Reflections on Melissa Dunphy’s June (2012)
June was presented as part of the recital-film project, I take the long way there. For more information about this program, check out my projects.
My family and friends will tell you that I am something of a Luddite, never acquiring comfortable fluency with my computer, outside of Internet searches, word processing tasks, and copious albums on Google Photos. As I navigated the beginnings of my career as a freelance artist, however, I reluctantly embraced certain means of marketing myself: a YouTube channel and a website, which I created after being told one too many times that I simply “did not exist” without them.
I must admit that after managing both for over eight years and finding some joy in controlling aspects of public self-representation, I still find these online landscapes overwhelming and insecurity-inducing. I will never be able to fully accept the callous and casual rejection of a “thumbs-down” from a total stranger, who may either completely dislike my work (and feel inclined to anonymously tell me so), or who simply wishes to inform an algorithm of their aesthetic preferences.
I reveled in live performance because, no matter how much I wished to control, mold, influence, and shape the final product, I was always forced to eventually let it go; the performance did not exist outside of a single moment, and whatever versions of ourselves that my collaborators and I performed for a particular audience, they too dissolved.
As stay-at-home orders fell into place, and Peabody Institute shuttered its doors last March, my musical (and daily) life was inundated with new technology. Suddenly, to function in a virtual realm, I researched microphones, microphone stands, audio interfaces, headphones, audio and video editing programs, not to mention learning about Zoom, Cleanfeed, Soundtrap, Audacity, and DaVinci. I also procured a large pile of wires, some of which would clearly connect to certain machines, and others which are still a complete mystery to me. While many performers were already engaged with technology as an innovative means of creating, amplifying, and disseminating art, I, for better or for worse, had not. Overnight, live performances were cancelled, rehearsals became obsolete; all accompaniment tracks were pre-recorded, and in filming ourselves for various projects, lip synching was the necessary order of the day. Not only did I feel uncomfortable handling this technology, but I was inexperienced with acting for film, lip synching, and the most basic audio and video editing skills. To make matters worse, I loathed listening to recordings of myself, especially after years’ worth of emotional baggage from pre-screening tracks that never seemed quite good enough and were often followed by a stock rejection email.
In July of 2020, as I considered whether to continue virtually with the second year of my Doctoral degree or defer, my voice teacher offered a piece of excellent advice, which I found painful to accept at the time. She advised me that, if I chose to return virtually to our Peabody academic and creative lives, I needed to “buy in” to the experience in whatever way I genuinely could; it would be the best and only means of navigating whatever came next. She did not mean that I would disingenuously always enjoy our latency-riddled lessons, or the fact that I still cannot “share my screen” smoothly for a Zoom presentation without feeling the weight of a classroom’s eyes watching me fumble with my trackpad. She challenged me to see what I could make of a virtual performance world, which was simultaneously confining, confusing, but still full of possibility. The hard truth was that I also no longer had the immature luxury of rejecting it outright.
Premiered in 2012 at the Voice of this Generation and Network for New Music, June is a two-movement work for voice and looper pedal by Philadelphia-based composer Melissa Dunphy (b. 1980) and poet Lauren Rile Smith. As a performer, poet, and founder and producer of Tangle Movement Arts, an all-female aerial dance theater company, Rile Smith describes the interconnected nature of the questions that she explores through her interdisciplinary work as both a poet and aerial artist. These questions often center around queer relationships and “representing bodies… and women and feminism, and what it means to have a body…”  In a 2016 interview with Cathy Hannabach for the podcast Imagine Otherwise, Rile Smith details her investment in “depicting female strength and relationships between women…Though this sometimes feels really basic, it also feels deeply essential to us, in part because we live in a world in which relationships between women are underrepresented in media or squashed into stereotypes, even in sometimes places where we would expect to have them made central.”
In June, Rile Smith depicts two distinct visions of the month of June: one in which the protagonist is subsumed by the sweltering room of a house in summer, a veritable “oven” in which the passage of time slows. Surrounded by this sense of stasis, June’s protagonist reflects on what once was, stating, “I go shopping in my own past– those well-worn handles, broken jars, alone with you. Can you let me know, the sound that travels back…” The second poetic segment of June, from which I take the long way there excerpts its title, occurs a year later. The protagonist now finds themselves in nature, contemplating the clouds, trees, and sunset. Time inevitably rushes on, and the cycles of life and death continue. They observe, “The rush of days don’t care about your heart… Where were your words? Now, I am: soundless, happy, another pin on the trestle, spoke on the wheel.”
In interpreting June, I was drawn to its depiction of these two very distinct states of being, both of which I have experienced over the past year of pandemic life: feelings of monotony, stagnation, powerlessness, deep sadness, a nostalgia for some sort of past self, as well as the grateful escape into nature with my partner and dog, hiking paths together, taking a multitude of walks, and marking time by looking out my window, all of which I took for granted previously.
While June was originally conceived for voice and looper pedal, for the purposes of I take the long way there, I created this rendering of June via looping with myself on Soundtrap, a multi-tracking audio recording platform, which I learned to use over this past year. Musically, June represents one of my attempts at “buying in” to a virtual performance life. It also flatly broke me of my pessimistic inability to listen to my own recorded voice, since I spent hours considering loops upon loops of myself. Ultimately, June serves as the first opportunity I have ever had to sing with myself.
- Cathy Hannabach, “Imagine Otherwise: Lauren Rile Smith on Feminist Circus Art,” Ideas on Fire, March 9, 2016, https://ideasonfire.net/5-lauren-rile-smith/.
- Hannabach, “Imagine Otherwise.”
- Melissa Dunphy, “June,” bandcamp, https://melissadunphy.bandcamp.com/album/june.