Blair Thomas and two of his collaborators, Michael Smith and Michael Zerang, discuss the impetus behind the story and music of Thomas's work, Moby Dick: The Brotherhood of the Monastic Order of Ancient Mariners Purges the Ills of Society through a Reading of the Tales of Moby-Dick.
Blair Thomas: When I assembled my quartet of performers
and I considered our age,
I also liked the inspiration for Melville
of Coleridge's poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."
So, I conceived of this notion
that we are a monastic order of ancient mariners
who are a lineage that has descended from Ishmael
that carry the torch of this story
in the way that the book is really like a memorial.
The team I brought in,
are people who like to drift out
into really uncharted areas
in terms of ambiguity or
in terms of metaphor and allegory
and not so confined by
narrative and representation.
When I started to collaborate with Michael Smith,
who is the folk singer/balladeer in this piece,
I felt like I had another person that
I wanted to tap into the relationship
between the distillment of folk music
and the distillment of puppetry as art forms.
Michael Smith: I really like his words, Mr. Melville, and when you
go through his book—that particular one—
you see all kinds of word combinations
that immediately make you feel
this could be a song . . .
this could be a song.
BT: Folk music at its best is able to
tell something very simply in a way that is very
intimate and immediate and spontaneous.
The use of folk music becomes an ally to puppetry.
Michael Zerang is a sound artist
and musician who I've worked with for two decades, and
he has really a broad breadth of things
that he brings through either his recorded work
or his live performance.
Michael Zerang: Primarily I'm using a large bass drum
as a resonator for different sounds that I'm playing.
Some of them are electronically generated
that go right into the drum,
and so it reverberates.
Others are placed on top of the drum
so whatever their quality is gets amplified
and reverberated by the drum.
I'm trying to come up with this notion,
since the four of us are sort of monk figures,
so it's kind of a monastic place that we're in.
Maybe there’s some bells;
maybe there’s some textures
that are long and sustained,
that undergird to the scenes.
BT: It's a liberation to work
with someone like Michael Montenegro
'cause his instincts as a puppeteer
are very akin to mine.
And it's important that we're
approaching all the material objects
for their resonance and their potential on the stage.
He's so very good at just suggesting hardly anything.
He says: "Let's not try to make it do very much."
And it's true, because what happens is this distillment
creates an opening for the audience
to start to enter into its richest potential
as a material object,
and this is really where puppetry excels.
We're trying to—in our distillment—
to pick only a very small portion
of the text and let it resonate.
The book is a cautionary tale:
look what happens with hubris,
how it destroys everything.
So the redemption of that comes out of that
—that's where we come up with our monastic order.
Men who have identified with that and
who have actually removed themselves from society,
which is what a monastic order does.
And it's kind of like what you do when you go on a ship
in the whaling business.
You've left the world.
You've left all the morality of that world.
You've left all the rules and the taboos
and the things that are confined
and now you're surrounded by the ocean,
which is unknowable.
We don't know what's under the surface of the water.
And this one particular whale
becomes this fixation.
And Melville so well describes
this whale that you can never see the whale.
The mystery of the sea becomes
this mystery of the universe.
Something able to entirely destroy
what we recognize as the world.