WILL HOLDER & ALEx WATERMAN

Will Holder (typographic artist) and Alex Waterman (composer) have been exploring the nature of composition for the past few years. Examining the role of printed matter in collective forms of reading and writing, their investigations have resulted in several notable works that lie midway between semiotics, typography and musicology: Agapé (Miguel Abreu Gallery, 2007), Between Thought and Sound (The Kitchen, 2008), and The Tiger’s Mind (in collaboration with Beatrice Gibson, Sternberg Press, 2012).

The book Yes, But Is It Edible? (New Documents, 2014) continues exploring this perspective by assembling typographical interpretations of the scores for the operas Dust (1998) and Celestial Excursions (2003) by American composer Robert Ashley. These two works had previously only been activated by Ashley himself and his singers (Sam Ashley, Joan La Barbara, Thomas Buckner and Jacqueline Humbert), through the technological, imaginary, acoustic, organisational, sound and visual landscapes of “Blue” Gene Tyranny, Tom Hamilton, David Moodey, Cas Boumans and Mimi Johnson.


Aside from the collaborators with whom the American composer has been working for nearly thirty years, Will Holder and Alex Waterman are the first to get hold of these scores. They are presented in Yes, But Is It Edible? along with a selection of works Ashley produced between 1963 and 2008, all of which emphasise the shifting links between the writing of music and its interpretation.

YES, BUT IS IT EDIBLE?

Through the long process that gave rise to the publication of Yes, But is It Edible?, you might say that Will Holder and Alex Waterman became librettists. The re-transcription of Robert Ashley’s works into a written form that can be read by anyone is actually an attempt to write a score for voice. Yet there are no real staves to be found in it. Although the numbers help give rhythm to the page, it is really the words and their placement—the fruit of a meticulous typographical and graphical effort—that make the collective reading possible.

Yet this collective reading is only possible if everyone can hear themselves. The reading simultaneously performed by Will Holder and Alex Waterman gives all of its consistency to Robert Ashley’s work , in a reinterpretation purged of certain passages (without music, without scenery). Beginning from the same page, they intitially both interpret the same phrases, the same score, but each in a different key. Everything is recited without emotional nuance, so we are always bordering on absurdity when it comes to the message delivered, a message severed of its coherence. We hear something of an inner voice, a stream of consciousness that becomes our own: “Picture this. War, right? [...] And it’s all around you.” (Dust).

It is the multiplied voice of an ex-soldier who lost his legs in combat. We hear his thoughts and stories while he is under the influence of morphine. When Will Holder and Alex Waterman start declaiming different texts, answering each other, superimposing each other and catching up with each other, we are actually hearing the same person. Through the reading of these texts, we seem to find ourselves faced with something other than a simple collaboration between two artists who use different tools and forms of expression. Yes, But Is It Edible? is the result of a stronger operation: it is in fact a question of transmuting the voices of the typographic artist and the composer to the point of achieving a work that, though certainly polyphonic, originates in one breath.


An event hosted by Lafayette Anticipation, Fondation d'entreprise Galeries Lafayette, in collaboration with castillo/corrales in the frame of Will Holder & Alex Waterman's European tour the 10 march 2015. 

YES, BUT IS IT EDIBLE?
The music of Robert Ashley, for two or more voices

Edited by Will Holder and Alex Waterman. Published by New Documents, 2014.

For this tour, Will Holder and Alex Waterman will be reading an hour of duets from Robert Ashley's opera's "Dust" and "Celestial Excursions".