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Aurora Nealand and Goat in the Road's KindHumanKind premiered at the CAC in March 2019, running for three sold-out, unforgettable performances. In April 2020, the work was scheduled to return to the CAC before COVID-19 cancelled our spring performing arts season. In lieu of bringing you the live performances, we are excited to present Behind The Curtain: Designing KindHumanKind, an interview series featuring chats between CAC staff members and the designers and directors of KindHumanKind to provide behind-the-scenes insight into their exciting creative processes.
Explore Behind the Curtain: Designing KindHumanKind:
This series is part of ArtOrbit, your online guide to art and artists from the CAC and around the world.
In Part V of Behind The Curtain: Designing KindHumanKind, Laurie Uprichard, CAC Director and Curator of Performing Arts, interviews Aurora Nealand, New Orleans-based musician and performing artist, to discuss the unique challenges that arose from transforming her album The Monocle into the spellbinding multi-disciplinary performance KindHumanKind.
About Aurora Nealand
Aurora Nealand is a sound artist and multi-instrumentalist based in New Orleans. Voted "Best Female Performer” and "Best Saxophonist" in the 2016, 17, 19 Gambit & OffBeat awards, Nealand has become a prominent force in the New Orleans music scene since she first arrived in 2004. She is widely recognized as a saxophonist and band leader for The Royal Roses. In addition to leading the Royal Roses, Nealand is also the leader/frontman of New Orleans premier rockabilly band Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers. Nealand has performed as a featured artist at national & international festivals including Summerstage NYC, Istanbul Jazz Festival, Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Natal (Brasil) Jazz Festival, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Stockholm Jazz Festival, New Orleans Jazz Festival, and Big Ears Festival.
Laurie Uprichard: KindHumanKind started as a solo album, The Monocle, and it was some years in the making. How did it evolve from that to a project that involved other artists and other genres? What was it that you wanted to explore beyond the songs themselves?
Aurora Nealand: As someone that organizes/leads a number of bands, there came a point where I really wanted to be able to have a self-sustaining solo project - this was, of course, both terrifying and thrilling. The Monocle is the moniker I started using for my solo project of original songs and performance art pieces - the idea being that it was looking out at the world through a singularly different eyeball. After several years of sporadically performing as The Monocle I had developed a number of songs and pieces that I liked, but which were of course limited, musically speaking, by the instruments that I could play at one time (which were usually accordion, voice, and sloppy foot drums). When I eventually went into the studio to record an album, I allowed myself to put in all the parts of the music that I couldn't play as a solo artist, but was hearing in my mind’s ear; multi-tracking and overdubbing various instruments, vocal harmonies and textures, etc... I've often said that the album KindHumanKind, is probably the closest someone would get to hearing what it sounds like inside my own mind, because it's just me overdubbed on top of myself over and over. However, once I had actualized/orchestrated these various parts onto the songs, I found it was hard to go back to playing them solo, because so much of the depth and intricacies were missing, and so I approached other musicians and artists I love and admire to help me re-actualize the songs and create a world out of the feelings and thematic material. Anytime that you genuinely allow another artist to step into, interpret and create with your source work, something magical and transformative can happen to the work; it becomes larger than yourself and entire canyons of intricacies and through-lines can be forged that you may not have intended as a solo builder. Through much of the music I found there were these recurring themes of layering, internal voices and external systems; vulnerability and bureaucracy kept folding over each other, and I wanted to explore really creating an actual physical SPACE that these sounds and songs could move within. It was a little bit like imagining if each song was alive and lived in a house; we were trying to give a snapshot into the habits of these songs, their living rooms and their strengths and weaknesses, including the mess they left after a late-night snack, the furniture, bad wallpaper and uncomfortable-nouveau renovation or dusty floors, that they lived in, etc...
LU: What led you to invite Goat in the Road to collaborate on this project? We have lots of theater directors in New Orleans, what was it about them and their process that made you want to work with them specifically?
AN: I have been an admirer of Goat in the Road's work for a long time; over the past 10 or more years that we've been in each other’s orbit it's been inspiring to watch them grow and evolve as a company. I find the Goats are consistently creating thought-provoking, challenging, beautiful and immersive drama based in ensemble and devised work, and I was really inspired by the process they proposed, which felt very collaborative amongst the designers. I also have been friends and peers with Chris Kaminstein and Shannon Flaherty for quite some time and I truly appreciate their ability to bring play, humor and deep examination into a process. The imagery and ideas that we generated together definitely felt more informed and rich than what I could have done if I had just written a standard "script" for how the piece would look and feel, and handed it down to someone to execute exactly. The structure that the Goats brought to the development process really allowed for each designer’s interpretation and ideas to be considered, which was amazing.
LU: How did you take your solo vocals and re-arrange them for 4 voices and instrumentation? I guess I’m curious, as I’m not a musician (and it’s not exactly the same as turning a solo dance into a quartet), as to how much is a technical craft exercise and how much experimentation is involved.
AN: When I was arranging the songs for this particular ensemble (4 voices, viola, accordion, drums), I physically notated much of it. (The exact vocal harmonies I had already set and written, since I had recorded multi-tracked with my own voice most of the songs with 4 voice parts on the album.) However, when we rehearsed as an ensemble, the three incredible musicians that I worked with were able to jump in and provide feedback as to which parts made the most sense to their voices, and they could also tweak some of my original notated parts. Additionally, there were some sections in the music, where I would describe a feeling and a texture, and free (feral), Tif (Lamson) & Alexis (Marceaux) would come up with their own parts on their instruments that fit that description. Much of it was technical and the learning of parts, but there was also a synergy and exploration that happened in the room as we put the sounds together and explored what that exact combination could do. Again, I feel very fortunate to have worked with Tif, free & Alexis who are not only badass musicians, but also open and supportive collaborators.
KindHumanKind was created by composer Aurora Nealand in collaboration with Chris Kamenstein and Shannon Flaherty, co-Artistic Directors of Goat in the Road Productions. The work was also created in collaboration with fellow cast members free feral, Tiffany Lamson, and Alexis Marceaux. The work featured projections by Kourtney Keller, lighting by Josh Courtney, costumes by Kiyoko McCrae, projection mapping by Dan Pruksarnukul, and an ingenious set that absorbed and refracted all these designs by set designer Jebney Lewis. Learn more about KindHumanKind at goatintheroadproductions.org.