A Necessary Music is a science fiction film about modernist social housing. A musically conceived piece, referencing the video operas of Robert Ashley, the film explores the social imaginary of a utopian landscape through directed attention to the voices that inhabit it.
Roosevelt Island is a small sliver of land situated between Manhattan and Queens, intersected by the Queensborough Bridge. Formally known as Welfare Island and originally home to New York’s largest insane asylum, a small pox hospital, and a range of other 19th century municipal facilities for incarceration, it now houses one of the cities most visible, yet little-known modernist social housing projects. The subject of several architectural competitions during the 1960’s that employed the island as a laboratory site, its current status is the result of the winning entry of Philip Johnson. Johnson’s master plan proposed a mixed income, enclosed utopian community; a bucolic concrete enclave, divided into three residential developments.
Treating the medium of film as both a musical proposition and a proposal for collective production, A Necessary Music employs the resident of New York’s Roosevelt Island as its authors and actors, gathering together texts written by them and using them to construct a script for the film. Casting seventeen residents to enact these lines accompanied by a fictional narration take from Adolfo Bioy Casares ‘ 1941 science fiction novel ‘The invention of Morel’, the film deploys fiction as a tool to frame and activate its site. Self-consciously dissolving from attempted realism to imagined narrative, what begins as a process concerned with sociality becomes instead a ethnographic fiction about place and community, and an investigation into representation itself.
A project by artist Beatrice Gibson with composer Alex Waterman. Narration by Robert Ashley. For more information see www.anecessarymusic.org.