Performed with sampled archives, video, field recordings, and live musicians, Shawnee, Ohio (2016) critically engages ecology, energy, place, and personal history to ask: What are the stories of people from a rural town? What are their memories and thoughts of mining? Of fracking? What are the sounds of a town fighting to survive after a century of economic decline and environmental degradation? These sounds are used as compositional material reflecting layers of history in Appalachian Ohio. Shawnee’s history includes coal, gas, oil, and clay extraction, and the formation of early labor unions. The town’s downturn and partial restoration act as an ethos of the struggles and hopes of the larger region, now immersed in a controversial fracking boom. Shawnee, Ohio considers these histories, evokes place through sound, and listens to the present alongside traces of the past.
Together, the music, photos, and video focus on eleven aural portraits of local residents recounting their lives, work, friendships, and deeds. They talk and sing of mining, disasters, underground fires, murders, social life, protest, and hope. They include women and men; they are black and white; and they are across generations and centuries. I weave their voices together with my own experiences of visiting Shawnee, and recount the story of my grandfather Mordecai Williams as a young man living there. Past and present are tangled together through music, images, and words.
Shawnee, Ohio is co-commissioned by the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University, Duke Performances at Duke University, and the Contemporary Arts Center (Cincinnati). Shawnee, Ohio is a project of Creative Capital, and also received funds from the Ohio Arts Council. Its premiere was at the Wexner Center on October 27 and 28, 2016.