when the great fires were lit on the other side of the ocean


when the great fires were lit on the other side of the ocean is a performance project engaging with the legacies of early scientific modernity and their relationships to experimental sound practices and archival preservation. Borrowing its title from the psychogeographical excursions of W.G. Sebald, when the great fires… takes its own journey through real and imagined histories of electricity, using myriad perspectives and mythologies around electrical force to re-enchant its ubiquitous presence throughout American industrial, spiritual, and vernacular narratives. The work posits an “almost-could-have-happened” scenario set in North America around the turn of the 20th century: when electricity, the very force that undergirds our current digitized reality, remained mysteriously nascent in a space of imagination and experimentation as a new unwieldy, yet magical phenomenon.

Fantastical philosophies and prophecies around electricity were central to the belief systems of early sound recording luminaries, eschatological prophecies of the Spiritualists, and complex political players crucial to the founding of our current age. This particular era and its manifold perspectives about this new “endless” source of power allowed individuals from a wide array of social strata to explore their visions and fears of the immanent modernity – a time of intense introspection on the precipice of a fundamentally changing world. This performance integrates a live lecture presentation by independent musicologist and scholar Anthony Gilbert Williamson with a world premiere of a newly composed work by Weston Olencki, written for TAK Ensemble.