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This last August, we held a workshop/performance of Decameron with performers Michael Chinworth, Soomi Kim, Paul Pinto, Kamala Sankaram,  and Dax Valdes at Bennington College. This is a work-in-progress of a piece that’s both performance and installation, loosely based on Bocaccio’s Decameron.


Decameron is a series of 100 fragments, created over many years by asking people what music is stuck in their head. I find that question very personal (it’s like telling someone your dreams) though most people found the question easy to answer. I cut up each song into small fragments, and rearranged them into a 15-second miniature, made up of the offbeats and asides of the music, never the chorus. I saw this as an act of earworm exorcism—each tune will seem familiar, but to me precisely wrong. I’m inspired by speaking in tongues, which is often a phonemic scrambling of one’s native language. Biblically, it’s also a gift given to two people simultaneously, the speaker and one other person who can understand those phonemes—or the original, “correct” tune. I then arranged the 100 minicompositions into a kind of garland, and then each one started to morph and change each other. The rhythm of counting unifies the piece musically, but also at times blurs the sense of progress–to me a reference to memory and aging.

The original Decameron is Boccaccio’s 14th-c. epic, in which 10 youths retreat to the country in a time of plague. There the youths tell 100 stories over 10 days. This piece is a distant relative of that epic: Each “story”, or person, gets their 15-second moment of fame here. I’m interested in what the listener, free to roam throughout, can make of all the samples, a metaphor for fragmentary experiences to which we try to give direction.

The hexagonal speakers and lighting system were built, cut, and hung specially for this performance, with a spiral 10-speaker sound design. The sounds of echolocation, long horns, geiger counters, and shepard tones are layered in and sent around the room as part of the design. –Nick Brooke