BAASICS.4: Watershed — Field Trip #5: An Invocation


Karl Cronin; December 2013

Last week, Selene and I chatted with BAASICS.4: Watershed presenter-performer Karl Cronin over drinks at a Mission District pizza joint. Karl is no stranger to BAASICS; he presented as part of BAASICS.1: A Live Animal and later served for a year as a member of our inaugural Board of Directors.

Basically, BAASICS can’t get enough of Karl Cronin…and with good reason! Karl is an accomplished composer and singer-songwriter, but he is also a talented visual and performance artist who, like the members of the BAASICS team, is naturally inclined toward interdisciplinary thinking.

During BAASICS.1, Karl introduced the audience to his “Somatic Natural History Archive,” a project for which he is “document[ing] with his own body representational expressions of 10,000 U.S. plants and animals.” Writing about the SNHA in 2011, I deemed Karl “something of a latter-day shaman” because his art practice, as I saw it, was about cultivating empathy with other lifeforms and sharing some of that “magic” with viewers of the videos he cataloged on the SNHA website. I’ve since learned, however, that Karl doesn’t conceive of his SNHA work as performance art; instead, it is a kind of research, an investigation into different ways of being. Outdoors, in quiet dialogue with the animals, plants, and landscapes he encounters, Karl attempts to “stop trying to figure it out and to just start being in it.” These experiences of “being in it” — a communion with other facets of the animate world — become the raw material for his compositions and songs, but they also inform Karl’s overarching worldview.

The question that compels Karl’s recent composition and lyrical work is a challenging one. How can storytelling and music create an invocation of a place or phenomenon? For BAASICS.4: Watershed, Karl took a road trip to the Hetch Hetchy Valley. As many Bay Area readers will know, the 1923 completion of the O’Shaughnessy Dam on the Tuolumne River resulted in the flooding of the Hetch Hetchy Valley and the creation of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which has served as the primary water source for the San Francisco Bay Area since the 1930s. The Tuolumne River, a major tributary of the San Joaquin River, is a branch of the greater San Francisco Bay watershed, but the aqueducts, tunnels, dams, and hydroelectric plants of the Hetch Hetchy Project might be thought of as an engineered offshoot of the watershed as well.

Karl’s visit to Hetch Hetchy granted him the firsthand experience he needed in order to compose an original response to that landscape, which he has titled “we were once, you and I, the same water.” Selene and I are thrilled that this piece for voice and string quartet will be premiered as part of BAASICS.4: Watershed. Karl describes the piece as a meditation, and his January 18th performance with the Americana Orchestra will experiment with stylized speech, a kind of musical narration or musing that accompanies the score.

We Were Once (sample)

A selection from Karl Cronin’s score for “we were once, you and I, the same water”

We hope you’ll join us for it!

Image credits: photograph of Karl Cronin, © Christopher Reiger, 2013; reproduction of Karl Cronin score selection, © Karl Cronin, 2013

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