The Invisible Discipline Is a Thoroughly Modern Circus

By 
John Mirisola
July 18, 2019

Peter Bufano's new circus uses music technology to enhance the performance, not to replace the performers.

Image by Ben Pu
Image by Ben Pu
Image by Ben Pu
Image by Ben Pu

The circus is coming to town, but chances are it won’t sound quite like you imagine. As the circus artists juggle, tumble, and hula-hoop across the stage in Peter Bufano’s new show, The Invisible Discipline, you’ll still hear some familiar twinkling bells and accordion hum, but they'll share the mix with bombastic drums and horns, jazzy guitar and vibraphone runs, and ambient Ableton loops.

"Part of what we're doing in The Invisible Discipline is using music technology to express things that can only be expressed this way."

—Peter Bufano, assistant professor

Bufano, a member of the Film Scoring Department, received a 2018 Newbury Comics Faculty Fellowship to study circus music and modern technology, and as part of that fellowship has developed the new circus in collaboration with professional circus artists, Berklee students, and other faculty members in an intensive circus music workshop.

"People have been using music technology in the circus for as long as I've been in the circus (32 years), but a lot of that technology has been used to replace musicians rather than to express something that otherwise could not be expressed," says Bufano. "Part of what we're doing in The Invisible Discipline is using music technology to express things that can only be expressed this way."

When current student Yoko Suzuki was invited to participate in the workshop, she wasn't sure just what she was getting into. “I’m a jazz composition major, so usually I’m not writing for something visual,” she says. She also wasn't familiar with the circus music tradition. But through the workshop, with Bufano's guidance, she scored several pieces for the show, including a wire act and the main character's theme.

The show features circus artist Joel Jeske (Big Apple Circus, Ringling Brothers, Cirque du Soleil) in the starring role, accompanied by a ten-piece orchestra led by Tony Award–nominated drummer Mike Dobson and including Berklee students, faculty, and alumni.

Check out to WBUR's Morning Edition coverage of The Invisible Discipline, and come see (and hear) a thoroughly modern circus on July 19, at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee Theater, 31 Hemenway Street, Boston.

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