Interview with Shelley Hirsch

Hirsch performs with Word Virus in Santa Fe.

Hirsch performs with Word Virus in Santa Fe on Nov. 23. Click Here for event listing.

For this performance you're working with JA Deane [Dino] who you've known for a while now right?
When we were both playing with bands back in like 1981 we played together a little then. He was the first person to get me to use electronics. That was at a performance at the Kitchen way back then. We were supposed to play last spring with Butch Morris in Italy and it got cancelled. Just around the time I got this gig I found out that one is going to take place again. But it's been many, many years. He was playing trombone then, and electronics, but he doesn't play trombone anymore. But I know that we'll come up with something. His landscapes are amazing to be part of.

Is this going to be mostly improvisational?
I've been taking the soundtracks of the composer Bernard Hermann, and I improvise with that, but really based on things I know about the films [he soundtracked] and kind of mixing it up with my own stories. I'll do a short version of that and see how I tie in what's happening in Santa Fe into the mix.

How do you prepare for improvisation?
With Dino we're going to spend a couple days at his place to play and figure out how that works together. That'll be great, to figure out those landscapes. But I do everything from totally composed work where I write stories to total free improvisations where I've never even met the people I'm working with. I love to explore those conversations. The other ones, where I sing with soundtracks that I make are more like building something for me to inhabit, which presses out these sonic images and language.

It seems like you're really pulling apart the boundaries of language and I think in a spoken word show most people imagine someone just standing up there reading. You're really stretching language beyond the spoken word.
I really do work with language, coming in and out of it, sometimes very abstractly, pulling narratives from it. I also have stories that I write and I might take them and see what happens.

Adding music really changes and shows what language can do.
This will be a very different kind of communication. It may work best to do total free improvisations. I remember working with Dino in the past and he really has such a wet, liquid sound that you really enjoy the immersion and what comes out of the body. As a singer I'm really working with the breath and the body. I don't want to talk about it in a new age way, but sometimes I just feel like this sponge and that the body is the biggest recorder possible. It's a storage house for memory and certain music kind of open up different parts of that. So I don't know what it will be yet. I hope it will also draw some off of what I'm looking at in the room and the people . Usually that somehow comes in the mix of things. Sometimes I suddenly start to look at somebody and their glasses will be part of the story after awhile, or a fragment of the word collage.

It seems like so many people pigeonhole themselves into being either a writer or a musician, but you seem to do so much more than that.
People definitely like to tie people into genre. I'm not a conventional performance artist, which is an unconventional thing about me, because I'm also a singer. I work with musicians, but I also do sound installations and things like that. The whole performance aspect is something other. I think of myself as a storyteller. Even if it's an abstract story, there's still that element of working with memory in some kind of narrative, even if it's way out there.

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