Ex-Fiancée is a solo project that is not quite a solo project. Brooklyn-based composer/multi-instrumentalist Sven Britt makes music under the direction of long-time collaborator (and husband), choreographer Chris Masters. Masters, employing the same tactics used to make his acclaimed contemporary dance work, focuses Britt’s talents to interrogate myriad issues based on the conceptual precipice of each project. The debut album, A Feast That Never Comes, is an investigation of technology’s effects on our understanding of self and others, communication, mental health, digital outrage, public vs private presentation, and cycles of abuse.
In order to arrive at a work that addresses such fraught subject matters, the precipice is treated as king, requiring extensive research, from erasures of academic articles, to songwriting as one-take exercises after a dozen hours of immersion into subject matter. The result is a process-focused album about four characters (Kate, Michael, Sarah, and Daniel), structured to invite the listener to draw their own conclusions about the existence and reality of the characters, as well as how their own lived experiences may relate to the content of the album.
Much like a seven-layer dip, or nesting dolls, the work invites you to choose how deep you want to dive. The songs can stand alone, or for some of the songs which don’t name characters, you can decide who is singing to whom. The music videos present a rich tapestry of imagery and storytelling, using Masters's unique movement tactics to realize the characters. There are always more levels to unpack, but the album is never framed as a puzzle to be solved. All levels of engagement are equally valid.
The result is work that does not function as declarative, but rather as interrogative, always leaving the listener with more questions than answers. To suppose that an artist has all the answers is hubris at its most incessant and troubling. Here, we can’t find a singular truth, because art must reflect life. Instead, you are invited to grapple with the same questions that the creator grapples with, through careful consideration of how process impacts product.
The musical and lyrical motifs that repeat throughout the album and its four music videos may be taken as clues to the intent of the artist, as it forms a recursive loop. But from there, you’re on your own. The only intent that prevails in A Feast That Never Comes is that of openness and investigation; there is no right answer, but there’s also no right question. You are hereby invited to ask your own questions, and provide your own answers. The work remains fundamentally unfinished without you.
But what are you trying to say? All I’m hearing are zeros and ones.
Sven Britt has played, produced, and toured professionally with Stranger Cat (Joyful Noise Recordings (Son Lux, Kishi Bashi, of Montreal)), a duo with Cat Martino (The Shins, Sufjan Stevens, Sharon van Etten), playing at Bonnaroo, as well as opening for Son Lux, Patrick Watson, Sebadoh, Natalie Prass, Night Beds, Indians, Emmy the Great, Yoni Wolf, Serengeti, Reptar, Surfer Blood, and Porches. Most recently, he has focused on music for immersive theatre and dance, which has been presented at La MaMa Moves! (NYC), Danspace Project (NYC), Fengchao Theatre (Beijing), Triskelion Arts (NYC), the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and The Iron Factory (Philadelphia). He has accompanied dance classes at Peridance Capezio Center, Mark Morris Dance Center, Gibney Dance Center, and the University of Iowa.
It's easy to imagine your story, but there's no way I'm gonna get it right.