Bad Weather

Performance of Baroque theatre noise machines

Bad Weather is a performative sound art event centered around Baroque theatre noise machines that have interested Arturas Bumšteinas – the author of the idea of the work – since 2012. The artist first worked with the sounds of baroque noise instruments in his project Epiloghi. Six Ways of Saying Zangtumbtumb (Deutschlandradio Kultur, 2013). Together with a professional theatre carpenter, for the Bad Weather project he has re-created wind, rain, sea and thunder imitation devices, identical to the ones whose canon settled in European theatres over the 17th century.

In the Baroque era, noise machines constituted a small part of the whole theatrical illusion – the one invisible to the eye of the viewer, positioned at the theatre‘s wings and behind the scene. In Bad Weather, noise machines are generators of conceptual “climate”, but like any other man-made mechanism, the wind machine is not a self-operating perpetuum mobile: its spontaneity is influenced by human (or horse) muscle tension and his / her creative will.

In Baroque theatre, the work of stage hands was often carried out by sailors, who operated stage machinery as if navigating a sailing ship. Therefore, in the gallery version of Bad Weather performance the Baroque rain, wind and thunder machines move in large empty space, following the paths of tropical cyclones and leaving traces of plant seeds they are carrying over the ocean. Phenomena of ancient climate, viewed from an ever-changing perspective, become a multifaceted experience, a ritual to get an eyeful.

In Bad Weather, the ensemble of performers remains coordinated by having replaced musical notes or choreographic instructions with weather charts from various centuries, as well as their decontextualized fragments, to organize the dynamics of the work and metaphorically “set to rotation” the wheel of natural phenomena. Performance artist Ivan Cheng has written a specific performative text for Bad Weather, telling a story of a horse named Shadow – a protagonist of the story following the performance.

Each version of Bad Weather is always slightly different, depending upon the peculiarities of the hall and overall context of the event. And what is to be said about the singing voice…? The aria is floating around in the sonic space looking for the body to pin to.

In 2019, author of the piece Arturas Bumšteinas was awarded with Borisas Dauguvietis Earring (Special prize of the Golden Stage Cross award ceremony) for innovative and original steps in the theatre (integration of sound experiments into new theatre forms in performances Olympian Machine and Bad Weather).

The performers are not making sound effects per se; what they are doing is more analogous to accomplished jazz musicians improvising their way through a well-known standard.

John Doran, The Quietus, on “Bad Weather” as premiered at Unsound” festival

Machines imitating the sounds of nature’s elements are brought to the stage of an almost archaically performative opera. Meanwhile, in the 16th–17th centuries the opera machinists did their best to hide them backstage, to involve the viewers into then nearly miraculously reproduced place and atmosphere of the play’s action. The special intrigue of Bad Weather lies in the discovery that performance may be and is something that in Baroque era was associated with non-façade side of the performance, the “backstage” of opera. When four performers operate the machines requiring hard physical work, soundscapes start emerging in front of the viewers; they are so real that one feels able to grasp them or breathe in, along with the dust of stone, sand and wood. Bad Weather not only unveils the mechanism of the theatre and creates an impression of being there (i.e. behind the stage), where the viewers shall not be, but also allows examining the matter of the theatre, involving into a true theatre of sensations: in contrast to the Baroque people, here the openly operated mechanism draws the viewers into the raging elements even more.

Rima Jūraitė, Krantai

This piece, imitating sounds of turbulent or even threatening nature, is obviously different every time, even though it has a very clear central axis – the noise machines. The piece invites to openly explore, observe and, most importantly, to listen to the environment, questioning the sources of sound and assessing the mechanical ways to excite the imagination. <…> Participation in this sound performance triggers associations with “deep listening” of Pauline Oliveros – mindful, in depth listening and sound meditation practices, encouraging being here and now and training of the attention.

Akvilė Zarankaitė, Literatūra ir menas

Let us take note of the fact that the play was created on the basis of the score that used meteorological charts. Conceptually speaking, it is a look back towards the old canon of artes liberales, based on which music is perceived as the art of harmony, akin to science. Baroque machines and method of composition seems to imprint this trace of aesthetic theory into the imagery created by contemporary artists. Truth be told, while listening to sound recording of the piece or watching its live performance nearly everything inside us suggests that the origins of such practice might also be traced elsewhere: this is witnessed by our senses disturbed by noises and rattles, the aesthetic sense recognising signs of stylisation, an intuitive capture of the location aura, susceptibility to the recording or its effect upon matter. Nevertheless, even formally we might regard this genre as mechanical machine theatre – a direct heir of the exotic art variety of the Baroque era in the present day studio, theatre or gallery. Perhaps this is where the artistic intrigue of this piece is hidden.

Tautvydas Bajarkevičius, Šiaurės Atėnai