Land Ob Cotton - A Tragic Slapstick is the third in a series (Landing Safely In Africa, 1991 and Darkest Night-Balthazar Joins the Sacred Company, 2001). Elements common to these pieces are an integration of original material from existing sources, use of improvisation and an examination of America's connection to "The Dark Continent" through the descendants of its once enslaved labor force.
The conceptual genesis of this work is the segment of the American Civil Rights struggle from the late 1950's - mid 1960's. Central to the work is an exploration of the conflicting sentiments that are aroused by two anthems of the American South: "Dixie", by Daniel Decatur Emmett and "Lift Every Voice and Sing", by James Weldon Johnson. These anthems stood as bookends for many Americans, symbolizing the opposite poles of the struggle for equality. They still stir deep emotions, eliciting tremors of hatred and tears of compassion. They exhaust and confound many more of us, not least because there are those mornings we wake up realizing that the battle is not over.
Land Ob Cotton - A Tragic Slapstick is an idea that I have had for a long, long time. The issue with bringing it to realization had been money. In 2006, I was selected as one of C.O.L.A. artists. It is only because of this award that Land Ob Cotton is being realized. The work incorporates projected video, prerecorded sound, actors, African dance and live music (tenor sax, trombone and tuba).
Artists involved in the project include:
- Hilja Keading, videographer
- Joseph Santarromana, video editing
- Wayne Peet, sound editing
- Michael Vlatkovich, trombone
- George Harper, tenor sax
- Giavanni ReShaé Washington, African drums, African dance, vocals
- Michael Heatherton, in the role of the barber
William Roper has side-lined with the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, American Jazz Institute ensembles, The Luckman Jazz Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Yusef Lateef, Jimmy Cleveland, Wadada Leo Smith, Horace Tapscott, Vinny Golia, Glenn Horiuchi, Clay Jenkins, John Rapson, Kim Richmond, Adam Rudolph, Michael Vlatkovich and Francis Wong. He co-leads the duo Judicanti Responsura, the Flatterzunge Trio and the quartet Double Yellow. He has received awards from the NEA, CAC, L.A. Cultural Affairs Dept., Brody Arts Fund, ArtMatters Inc., Meet the Composer, Djerassi Resident Artist Program, American Composers Forum and the Durfee Foundation. He has released two albums as a co-leader: The Lament of Absalom and Double Yellow and as a leader: Juneteenth, Roper's Darn! Yarns and If I Ran The Circus.
Land Ob Cotton - A Tragic Slapstick will see its first performances on May 26 and 27 at 8 PM. Performances will take place at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre at Barnsdall Art Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90027. This is a FREE performance. Come one, come all. Bring all your friends. It is a first come, first seated situation. So don't be late.
"A strange and bitter crop"
My one time collaborator on the piece Instruments of Decision, Dan Kwong, will also present a piece on these two evenings.
Update: The performances went very well. There was a world of difference between the two nights. Or so it seemed to me. My personal energy was much more kinetic on Friday. More extroverted. Saturday was a more deliberate and inward performance. This is true even though I had to do much more improving and acting on Saturday.
Why, you ask? LOC, though a scripted work, still allows for a great deal of agency by all of its characters. My klansmen (tenor sax and trombone) behaved one way on Friday and another on Saturday. Neither way was as had been rehearsed. Both ways, I think, improved the piece. It was a surprise to me both nights. As I say, Saturday's shenanigans required me to do a lot of acting and a different kind of tuba playing in order to make things come out the way that I wanted.
Why do I put up with such nonsense? It is not nonsense. The piece is about freedom, about having agency. It is about fighting for freedom if you have to. As well, practically all of my compositions and stage works involve improvisation in some significant way. It is part of the fun and excitement for whoever might be performing. (A lot of people won't perform the works for that very reason. Odd.) Often the audience doesn't even know. What can be more fun than that? You're making it up, them thinking you rehearsed every note and move. Roll over Beethoven! Of course, he improvised too.
The latest: Two still photographs taken for The Land Ob Cotton will appear in an exhibition that has "the nude" as its theme. The exhibition, curated by Matt Wardell, will be at the Harvey Levine Gallery in Los Angeles. The dates are August 4, 2006 - August 31, 2006. One photo is of naked watermelons (perhaps the very one you see on this page), the other of naked (nude) pig's feet. Should be a hoot!
NEWS FLASH! The video portion of Land Ob Cotton has been selected for inclusion in LA Freewaves' 10th festival of new media arts: Too Much Freedom?. The festival will take place at venues in Los Angeles during November, 2006.
See the video of Roper's Fanfares and Arhoolies on youtube
Purple Gums has a new CD: Mo' Betta Butta
William Roper is a Miraphone artist and plays Warburton mouthpieces.