Laura Steenberge

Lampo Annex

Monadnock Building
53 West Jackson Boulevard #1656
Chicago, Illinois 60604

To the Winds, From the Machine is a solo performance by Laura Steenberge, designed for the close quarters of the Lampo office. Using harmonicas, air horns, voice, paper, and electric fans, she presents a sequence of gradually shifting sound textures. The California artist’s aspirations may be as high as her means are low—to create the ineffable with ordinary materials, in a confined space, and little time.

Attendance is limited to four people in each 20-minute performance, offered twice per hour, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.

The new work is both an exercise in stillness and an experiment in acting upon objects at a distance. Steenberge distributes her gear throughout the room, but she remains stationary, remotely engaging “different kinds of air.”

She writes:

“The set-up is inspired by Baroque theater machinery, such as crank-driven machines that create the sound of wind and the appearance of roiling oceans. There is a connection between this machinery and the plot device of deus ex machina, or, god from the machine: because the technology was available to lower a performer from the rafters, it was easy for a winged deity to suddenly descend and save the day.

“I am drawn to these moments, when the supernatural is performed. Heaven being “up” is an excellent excuse for playing with gravity. Adjusting basic elements of range and register, orientation, acoustics, lighting, etc., quotidian objects suddenly communicate from beyond. With this in mind, the piece seeks to transform the Lampo office into a non-quotidian space.

“Since 2015 I have been using harmonica in a number of ways, and have built up a bit of a collection by now. There is something about the way that it produces harmony that I think is really nice. It is very physical—blowing loudly into the high end produces distinct difference tones, and singing into it allows you to feel the beating patterns of harmonies directly in your throat.

“The air horns are new, acquired in July. By stuffing fabric into them, their sound becomes high and unpredictable, almost like a synth. With both the horns and harmonicas, there is an aspect of the uncanny in the way their sound can confuse the perception of acoustic vs. electronic.”

Laura Steenberge (b.1981, Thousand Oaks, Calif.) is a performer and composer living in Santa Cruz, California. She performs with viola da gamba, contrabass, harmonicas, voice and other materials that engage with the physicality of sound. One of her primary areas of study is nonsense, as it relates to the boundaries of knowledge and the representation of the supernatural. This research emerges in her creative work in the form of site-specific compositions that make use of space and sound, sometimes for narrative purposes, other times for ritual practices.

Another aspect of this research focuses on mythological depictions of music. Inspired by the “mythemes” of Claude Lévi-Strauss, she borrows the structures of musical story archetypes to frame improvisations. Investigating myth in the realm of recorded music led to the Imaginary Music Radio Hour, a monthly show about music, mythology and shape, hosted by NTS from 2017-2018. Steenberge has been working with harmonicas since 2015, and in 2018 two CDs featuring works for the harmonica were released, Harmonica Fables on Nueni Recs, and The Four Winds, written for and recorded by the vocal quartet Quince.

In recent years she has worked with musicians and ensembles including Heather Lockie, Cat Lamb, Julia Holter, Sarah Davachi, Southland Ensemble, Tiffany Ng, Joey Brink, Carolyn Chen, Argenta Walther, Marco Fusi, Tashi Wada, Carmina Escobar, KCM Walker, Jessica Hemingway, Radical 2, Line Upon Line Percussion, Deso Duo, Keshav Batish, Lucky Dragons, Tim Feeney and Jessika Kenney, among others. She has studied with Sara Roberts, John Dornenburg, Michael Pisaro, Bissera Pentcheva, Mark Applebaum, Jaroslaw Kapuscinski, Paul DeMarinis, Marc Sabat, Tom Leeser, and Wolfgang von Schweinitz at CalArts and Stanford University. She is board president for Indexical, a non-profit music organization in Santa Cruz.

Laura Steenberge’s To the Winds, From the Machine is part of an occasional series of commissioned works, where artists offer short, serial, person-to-person performances, created for the the 10 x 20-foot dimensions of the Lampo office.