in the performance,” it comments on how spending time with each action can cause beautiful, unique results, but can also create a feedback loop where one’s observation of an event is difficult to distinguish from the event itself.
This reflection is given to/asked of the individual performer, the collective of performers, and the audience. Much of the score helps individuals guide their own actions, but the group must decide if and how these individuals interact. In some parts one seems to be isolated in one’s own world of thought and experience (thus our choice to use cell phones). In others, the experience is more collective, like that of a party or religious ceremony. Some parts have distinct soloists and choruses, others have no such distinction, and yet others are veiled in their hierarchy. Parkinson has left many questions for the performers and audience to solve themselves, which is fitting considering the nature of the words one hears, sometimes either questions themselves or isolated words (“apart,” “together”) that act as magnets for meaning.
Collective effort is also a more explicit necessity from time to time. For example, in one opus the performers must work together in a task of recalling a list of items virtually impossible to memorize on the spot (and given anew for each performance), but the collective memory of us all is more powerful than any individual. On a larger scale (and as with any opera) our collaboration across the entire piece has yielded greater results than any one person could achieve. And our reflections have helped us shape a work that is itself reflective.
Circular logic need not make one dizzy, however. The portrayal above threatens to overshadow some of its most endearing elements; humor, fascination, playfulness, loneliness, non sequiturs, and even arcane film references all play a part. It is the evoking of many subjects, the physical interaction of many objects, and the convergence of many people that makes the piece so realized and alive. May you find as much enjoyment in it as we have.