“Listen first — you can always be silent,” Cassandra V. Chopourian said, encouraging a room of 15 who would contribute to a guided ritual of sorts in Greensboro’s Code Gallery. Her prompt came on the third evening of the 23rd annual Lovesphere, a creative-arts performance project devised to usher in the vernal equinox, and it elucidated one of the festival’s core values: deep listening.
Local artist and musician Gary Heidt created the festival in New York in 1996 and the couple brought it to Greensboro when they relocated nearly three years ago. Heidt and Chopourian are members of the Van Reipen Collective, a group that curates imaginative interdisciplinary works for the stage and site-specific interactive performances, and the stewards of Monday evening’s event. The annual festival began in the Glenwood Community Bookshop on March 17, merging local experimental music, spoken-word poetry and improvisational performance art.
The so-called acoustic Lovesphere Orchestra didn’t sit orchestral style; they generated an omniphonic sound by setting up in different locations around the bookstore, some facing each other as a black Sharpie sketch of Karl Marx looked on. Many of the day’s performers are involved with the Perceiver of Sound League, which hosts a monthly performance series featuring avant-garde improvisational music.
They repurposed their instruments in unconventional ways like rubbing empty water bottles on the strings of a guitar, using a standing bass as percussive instrument and sliding chainmail across a djembe. Most notably, 7-year-old Mathilda PE wielded pine cones, broken tile pieces, marbles and fallen leaves to produce unusual sounds from her snares and cymbal.
Laurent Estoppey walked outdoors with his saxophone at one point, sharing his frenetic sound with the Glenwood neighborhood. Responding intuitively to negative auditory space took precedence over feverish crescendos. When the final song dwindled, audience members heard birds chirping in the late afternoon, and it was sublime.
A few miles away in downtown Greensboro, an entirely improvised performance dubbed GAH!: Greensboro Art Happening! welcomed the solar new year on Tuesday in the back room of Scuppernong Books. Graham Holt, a local criminal defense lawyer, read aloud a poem he wrote during the March 17 show over the course of about an hour as musicians and actors interpreted his words in front of a small audience.
Heidt, Bryan Crotts, Dave Doyle and Richard Gross maintained a folksy, foreboding soundtrack with electric and acoustic guitars, a French horn and a number of percussion instruments.
“There used to be a lot a’ weeping in the South,” Anita Woodley moaned, embodying a great-grandmother resting weary in a wooden rocker. “Some trees weeped bodies…. Blood in the leaves, blood at the root….”
Woodley, a North Carolina journalist, actress, playwright, poet and free-jazz vocalist, has improvised alongside a rotating cast of Lovesphere performers in past years. This year, Gavin Glass joined her on their high-ceilinged stage, lined with used books and cardinal-red brick.
His movements varied from ecstatic to grotesque. Within the span of an hour, he became a playful boy, an exulted yogi, a hunched and menacing gargoyle and other creatures unknown. His guttural utterances inspired unease.
Early on, Woodley wove through the audience asking who would like snap peas from a thin plastic grocery bag. Some accepted and set them aside, while others ate the raw treat. One man tucked his behind his ear like a pencil, attention unwavering in the presence of a clever actress capable of appending humor with the moribund.
Referencing the peas inside the crisp vegetable she said, “Sometimes you have beans in your breasts that sprout and turn into monsters… If you feel somethin’ not movin’, like a bean, you might have breast cancer.”
Woodley explained how to perform self-examinations, encouraging audience members to loosely follow along. They did.
“Then ya need ta lean over in front of the mirror,” she said. “If it looks like there’s a dimple, that means there’s somethin’ pullin’. Dimples belong on your face and below your waist.”
“There is no time,” Holt read from a seat to her left. “There is no present. There is only pressure — pressure to form the tame cat.”
At that, Glass emitted a nearly non-stop low-pitched purr and lurked about the space on all-fours.
“Have a seat,” said Woodley, fanning herself with a single collard. “We’re gonna listen ’til we hear the voice of Gah.”