The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered
2014 | 20'
Text by Patrick Eakin Young and Orlando Wells
Commissioned by Erratica
Chamber Opera for five voices and electronics
Part III of Triptych
I first encountered the story of Richard Nickel in a poem by Jonathan Williams. The poem is extremely short and consists entirely of found text from the writings of architect Louis Sullivan:
a flower appears
amid the leaves
of its parents plant
It’s fitting that this poem about Nickel is expressed exclusively through the words of Sullivan. Nickel’s life work was the photographic documentation of Sullivan’s buildings and in each of the photographs, we see the artistry of Sullivan expressed through the lens of Nickel. Nickel’s own voice is subsumed by Sullivan’s in these wide shots of grand victorian banks and theatres and close ups of intensely detailed architectural ornament. But the photographs have both a real human warmth and an incisive clarity that are clearly the work of Nickel. This piece is an attempt to reveal something of this personality behind the photographs.
The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered is also the title of a seminal 1896 essay by Louis Sullivan.
The electronic accompaniment in this piece is drawn from a narrow array of sound sources, specifically the Billboard US #1 Hits from dates pertinent to the narrative. Richard Nickel was married to his first wife, Adrienne, on June 10th 1950 and the Billboard #1 Hit on this date was “Sentimental Me” performed by the Ames Brothers. The sounds drawn from “Sentimental Me” represent the past, and accompany all discussion of events preceding Nickel’s disappearance. Nickel was due to marry his second wife, Carol, on June 10th 1972 and the Billboard #1 Hit on this date was “The Candy Man” performed by Sammy Davis Jr. The sounds drawn from “The Candy Man” represent the future and accompany all discussion of events after Nickel’s death. The majority of the narrative concerns the dates between Nickel’s disappearance on April 13th 1972 and the discovery of his body on May 9th 1972. The Billboard #1 Hits on these dates were “A Horse with No Name” by America and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” performed by Roberta Flack. The sounds drawn from these two songs constantly alternate and represent the uncertainty of Nickel’s fate for the twenty six days that his body remained undiscovered.
The only additional sound source is a brief audio clip of Nickel’s friend and fellow preservationist John Vinci. He describes his efforts to find Nickel, searching through the rubble of the part-demolished Stock Exchange: “…and it was raining and damp and we were, y’know, walking around saying ‘Richard, Richard.’ No Richard, and then we found his camera and hat, I think. And his suitcase.”
2013 | 70'
Written with Anna Meredith
Commissioned by New Movement Collective
Site-specific Dance Score for electronics
Dance, architecture, animation and interactive light technologies combine to create a tapestry of exploration and adventure, inspired by Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey.
Becoming directly involved with a promenade dance performance the audience are free to weave their own experience, threads of movement, structure, and live music draw participants around the striking spaces and hidden corners of a disused former chapel.
NEST was commissioned by new arts organization Stone Nest, to mark the end of a period of inactivity for the Grade II listed Welsh Chapel on Shaftesbury Avenue. Originally designed by James Cubitt in 1888 and counting 1980’s super-club ‘The Limelight’ amongst its past tenants, NMC produced a multi-sensory promenade performance breathing new life into this beautiful, atmospheric space with its colourful and wide-ranging history.
2012 | 20'
Commissioned by Rambert Dance Company
Choreography by Dane Hurst