Live Projects: Spiral


Spiral is a multi-media tour de force that brings its audience into the AIDS epidemic at its most personal and immediate: one man's spiral into death. This most intimate of moments is blown up to theater-size dimensions, engulfing the audience in its beauty as well as its sadness.

Mr. Ostertag has brought together a stellar group of collaborators for his first work with full theatrical staging and multi-media presentation.

The libretto for Spiral is a text of the same name by acclaimed artist/author David Wojnarowicz. The text is Mr. Wojnarowicz's last work. In relentless, powerful prose, the author describes his own death, and his transformation into "a glass human, disappearing in the rain."

Beginning from these words, Mr. Ostertag has scored the work for voice and an ensemble of glass instruments created specially for Spiral by noted instrument builder Oliver DiCicco. Among these are a glass harp, glass marimba, two glass bull roars, and three unique bowed glass instruments. In addition to these crafted instruments, various goblets, bowls, marbles, a glass mortar and pestle, and amplified sheets of plate glass also serve as sound sources.

The amplified plate glass also serves as a screen for the projection of slides and film created for Spiral by scratch-animation master Pierre Hébert. Mr. Hébert's images, scratched by hand directly on to the film surface, present an ideal compliment to the stark intimacy of the text. In addition to the plate glass, the images are projected on to two scrims, the latter of which being at times suspended, spun, and held by hand. The hand-held scrim is made in the dimensions of an AIDS quilt panel.

Using electronics ranging from state-of-the-art digital instruments to an old tape deck from which tape is slowly pulled by hand, Mr. Ostertag "morphs" both spoken and sung text into the sounds of the glass, creating a "disappearance" analogous to that described by Mr. Wojnarowicz.

Spiral was commissioned by the San Francisco Exploratorium in conjunction with the "What About AIDS?" art exhibit which toured the US throughout 1996. It was premiered at the Cowell Theater in San Francisco on April 26, 1996. The European premiere was presented by the Belluard-Bollwerk International Festival in Fribourg, Switzerland, June 28, 1997.

The musicians performing in Spiral may vary according to date and location.

Two Versions Available

In response to demand from promoters who want to present Spiral but lack the resources for the full show, a smaller, less expensive version was put together in 1997.


Bob Ostertag is the recipient of a 1995 National Endowment for the Arts Composers Fellowship. He has performed throughout the United States, Europe, and the former Soviet Union. His innovative use of digital sampling has established him as an influential pioneer in the medium, creating "a musical reality in which sampling technology is used in a significant way for the first time" (Die Zeit). He has released eleven CDs of his work. He has worked with John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, Fred Frith, Mike Patton, and many others.

Mr. Ostertag has received commissions from the Lincoln Center, the Wexner Center, Austrian State Radio (ORF), Transit, the Mary Flager Carey Charitable Trust, and others.

His string quartet All the Rage was premiered by the Kronos Quartet at Lincoln Center, and presented at the grand opening of San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. His Say No More ensemble has been featured at music festivals throughout Europe, and toured the United States to critical acclaim.

David Wojnarowicz: "The briefest lives sometime leave behind the strongest vibrations," the New York Times wrote of David Wojnarowicz, writer, painter, filmmaker, photographer, performance artist, and author of Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, The Waterfront Journals, Seven Miles a Second, and Memories That Smell Like Gasoline. Mr. Wojnarowicz, an artist who continually pushed the boundaries of his art, died in 1992 of complications from AIDS. A retrospective of his art is planned for viewing at New York's Museum of Contemporary Art in 1997.

Pierre Hébert first became known for his abstract experimental films. Since 1965 his works have grown out of interdisciplinary projects, working with musicians and choreographers. Mr. Hébert has experimented extensively with engraving images directly onto 16 and 35 mm film, and has developed a new type of performance involving "live" animation scratch directly onto projected film during the performance. He has performed in several new music and jazz festivals around the world, and recently completed his first feature film, La Plante Humaine.

Oliver DiCicco founded Mobius Music in 1976 and has long been involved in record production, audio engineering, composition, and sound design. He has received several Grammy Award nominations and RIAA Gold Record Awards. He build the musical instrument sculptures that form the nucleus of the Mobius Operandi Ensemble. He produced the multi-disciplinary performance pieces Exit Vacaville, Scatterbrain, and Eating Eden, for which he also designed the sets and created large-scale musical sculptures.

by David Wojnarowicz

Sometimes I come to hate people because they can't see where I am. I've gone empty. Completely empty and all they see is the visual form: my arms and legs, my face, my height and posture, the sounds that come from my throat. But I'm fucking empty.

The person I was just one year ago no longer exists; drifts spinning slowly into the ether somewhere way back there. I'm a xerox of my former self. I can't abstract my own dying any longer. I am a stranger to others and to myself and I refuse to pretend that I am familiar or that I have history attached to my heels. I am glass, clear empty glass.

I see the world spinning behind and through me. I see casualness and mundane effects of gesture made by constant populations. I look familiar but I am a complete stranger being mistaken for my former selves.

I am a stranger and I am moving. I am moving on two legs soon to be on all fours. I am no longer animal vegetable or mineral. I am no longer made of circuits or disks. I am no longer coded and deciphered. I am all emptiness and futility. I am an empty stranger, a carbon copy of my form.

I can no longer find what I'm looking for outside of myself. It doesn't exist out there. Maybe it's only in here, inside my head. But my head is glass and my eyes have stopped being cameras, the tape has run out and nobody's words can touch me. No gesture can touch me. I've been dropped into all this from another world and I can't speak your language any longer.

See the signs I try to make with my hands and fingers. See the vague movements of my lips among the sheets. I'm a blank spot in a hectic civilization. I'm a dark smudge in the air that dissipates without notice. I feel like a window, maybe a broken window. I am a glass human. I am a glass human disappearing in the rain.

I am standing among all of you waving my invisible arms and hands. I am shouting my invisible words. I am getting so weary. I am growing so tired. I am waving to you from here. I am crawling around looking for the aperture of complete and final emptiness. I am vibrating in isolation among you. I am screaming but it comes out like pieces of clear ice. I am signaling that the volume of all this is too high. I am waving. I am waving my hands. I am disappearing. I am disappearing but not fast enough.

used by permission of the estate of David Wojnarowicz.

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