Saturday, November 13, 2010

Classical music adds visual slam


"Shouldn't we be making classical music more visual to attract younger audiences?" was the question asked in See the music. When I posed that question last year a marriage between classical music and contemporary visual art was no more than a dream. But Nov 12 brought resounding confirmation that the visual could provide a way forward to reach new audiences.

Aldeburgh Music's innovatory Faster Than Sound project presented an evening of new music in the Britten Studio at Snape. All the compositions were created in an Aldeburgh Residency that explored the relationship between the acoustic and the electric. Spheres and Splinters provided the finale, this Aldeburgh Music commission for MIT guru and composer Tod Machover was played on a hypercello by Peter Gregson accompanied by interactive visuals.

British based collective UnitedVisualArtists (UVA) created the visuals. Best known for their collabarations with rock acts such Massive Attack, Kylie, U2, and Jay-Z, UVA are keen to work with classical musicians. My header and footer images are from UVA's recent installation at V & A in London which used the same light technology as we saw with Spheres and Splinters.

Combining the visual and classical is not as blasphemous as many would think. More than a century ago Alexander Scriabin notated his 1909 symphonic poem 'Prometheus, the Poem of Fire' for the Luxe, a custom designed light projector built by Russian physicist Alexander Moser. In the mid-20th century, as a biography explains, conductor Leopold Stokowski often had lights set up for concerts to cast huge shadows of him on the walls of the concert hall. In the 21st century we maintain the visual convention of dimming the auditorium lights to provide engagement betwen audience and musicians. Light installations such as the one that accompanied Spheres and Splinters at Snape yesterday simply strengthen this engagement. But there is really no need for justification. Because if Joana Seguro of Aldeburgh Music is experimenting with something, it means it is worth watching.

If I was running an ensemble or venue I would be beating a path to the door of UnitedVisualArtists and similar organisations to discuss how they can add visual slam to classical music. Combining visual and classical could press the important hot button for funders, and a little bird tells me UVA may have some speculative work waiting to be picked up by someone quick off the mark in the classical field. Bring on music and movement.


* More about new music and new media at TEDx Aldeburgh. Read the story here.

** The Snape concert used an ambisonic surround sound system masterminded by MIT computer science major and senior student Ben Bloomberg. There are a lot of exciting and important things happening in the audio field right now. Read more about surround sound at MIT here.

*** I will be away for a while:
'The traveller has to knock at every alien door to come to his own, and one has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end' - Rabindranath Tagore
Do support other free thinking music blogs here, here, and here while I wander through some more outer and inner worlds.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Our excellent value for money £10 tickets for Spheres and Splinters at Snape were bought at the box office. Visuals are from UnitedVisualArtists website. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

3 comments:

Pliable said...

As I prepare to go to the airport to fly to Marseille and on to Avignon I see that Voices - Chant from Avignon heads the UK classical chart in its first week of release.

The new chart will be here at 12.00h on 16/11 -http://www.gramophone.co.uk/chart

My article A Musician is also a person about the nuns at Notre Dame de l'Annonciation is here -
http://www.overgrownpath.com/2010/11/musician-is-also-person.html

Pliable said...

I wish I had thought of this one - Light Classical - http://epmusic.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/links-2/

Scott said...

Courtesy of Chorus Niagara in Welland Ontario, Canada, another example of introducing classical music in an unexpected context.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXh7JR9oKVE