Thinking and Existing Things: Gil Teixeira debuts “The Mind-Body Problem”
by David Bernabo
Recital continues our partnership with the New Hazlett Theater by publishing a preview and an editorially-independent review for the five performances in the 2019–20 CSA Performance Series season.
Throughout the season, Recital is meeting with each of the artists to bring you a brief profile of them and their work in the days before their opening performance. We will publish a considered review for each performance, developed from post-show discussions with a consistent panel of local experts in related disciplines.
COVID-19 officially touched down in Pennsylvania on March 6, 2020 with two confirmed cases stemming from interstate and European travel. Two weeks later, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf ordered all “non-life sustaining businesses” to temporarily shut down. The closures limited the spread of the virus, but also left many arts organizations, among other businesses, in limbo.
The New Hazlett Theater was 3/5ths of the way through the seventh season of their CSA series, a program that provides local creators with the opportunity to experiment and build a show for the venue’s well-regarded stage. One of the artists whose performance was postponed was Gil Teixeira, who was to perform The Mind-Body Problem this past April.
“If you bear in mind the topic of my show, which is the urgent need for a balance between the digital and the real world, it’s kind of ironic, “ says Teixeira. “I’ve ended up being thrown into an digital-only format, but my whole show was devised as me trying to get to people, to have a face-to-face interaction, to start a reflection on how we are embracing the digital revolution and are blindly jumping into it.”
When audiences watch The Mind-Body Problem, now rescheduled for September 3 and 4, it will be through their computer screens. The New Hazlett will stream the performance. Note: this is not a piece for camera, but a filmed performance.
So, what should the virtual audience expect? The short list contains some newly built and completely unique instruments based on the guitar, a biographical story of sorts, and a conceptual inspiration that gets to heart of how humans experience existence.
The Mind-Body Problem is an enduring issue, a dilemma that goes back thousands of years. Is the mind part of the body? The body part of the mind? Are they completely independent?
A disciple of the Buddha compared the mind and body to “two sheaves of reeds . . . leaning against one another.” Plato rated the soul (essentially, the mind) above the body, believing it to transcend time and space and to be immortal. Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas believed the mind and body to be linked, but differed on whether the mind died with the body. Princess Elisabeth of the Palatinate also believed in a link, frequently criticizing Descartes’ mind-body dualism, asking how an immaterial “thinking thing” like the mind could interact with a “thing that [merely] exists” like the body. Descartes’ disappointing answer was that there was a connection that ran through the pineal gland.
“I’m using the philosophical background of the mind-body problem as a conceptual backdrop where I place my own journey as a digital artist.” Teixeira is charting his path “from being completely all about the digital, thinking that its the one true thing” through digital burnout and retreat to his classical guitar to a present day goal of finding a balance between the digital and the analog.
“The whole genesis of this project started when I abandoned a software development project. I was thinking of entering the start up, entrepreneurial world, moving further away from the stage and my performance life. And I just decided to walk away from [the software development life]. From that moment on, I decided that I wanted to turn these last 5–7 years of being in the digital realm into a performance. That’s my way of getting catharsis. This is how I justify that detour in my artistic life.”
Born in Portugal, Teixeira trained in classical guitar and gigged with a post-rock band. While completing a post-grad in London, he “got excited about coding and what you could do with it; installation art and multimedia. I got interested in a much more abstract notion of music where music can be the entire sonic spectrum and not just musical notes.” While in London, Teixeira met his wife, a Pittsburgher, which led the couple to make a home in the Steel City.
Acting as a guide through the performance, Teixeira will directly address the audience. “I’m not an actor, but I think that’s one of the cool things about the CSA residency. It’s an opportunity to experiment and go beyond your comfort zone. This show is more like a performative documentary since I’m telling my own story.”
To chart this biographical journey, Teixeira built a set of unique instruments, all based on the guitar.
“All of the conceptual and storytelling elements will be reflected in the instruments that I’m playing. There are instruments that range from purely digital to my classical guitar to hybrid instruments that find a balanced musical solution. The guitars that I’m building are like physical metaphors for each stage of my life in digital technology.”
While Teixeira is keeping most of the instruments secret until performance time, he‘s willing to reveal the “Nylon Grainer.” Picture a sampler built on top of a classical guitar. The guitar is capable of looping sound in real-time, but can also capture very small portions of time and expand them into long, textured drones. It’s like a modular synthesizer that uses the nylon-string guitar as a sound source.
Now, if you’ve seen an electronic music show where you can’t tell if the performer is working through a MAX patch or checking their e-mail, fear not. “It was very important that I do not interact with the computer itself while on stage,” says Teixeira. “All of my interactions with the digital world are through physical interfaces. I did not want to be looking at a screen. That was a mission. I’m going to have loads of laptops, but I’m not going to be looking at any of them.”
Register here to tune in Thursday, September 3 and Friday, September 4 to watch The Mind-Body Problem. Click here for information on how to register for the events: https://newhazletttheater.org/event/the-mind-body-problem/