Musician and David Bowie-collaborator Martha Mooke performs some of Bowie’s most iconic songs at the Emery Community Arts Center on Thursday, Oct. 7. Mooke’s performance was a part of a three-week long smattering of events hosted by University of Maine at Farmington’s New Commons Project exploring David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” that will run through Oct. 25. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — Bowie enthusiasts, students and community members alike gathered to listen to musician Martha Mooke’s “fantasies” of David Bowie’s music in the Emery Community Arts Center at the University of Maine at Farmington on Thursday, Oct. 7.

Mooke, who played the viola that evening, collaborated with Bowie in the 2000s. The performance was a part of New Commons’ latest selection: David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” With that selection, New Commons hosts a variety of events that explore the topic in different modes. For three weeks of David Bowie, New Commons is hosting a drag performance, lectures, discussions and film screenings.

Stephen Grandchamp, a UMF professor and the co-director of the New Commons, said that “David Bowie is a topic that’s been studied in scholarship in a very productive way.”

“I know a lot of students are really interested in his visual artistry, his fashion and his exploration of gender,” Grandchamp said. ” I feel like this work in particular, the David Bowie “Life on Mars?” selection, has lent itself to a really interesting balance of students, faculty and community.”

Grandchamp, who is “very passionate about David Bowie and his music,” also led an hour-long talk exploring Bowie’s “most meaningful performances,” “visual artistry” and “his personas.”

New Commons Project selections are picked from an extensive pool of nominations submitted by people across Maine (the nomination deadline was Summer 2020). These selections have included Kendrick Lamar’s album DAMN, Jane Austen’s PersuasionThe Simpsons and author James Baldwin.

On Thursday night, Mooke performed reimagined compositions of Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” and “Heroes,” among other works. She also performed some original compositions. The reimaginations were eerie and dramatic. Mooke used loop and distortion pedals to effectively become a one-woman orchestra. When her foot wasn’t hard at work on the pedals, Mooke moved around the space. She is an expressive musician: horse hair hung off her bow from playing with force and she would get low to the ground or lean as though the music coursed through her body.

Mooke’s performance was interspersed with clips from various interviews with Bowie that highlighted his creative process — one of the themes for the evening. These clips included his famous “never play to the gallery” quote:

If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.

Mooke did not want to define Bowie’s process herself and chose the clips to “let him speak for himself.”

After her performance, Mooke spoke briefly about her work with Bowie, including performing with him at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.

The New Commons Project’s weeks of David Bowie will continue through Oct. 25 with a screening of the film The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring Bowie, and a lecture about “Life on Mars?” by UMaine professor Shelton Waldrep. The events are open to the public. More information can be found at https://newcommonsproject.org/calendar/.

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