Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Why not take classical music to the visual?



Another comment on See the music becomes a post.

This is a very clever post Pliable, and you've hooked me as a new reader. I'm 23--so this question as you might suspect has occurred to me on several occasions, though I've never written it out as succinctly as you do here.

Why not take classical music to the visual? As a filmmaker friend once explained to me (while we were watching another student's project, in which Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet was the soundtrack to a series of related but aleatory visual scenes): "The film is explaining how the music works".

I thought this was a brilliant comment. I've just seen a video by Ake Falck of Alexis Weissenberg performing Stravinsky's Petrouchka - excerpt from 1965 film above. The camera moves and dives into the piano, the lights shift, it's like adult fantasia. What the visual does here is drastically enhance an already breathtaking piano performance. In that same vein, fantasia, and for that matter (though more simplistically) Looney Tunes en'light'ened classical music for several generations of children who wouldn't otherwise touch the stuff. Lastly, I recently saw a recording of the Yo La Tengo / Underwater films of Jean Painlevé performance that happened last year at Lincoln Center. Amazing, and the same affect. Rather than simply providing a soundtrack for the visual happenings, what a successful "combine" does is inform both: the visual is certainly enhanced, but it's fascinating to hear how the music changes, becomes fuller, saturates, is too informed.

Synesthesia shouldn't be withheld as a lofty gift of a few crazies (Scriabin and many other artists desire to assume proprietary rights on the syndrome). We all have it--you can't separate dance from music or vice versa. Orchestra directors should consider this as they try to find a middle ground between programming more of the same into each season, and resorting to playing concerts of XBox 360 tunes to sell houses. Posted by airlock.
The classical music roller coaster is a great example of taking classical music to the visual. More on music and images here. And a photograph of Alexis Weissenberg with Mrs Pliable here.
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2 comments:

Saint Russell said...

I don't have perfect pitch, but does that video clip sound fast (sharp) to anyone else? Maybe a frame-rate conversion issue?

rchrd said...

Back in the 60's (again) there were folks convinced that if you played the Rolling Stones and sat watching a candle flame, the flame would move in sync with the music.

(I don't think it really had to be the Rolling Stones, but that was the story at least.)

Actually, when you go to a classical concert, the assumption is that you're going to turn off your visual channel and "focus" all your attention on the sound streaming in thru your ears.

And to this end, most classical concerts are visually boring to the extreme. Especially if you're sitting up in the balcony.

Maybe that's why certain svelte female violinists are all the rage these days .. has little to do with the music.

But concerts have always been a visual wasteland. And attempts to do otherwise by introducing light shows or special staging don't really work that well (unless maybe the visuals and music are conceived together).

It seems some people are better at visual stimulation while others favor audio. I must say that when I'm supposed to be focusing on the sound, I try as hard as I can to not be distracted by what I see in front of me. In fact, many times I'll close my eyes, or bring the score to read along. Both result in a very heightened experience. This is especially effective with long pieces that would otherwise cause squirming in the seats, like Stockhausen's Mantra, which is incredible to listen to with the score .. it's actually very funny!

On the other hand, Stan Brakhage's silent abstract films are to the eyes what, say, Stockhausen or Feldman are to the ears. But put the two together and you get a mess.

The two are very hard to put together. Dance and film/video provide a good technical platform to try, but I'm so often disappointed by the result.

Which is what makes Merce Cunningham's pieces to John Cage's music so incredible. Two separate streams existing together, like the candle flame, as if in sync.

It's truly amazing when it happens.