From Scores to Something Else

Making the transition from composing scores to pieces was anything but straightforward as my reading and preparation was geared towards working with improvisation and graphic scores. In searching for ways to make video pieces it seemed logical to explore how some composers used video in their work. I was already somewhat familiar with Kreidler’s 22 Music Pieces For Video and several of Walshe’s pieces in which video has its own role in live performances (Saunders, 2009; Gray, 2013). Kreidler’s work explores several uses of video, approaching it as an instrument, a performer and a medium; while Walshe’s use of video is connected into and amplifies the physical aspects of live performance through installations, chamber and theatre works (Saunders, 2009; Oliver, 2014; Lampo, 2015). Ter Veldhuis (JacobTV) provided another very interesting use of video in performance in which the prosody of speech is arranged into musical material to create powerful audiovisual works (Jeffery, 2014).

It became clear that video could be approached through a multiplicity of intentions as I continued to explore work from Kreidler, Walshe, Mutendorf, Marino and Carvalho. Another perspective was provided by Niblock’s intermedia work The Movement of People Working. Niblock seemed to create contradicting temporal trajectories between the sound and visuals which required an audience to engage with several streams of information simultaneously (AV Festival, 2012; Kase, 2012; Extreme Music, 2016; Wang, 2015). Confronted with a myriad of approaches, I remained uncertain on how to proceed.

Finding a New Path

Although I understood that video could be a versatile medium with vast possibilities for music-making I struggled to find a niche and a burning question to explore. Experimentation and exploration into unfamiliar areas had often produced some exciting results, therefore it was vital that I find something which greatly concerned me (Cassidy, 2012).

Switching my focus from composing video scores continued to be troublesome. However, thanks to my supervisor’s encouragement and positivity towards exploring and engaging with multiple art forms, an unexpected angle was revealed through Burrows and Fargion’s Both Sitting Duet in which Feldman’s For John Cage was realised through the silent motion of their upper bodies.

This impressive and curious piece not only introduced Kandinsky and spurred my interest in composing visual art influenced by music but also choreography and dancefilm, igniting a particular interest in works using the close-up shot and micro-choreographies (Balázs, 2010; Brannigan, 2011).

Through curiosity prompted by reading into the history of choreography and the close-up in dancefilm I revisited the history of film and video, particularly the experimental films associated with the Dada-Constructivist movement (Rees, 2009). This recalled some buried ideas surrounding visual art, video art and pieces from early experimental film pioneers such as Ruttmann’s Lichtspiel, Richter’s Rhythmus 21, Eggeling’s Symphony Diagonale and Fischinger’s An Optical Poem, revealing a potential for musicality within the medium. Ruttmann, Richter and Eggeling’s works were particularly attractive through the exploration and organisation of rhythmic qualities within a silent landscape (Turvey, 2003; Rees, 2009). These works exposed me to a tradition of artists using musical structures in the medium of the moving image, including the colour organ and work of the Italian Futurists Ginna and Corra (Evans, 2005; Ox & Keefer, 2008).

A new direction for the portfolio began to emerge as I realised that visual music, electroacoustic music and audiovisual practice shared some common sympathies and concerns towards composition (Moritz, 1986; Evans, 2005; Garro, 2011; Hyde, 2012) and that I could merge these with images of the hand through video art and dancefilm.

Evolution of the Portfolio

Examining dancefilm and video art’s concerns with the representation of the body on screen helped to fix a concept of the mechanics of video editing as tools to be explored through my compositional practice (Donebauer, 1996; Brannigan, 2011). The physicality of video quickly became a primary concern which informed each piece in the portfolio, starting with Syncretism.

An equally strong and central part of my emerging aesthetic was prompted by Syncretism. The phenomenon of cross-modal perception was made apparent through feedback attained following a screening of Syncretism in a CeReNeM seminar and only fully realised by following up further with reading into ventriloquism, visual dominance over auditory stimulus (Berger, 2002) and the McGurk effect.

Étude and Apprentice were composed in response to seminar feedback and as experiments with an artistic and musical use of the cross-modal phenomenon, informed by video art and dancefilm theory. Subsequently, the focus of the project moved towards the exploration of the perception of sensations and temporal experiences presented by video. Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological writings on experience and perception helped to situate my efforts within the context of experiential philosophy, creating a critical space essential for reflection on the direction of the portfolio.

Working with Light and/or Sound

Visual music and video art cemented the concept that sound and light stimuli were capable of being subjected to similar modes of composition as they were temporal and presented similar challenges to the artist working with either (or both) (Donebauer, 1996; Ox & Keefer, 2008; Hyde, 2012). Many of Turrell’s early concerns with how light can alter the perception of space, such as Afrum (White), are comparable to an artist sculpting with clay and provided an informative perspective (Spector, 2016). Like Turrell’s earlier work, abstract video references things outside of itself, broadening the possibilities for exploration (Jennings, 2015). However, unlike visual music, I was interested in using representative images of the human hand which strengthened my interest in dancefilm.

The Human Hand

I believe that my 13 years as a practicing music tutor had a direct influence on my decision to use the imagery of human hands as I have expended considerable time and energy on scrutinising and developing my own instrumental technique and that of my students.

Video editing technology became a more prominent feature of the project and with it my intentions for using images of hands altered. The focus quickly shifted towards the material nature of video and the mechanics of video editing, with the continued use of the close-up shot in subsequent pieces employed to amplify microscopic movements of the hand (Benjamin, 2005). For Syncretism, hand movements were a temporal visual material for technological intervention, whereas the use of hands in Étude and Apprentice aimed to focus attention towards rhythm and instrumentation through representation and an underlying narrative. Therefore it may be possible to consider the portfolio as an attempt to assimilate the video medium and associated technologies into my already established cognitive frameworks of musical and compositional practice.

Presenting moving images of human hands carried the potential for a vast array of meaning and value to be inferred, which was problematic. It was necessary to define and classify gesture within my work as my intentions towards video began to change but my interest in the human hand expanded. Actively encouraging the viewer to consider and interpret the shapes of the hands became a source of particular interest in the composition of Apprentice through the use of hand shapes associated with instruments, taking some inspiration from Nauman’s bronze sculpture Fifteen Pairs of Hands. I reached this point through the composition of Étude which used footage derived from a classical guitar performance, repetition within an economy of material and interventional editing techniques.
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