"Placid Hosts" for Bass Clarinet/Actor/Interrogator. Bil Smith Composer. 2015
Commissioned by WPP Group, Eli Lilly and Verizon.
Performer TBD by Lottery, August 9, 2015. (7 Nominees)
This work focuses on unmasking how notational nomenclature is marshaled into the service of power, from political rhetoric and demagogy to psychological persuasion.
The Bass Clarinetist is responsible for a multiplicity of roles in this performance.
"Placid Hosts" is accompanied by a four-channel video installation based on an interview transcript from a 2014 murder investigation in the United States in which a woman was suspected of killing her husband with a Christian Louboutin stiletto heel DegraSpike Patent Red Sole Pump.
Similar to the way an interrogation room generates a power dynamic and tension from the moment a person steps inside, the layout of the installation is designed to maximize viewers’ discomfort.
Upon entering the piece, listeners hear a harsh and incessant pulsating sound composition, which is synchronized with the interview dialogue projected on two screens in blinding optic white text on vermillion backgrounds.
One screen features the police officers’ vexatious questions, the other the answers of the suspect. The authorities use interrogation tactics such as psychological manipulation, confrontation, and even empathy in order to gain trust and obtain a confession, hence the Bass Clarinetist is incarcerated, reformed or a fugitive.
Throughout, the accused person’s responses read as overwhelmed, as if they are unable or perhaps unwilling to remember or articulate their thoughts. Delays in replying translate into bursts of cadmium yellow, channel black, or optic white flashes on the screens, accompanied by the no less irritating buzzing of the processed live performance of the bass clarinetist.
The persuasiveness of this work relies on the listener's exposure to constant noise and flashes of light—which are not coincidentally methods also used for “enhanced interrogation”—leaving one with a strong sense of stress, suggestibility, and vulnerability.
This is a visceral experience of the exercise of compositional language as a coercive power, as if one’s self were the very same subject of inquisition.