Of Collaboration: Two Perspectives: One Performance; Part 2

By Bill Wolter

September 1, 2009, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

I find collaboration the best way to get my work done. Without a deadline and performance to work toward it’s difficult for me to create anything at all. My hat goes off to artists who create of their own will, without this external pressure. If I take on the challenge of collaboration, I’m bound to complete work that would otherwise not exist.

For me composing is painstakingly slow, it’s not easy, it’s work and to do it I need to shut out the external world. In the present day of attention deficit disorder, I’m so fragmented it’s hard to find the space to work. Shuting off the internet, phone, and closing the door to a quiet room is the only way I can get anything done. As a musician, composing is a chore compared to the immediate playfulness of performing music. Collaboration helps to focus the arduous task of composition while providing a context for its presentation. Enter Amy Lewis, a fine dancer, choreographer, friend, and collaborator, who often requests me to create music for her dances.

To create content, my methods of working are quite simple, I improvise melodies, harmonies and rhythms on an instrument or in my mind and then write them down and orchestrate this for musicians. Working in the aural sensual realm, I like to intuitively touch and play with the notes and let the sounds determine what form the work will take. I rarely have a mathematical idea like Amy, where she is mapping forms of movement into an ordered form. Despite our differing methods something good will arise, I trust that we both do good work. It’s more important that we are creating period; we try to refrain from being overly critical in our methods, and rather we continue to nurture our creativity.

I find that many dancers traditionally choose to work with already composed music. Perhaps something about the music will allow the dancer to imagine movement. A more challenging route is to create something from scratch, both dancer and musician. With our more formal terms of choreographer and composer, Amy and I seek to bridge the gap between two different pattern languages of sound and movement. We’ve found a successful working method: Amy’s requests of beats per minute, meter, and duration – and I create music within this given rhythmic framework.

More recently we are attempting to create simultaneously: composing and choreographing at the same time. We call this, “in and our of synch.” I write a musical score with different metric combinations, say 4/4 that shifts to 5/8, like a shifting rhythmic canvas. She then comes up with movement that overlaps and lines up at certain points. The general effect is two scores coming together in points of sychronicity and chaos. What we’re attempting to see is a seemingly unexpected and random alignment surfacing from such a structure. We’ll see how it pans out.

I’m not satisfied creating music and never having someone hear it, so I seek out others to give me a bit of pressure to get the job done. But there’s also an internal necessity, I think all artists have this blessing or curse, that when they are not creating something, things don’t feel right. A successful artist needs to come to terms with both an externalized deadline and their internal necessity. As Amy’s composition deadlines loom over my head I’m back to the keyboard, pencil in hand, playing some sweet melodies, chords and rhythms. It’s both my own need, and the need of my collaborator that gets the work done.


Bill Wolter is a composer, guitarist, and audio engineer. A restless collaborator who constantly seeks the most diverse and challenging musical experiences, Bill performs frequently throughout the San Francisco Bay Area with a wide range of musicians and artists.

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