Glorious Ravage is inspired by the writings of 19th century lady adventurers, drawing from the travelogues, journals and letters of Victorian-era explorers like Mary Kingsley and Isabelle Eberhardt (among many others). This is a panoramic song cycle for improvisers, featuring an ensemble of California improvisers and films commissioned from Bay Area experimental filmmakers.
The music is distilled from dozens of these women’s evocative and personal writings, drawing from feelings of isolation and alienation, restlessness, unflagging ambition, and wonder at the natural world and its inhabitants throughout their many adventures. Mezzacappa conjures their passions and reflections, showcasing the virtuoso ensemble through a soundscape that moves from groovy and propulsive jazz and edgy indie rock to intricate contemporary classical music. California is full of vibrant musical communities that rarely have opportunities to interact and collaborate — Mezzacappa formed the Grapevine Orchestra* to connect these communities and bring together like-minded musicians.
The films are commissions from four Bay Area artists:
- Oakland artist Kathleen Quillian creates a series of short, quirky hand-animated video “postcards,” each represents some far-off locale visited by one of these explorers – think Annie Peck climbing Mount Huascaran in the Andes or Isabella Bird atop a volcano in the Sandwich Islands.
- Marin media artist Janis Crystal Lipzin merges polar explorer (and Marin socialite) Louise Arner Boyd’s film footage from her trips to the Arctic circle with Lipzin’s own films and photos shot in the Arctic.
- Berkeley filmmaker and avid cyclist Alfonso Alvarez takes on the ways these travelers got around in the American West during and after the Gold Rush, sourcing from research on women’s bicycle adventures and visitors exploring the California region by steam ship, stage coach and train.
- San Francisco filmmaker and curator Konrad Steiner addresses one of the more unsettling aspects of these women’s narratives—the exploitive and racist Colonial system that made their travels possible—by exploring the idea of absence: all that might have been in place before the white settlers and explorers arrived, and calling attention to the indigenous voices excluded from these travelers’ accounts.
Want more lady adventurers and song cycle goodness?
+ Check out creator Lisa Mezzacappa’s interview with Cisco Bradley, writer, booster and documenter of the improvised music scene, for his blog Jazz Right Now. Read the full interview here.
+ Prepare your ears with audio clips from Lisa Mezzacappa and her collaborators. While you’re there, poke around her website — can you find the collection of 1850s “pictorial letter sheets” from the Bay Area discovered during research for Glorious Ravage?
*The Grapevine Orchestra is Fay Victor, voice; Nicole Mitchell, flute; Kyle Bruckmann, oboe; Vinny Golia, woodwinds; Cory Wright, woodwinds; Darren Johnston, trumpet; Michael Dessen, trombone; Dina Maccabee, viola/violin; John Finkbeiner, electric guitar; Mark Dresser, acoustic bass; Lisa Mezzacappa, acoustic bass, conductor; Myra Melford, piano and harmonium; Kjell; Nordeson, vibraphone/percussion; Tim Perkis, electronics; Jordan Glenn, drum set/percussion