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Jane Benson: The Splits

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Jane Benson: The Splits
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“The Splits” involves the bisecting of string instruments into two halves, creating two separate instruments. The halves must then be played together to complete a tune and are, thus, for duets (quartets, octets or dectets) only—pieces which are being created in collaboration with musicians and composers.  


The Splits is a new collaborative visual and musical project that extends Jane Benson's ongoing interest in transformation into the realm of collaboration and performance.  Centered on acts of cutting and splicing, regeneration and proliferation The Splits will gather artists, performers and audiences across borders of geography, nation, and identity, to create a series of multimedia events dedicated to the concept of change.


As if caught in various stages of molting, Ms. Benson's work  explores the transition and transformation of both physical materials and conceptual categories. In every phase she finds or cuts her way toward the pleasure and humor in becoming something else, often by turning things physically and ideologically inside out or upside down.  Thus, in “Wig Head (Ann and Jane)”, 2009, clay family portraits are worn as toupees; in “Yellow Room (Mother)”, 2009, intricately cut floral wallpaper simulates a collapsing thicket of foliage; in “Venus, I Love You”, 2009, a prosthetic limb simulates a tree’s branch.


The Splits begins with the bisecting of various string instruments into two halves, cutting them along their length, creating two separate instruments.  The two halves must then be played together to complete a tune and are, thus, for duets (or quartets, octets or dectets) only—pieces which she is creating in collaboration with musicians and composers. The act of splitting at once destroys the integrity of the instrument as an object, and disrupts the conventional process of aesthetic creation that the instrument traditionally permits.  Splitting is not merely an act of destruction, however. Instead, it opens graceful passages for imagined evolution: the split instrument becomes a newly creative instrument, permitting the creation not only of new music, but new communities (visual artist, the composer, the musicians, and the audience).


Ms. Benson has “split” two violins, a viola, cello and double bass: all, cheap, mass-produced string instruments made in China. This choice was made after various discussions with musicians revealed that such objects were not considered to be “real” instruments at all. Thus, cutting into such a “fake” violin would spare the destruction of a beautiful, handcrafted instrument.


In addition to splitting the string instruments Ms. Benson is making a series of Split Scores (sheet music deconstructed specifically for The Splits).  Because each half of the split instruments has only two strings, and therefore plays a limited range of high notes or low notes, the scores for the performances will be deconstructed for each player.  For example, the musician playing the half of the instrument with the high strings plays from sheet music with the low notes cut away and vice-versa.


The premiere performance of The Splits will involve all ten “split” instruments performing an original score by New York composer Matt Schickele and will be held at Henry Street Settlement: Abrons Arts Center, New York, on February 27th, 2011.


The music for the premiere of “The Splits”, is itself split: duets that parry ideas back and forth, incomplete melodies searching for their other half — a surprisingly accessible wash of strings, sometimes enraged, sometimes contemplative.  Written specifically for these unique instruments, Schickele intertwines rural and metropolitan traditions in what can only be described as "alien folk music."


Benson is also exploring different performance possibilities, for example a geographically “split” duet where one musician and instrument half is in New York and the other half in Mexico.  In this instance, the duet will be completed in two geographically and politically distinct places uniting people and ideas across international boarders.  (The musicians would play at the same time, each synchronizing their performance with a live feed of the other.)  


In every phase The Splits will embrace the pleasure and humor that is to be found in being and becoming something else, and will gather people across the world together in a series of performances dedicated to the concept of change.

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