It's hard to know where to start.
How often do we find ourselves deliberating so much over the optimal place at which to begin a path forward, whether in our own heads or with others, that we forget to begin at all? Who should we talk to? At which stage do we let ideas out of our heads and translate them to paper or to a screen? At the beginning, everything seems like a risk.
The uncertainty of moving forward without a plan looms on the other side. Lack of structure can be just as suffocating as structure itself, and without an initial spark we can find ourselves adrift.
And so the task is really to figure out how to start with enough buckets of paint to throw at the wall, but not so specific a set of colors that the work is predetermined. Building a certain amount of unpredictability into the process doesn't make things easier or more convenient, but it can be a necessary ingredient. And a certain amount of chaos can actually help get rid of our inhibitions around creating.
Managing this chaos, for me, is the work of process. And it is some of the work we will be doing this year as Co.operative convenes to try something new: starting from scratch, together.
This group sang together for the first time in the spring of 2019 and took shape in its initial iteration over the course of a few months leading up to a show at my apartment in Bridgeport, on the near South Side of Chicago. We sang three new songs that Ire Olagbami and I wrote and arranged for the group and shared the stage with some of our favorite artists.
This wasn’t so much an experiment in how we were making, it was a test of the form and content -- none of us had ever really sung in a vocal/instrumental group of this size, and we had to relearn how to listen, blend, and perform in a new format.
Since then we have been joined by more talented singers, honed our sound, and moved into an entirely remote format.
Our challenge this year is two-fold: a) how can we continue to push the aesthetic of this project forward, but also b) how can we also make something by and of this group?
The internet complicates things even further. As the pandemic has cut off artists’ lifelines and disrupted the viability of our trusted mediums, we have had to learn new skills quickly and on the fly, like live-streaming and home recording. Our practices now play out on Zoom, Slack, and Discord, platforms that allow for customization but ultimately can only provide so much diversity of experience.
How can we work in and through the flatness that permeates so many aspects of our online experiences to create something deeper and more human? How do we transcend the monotony and tedium of the corporatized internet to create meaning that exists in spite of these realities? It’s my hope that an intentional collaborative structure will pull us in towards each other, and towards you.
This year we will be producing our work entirely from home. Each member of the group is building a studio setup in their Chicago home designed to create high-quality recordings for this project. We are helping each other learn new software and pushing ourselves to understand the nuances of our medium in ways many of us likely never thought would be necessary.
But we will also be creating, composing, and meeting virtually a few times each week. Through creative projects and exercises we will be learning about each other and developing frameworks for collaboration and production.
Over the course of this year, the Process page of this website will serve as a kind of extended blog, offering insight into our work from members of the group. We’ll share snippets, videos, successes, and challenges.
Come spring, we’ll be done. We don't know exactly how this process will unfold, but whatever we make will be the product of tearing up what we know and starting from scratch with collaboration at the center. At a time when we need to do the same with so many of the systems in place around the world, I am excited to bring that energy to our work. We have to start somewhere, and we might as well start now.
I’m looking forward to sharing this experience with twelve of my favorite singers in Chicago, and with you.