ICMC 2011 Review: Audiovisual works, Tuesday 2nd August

By Andrew Connor

The second day of the full conference has been quite exhausting, with so much of interest to try and get to. It’s definitely a good place to see how people are interpreting and creating work that can be seen as audiovisual.  In addition to the more straightforward sound and video work to be experienced in the listening rooms, the concerts also had a couple of performances that linked audio, video and live performance. It’s been inspiring – and a bit daunting – and certainly very impressive.

Listening Room 2b featured two audiovisual works today. Min Eui Hong’s Between Sleep and Wake starts off with low frequency sounds and harmonics, leading into ominous low tones against scattered, rattling noise. The visuals consist of high contrast monochromatic shots of light glancing off waves, rippling lines of white against a heavy background of black. As the work develops, the harmonic filters produce longer sustained pitches against gestural noise while the rippling waves on screen increase in animation, overlaid with larger, slightly out of focus versions of the same monochromatic ripples. The sound and vision build, then dwindle down in intensity as the work draws to a close, almost (but not quite) resolving the sense of tension and unease.

The use of a monochromatic palette focuses the eye on the wave movements and interactions, while the sounds are equally simple in isolation but combine and build to shift and merge in the ear. The combination works well, and inspires a sense of unease that is sustained throughout. From the notes, the composer’s intention was to represent the dreaming, REM portion of sleep, which I think has been accomplished here, although I think the dreams involved are not blissfully happy ones.

The second piece was David Hyman’s Other Music To Dance To. In this, Hyman has taken video and audio content from a performance by the dancer Maya Plisetskaya. He manipulated both to create an exploration in controlling the expression of her dance by varying the speed and direction of the playback, mirroring the control of movement for which Plisetskaya herself was famed.

Another monochromatic work, the starting image is an abstract, unfocused grey blur against a defined melody that contains glitches and archival artefacts. The visual focus resolves to reveal the dancer on a stage setting, frozen in place, then released to follow the dance in time with the music. As the work continues, the footage speeds up, slows down, and reverses to review and explore moments in the performance. For me, the most effective manipulations occur as the dancer hangs still in the air, the sound completely stops, and the image is processed to change the contrast, thin the arms and blur out the features until the pose is everything. But the other parts of the work are a bit too much; by the time it finishes with the dancer poised mid jump, it has all been a bit too busy, too manipulated. The work has some great moments, but I ended up feeling that in some ways it was more of a technical exercise where the emotional impact of the content was obscured by technique.

When planning out my attendance schedule for the day, I little thought that I’d also want to write about some of the live performances at the concerts, but a couple of them combined instruments, computer music and video in exciting formats. In Concert 5, Patrick Saint-Denis presented Trombe, which combined flute, audiovisuals and a feather! On stage, we were presented with a large projector screen at the back, a smaller freestanding screen on the right, Richard Craig on flute on the left, and a highlighted feather beside the smaller screen.

The combination of flute and processed sounds worked well, and meshed with a video presentation of ‘noise’ (lines and dotes running across both screens). At intervals, the breathy short pulsing of the flute matched perfectly with a series of horizontally pulsing dots on screen, while at other times stylized landscapes appeared on one of the screens, with an almost water-colour wash effect softening the images. On a couple of occasions, the feather was singled out with a spotlight. This was the weakest part for me, as there seemed no reason for this, although there were a few technical hitches during the set-up at the start of the piece, so that might have affected the feather’s ‘performance’.

The overall impression was a busy, constantly changing immersive experience. It was possibly a bit too much of everything all at once; I kept switching attention between screens, flautist and feather, always feeling as if I was missing something happening out of the corner of my eye. But I’d very happily go and experience it all again.

In Concert 6, Chute libre by Julien-Robert Salvail made full use of the excellent space afforded by St. Paul’s Hall. A sizeable ensemble of instruments played live against processed sound while a screen hanging above their heads depicted an engrossing narrative. An aeroplane is seen, preparing for and then taking off, accompanied by suitable uplifting music. We move with the plane to reveal a cloudscape, which grows and changes to show increasing turbulence, and the music grows in intensity and detail to match. We move into a storm, then into a vortex of streaming red lines and curves, objects battering into the screen as we fall further into the eye of the storm. The music reaches a climax as the peak of the visual action also hits: an explosion into white, which is revealed as the music relaxes to be a light fabric, billowing and folding as it collapses. The white turns to a deep rich red as the music draws to a final, quieter, finish.

The combination of all the elements felt very well accomplished. I found it interesting as well that, while the action on the screen built towards a climax, the majority of the audience stared fixedly at that instead of at the musicians, who were equally interesting as they built up the effort and exhibited their technical skill in performance. The dominance of the visual element, particularly where an on-screen narrative was presented, was definitely in evidence here. But this did not detract in any way from the work as a whole, as this was obviously how it had been designed to work.

Despite beginning to flag, I was very glad I also made it to the late night Concert 7 in the Graduate bar. On stage, in her TSC 3, Angela Guyton threw paint and pulled brushes against a pristine canvas to create an abstract painting while the sounds of her efforts were collected by microphones and fed to Rodrigo Constanzo and Anton Hunter. They then created an accompanying soundscape using only these sounds of artistic creation as sources. This was a new version of audio-visual art again, an eventually still image developing and morphing as we watched, with the act of creation emphasized by the sonic interpretation. It was engrossing and exciting to watch, though I am left wondering: if she does this a lot, where on earth does Guyton store all those huge canvases?

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Andrew Connor is currently undertaking a PhD in Creative Music Practice at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. His research and practice examines the intersection of electroacoustic music and abstract animation.

andrew.connor@ed.ac.uk

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