muddle instead of video

9 December 2009 - muzikologi

reframedCollaboration between pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and video artist Robin Rhode at the Queen Elisabeth Hall, London, 4 December 2009. Interesting, all the more that the main publicity picture shows a video screen layout similar to a project I had devised 2 years ago for a performance of my 2 piano improvisation duo, jack+bruno. So let’s go and see how they’ve done it.

From the very start of the show, I immediately realise that I should have known better. During a muddy 15mns presentation by 2 luminaries of the South Bank, chromaticism is associated with musical avant-garde. So much for Bach’s raising bass by chromatic steps, or Purcell or Gesualdo.

The show starts proper. The piano performance is lovely: Schumann’s Kinderscene, a contemporary Austrian composition and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an exhibition. Quelle horreur, as Cocteau used to say, only the central screen shows images, the 4 others being just for decoration and filling in of the stage. Not only that, the video material is not live, it’s just a tape playing. Maybe the pianist is also miming and playing to a tape, who knows. I could have stayed at home, stuck some video on my TV, and played Mussorgsky in the background.

On their own, Rhode’s visuals may well have a certain allure. He specialises in people interacting with pre-existing drawings on a wall and filmong the whole. This is reminiscent of both Canadian animation artist McLaren and Cocteau’s first film Le sang d’un poète. Nothing wrong with that. But Rhodes doesn’t seem to be able to build on and add his own touch to that technique, an essential gesture for any artist since creation is a constant metonymy and, as a result, in the context of a “collaboration” with a pianist, his visuals fall flat, being unrelated to the sonic material, and play out irrespective of what the pianist is doing.  Andsnes is actually playing to a tape, and therefore has no freedom, and nor have the visuals themselves. Even some of the more interesting footage (black & white moving close ups shots of skies and railway tracks, reminiscent of the early 1970’s experimental cinema aesthetics) does not manage to acquire a “found footage” quality in relation to the music, a quality which would justify the lack of relationship between music and visuals.

Lesson 1: how to badly spend tax payer’s money. Please can I do it?

Lesson 2: what not to do. This has convinced me that my initial aesthetics approach to adding a visual dimension to jack+bruno is correct. No what I call “Nuremberg effect”, that is not a giant central projection but a multitude of small video screens showing different aspects of the performance, total immersion and live video interaction between music and visuals, with audience reaction via Tweeter thrown in for good measure. There, I’ve said it.

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