Summertime (2004/09)

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Summertime and the living is easy
Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high
Your daddy's rich and your mama's good lookin'
So hush little baby, don't you cry.

The song Summertime was originally written and composed in 1935 by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward for the opera Porgy and Bess, based on the 1926 novel Porgy by Heyward. The story is set at the turn of the century in a small Gullah community in Charleston, South Carolina and the opera opens with the character, Clara, singing the lullaby Summertime to her baby on an early summer evening, foreshadowing the ongoing racial and socio-economic struggles that play out in the opera.

Since its creation, the song Summertime has become a popular standard and has been interpreted by musicians in the broadest range of forms. From early musical and jazz arrangements (005) to contemporary electronica and dance interpretations (120) to such anomalies as a cued square dance number (119) and a hard-core punk take (112), this particular song has no true ‘original’. It sounds vastly different each time it is performed. The versatility of the song is testament not only to its longevity but its relevance beyond its original context as its melody and lyrics continue to resonate today. The history of the song is intimately tied to the narrative of conflict in the American south and this is reflected in the liberties performers take with their interpretations. Summertime is a jazz standard, a popular bootleg track, an American classic, and the song that any number of performers can seemingly freestyle live in concert. As a collection of 125 distinct versions downloaded from the internet, Summertime comprises a veritable genealogy of American music in the 20th century.

Summertime is presented as an audio installation in different forms: a set of speakers mounted onto the facade of a building that plays each version of the song onto the street, as a multi-channel audio installation presented on headphones, and as a single-channel compilation of all 125 versions of the song mixed together according to the aleatory connections between different versions. Each audio installation is accompanied by a large poster listing the details of each song: musician, recording date, album, label and a description culled from information available on the internet.