Message From The Artists: Vijay Iyer and Teju Cole on Blind Spot

I’m fortunate to have called Teju a friend since long before he became the household name he is today. Our collaborations have emerged slowly and organically from a camaraderie established in the early 2000s. This particular one was born in 2016 as a kind of stunt, using Teju’s photographs and writings as our stimulus. Faced with a run of six performances, I thought, “What if we actually create the piece live from scratch each time, using Teju’s riveting text and images as our score? What if the music had no permanence, but rather consisted of a set of guiding principles, orienting forces, and emotional stimuli?” If the project’s music used the vulnerability and fragility of real-time creation and dispensed with any presumption of fixity, what’s left instead of a “piece” is an aggregate of very careful listeners — a band — with a compact network of social relations: ways of listening, sounding, building, and coexisting. As Ornette Coleman summarized once when rehearsing with his band: “If you cut loose the method, what’s left is stone presence.” Teju’s collection of texts and images gives us a way to be collectively present with some unadorned, harsh truths about the world at this moment; our ritual patterns and emergent unisons offer a slowly evolving emotional correlate to his work.

We’re excited to share this project with CAP UCLA audiences. We’ve performed this project more than a dozen times, but this will be a special version of Blind Spot with guest artist Ambrose Akinmusire, a trumpet superstar and another longtime collaborator of mine who will be no stranger to listeners.

—Vijay Iyer

I know of no artist more alert to improvisation’s inextricability from composition than Vijay Iyer. I was an avid listener of his for many years, and during that time I became a friend. Then a collaborative phase began a few years ago, and that has been such a joy. We first did the Open City suite, composed for a big band in which all the members were virtuosi. A kind of super band. And now there’s Blind Spot which brings together images, words, and music in a more elusive way. Blind Spot is different each time we do it. When the lights go down, I don’t know what the opening notes are going to be, and when we get to the end of the piece, I don’t know whether we are going to end with a feeling of peace or sorrow. What I do know is that there are a five of us on stage, listening intently to each other, using a sequence of photographs I’ve taken around the world as a kind of score. A multipartite co-creation happens. The audience is part of that too: the intensity of the audience’s listening amplifies the emotional precision of the musicians.

This is the magic of live performance. Questions of scenography and sound quality aside, sitting at home watching something on your computer couldn’t begin to capture the high wire emotion that results from seeing something unfold in real time and in actual space. Of the many different ways I present my work, doing Blind Spot with this band is for me the most moving and most satisfying.

—Teju Cole