In 2007, I was a guest of the New Music Festival in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Mikel Kuehn, then its director (and director of the MidAmerican Center for Contemporary Music), introduced me to his friend and colleague, composer Pierre Jalbert.
Mikel suggested that we work together Pierre and I. We talked about it, agreed to give it a try and settled on an initial process that was to be fairly easy on me: I would first create a silent piece for Pierre, for/from/to/with which he would compose music.
All we defined was the number of movements (3), and their approximate duration (2'30", 6'30" and 3').
As usual, I made a collage of bits of music I liked and used that as a temporary temporal structure, a structure I would loosely follow (the emphasis would be, as usual, on some "in-time" visual continuity, not on a slavish following of the music).
But as is almost always the case in that type of work, there were moments during which I was totally hooked by the music, and (gratefully) almost forgot my initial purpose.
I have some good "excuses" for that, the music I selected was performed by superb musicians: David Zinman conducting the Baltimore Symphonic Orchestra (for my first and third movements), excerpts from Rachmaninoff's "Symphonic Dances" and, for my second movement, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, performing -in concert- the Adagio from Mozart's piano concerto No 23, while conducting the St Paul Chamber Orchestra.
The visuals were initially triggered by some large graffiti I had seen in Montréal's Old Harbour, fairly coarse egg tempera-like paint on beaten-up corrugated steel and very rough concrete walls, a "taste" that stayed with me throughout the making of the piece.
Once done, I removed the audio and sent the silent movie to Pierre. He then started to compose the music, painstakingly following my "visual score" (the closest I'll ever come to being a composer;-) and doing a remarkable job, with so much attention to my images (not "just" details, but relations between elements as well), he eventually made me see, through his music, visual elements I had not noticed.
We eventually made some minor changes (I recall a lengthy exchange of emails and phone calls to try to make a 2 seconds gesture just right, in harmony with music Pierre had composed but could only describe verbally as it had not yet been recorded).
It is to me fascinating to see how much Pierre's music was connecting with the feel of the "original" music used to create the images, some of his suggestions made the images dialog even better with that music, music which he had never known -until now- had been "used" to create the images.
I received Pierre's music as a genuine manifestation of friendship.
In July 2009, the piece was premiered in Pittsburgh by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, conducted by Kevin Noe: vudici.net/movies/Pittsburgh/Pittsburgh_main2.html
It was presented again, in October 2009, in Houston, by the MUSIQA Ensemble, conducted by Brett Mitchell:
Later on, Pierre and I reversed the process, he gave me recorded music to/for/from/with which I created images, and the resulting piece, "Visual Abstract," has been performed in concerts as well as appearing in festivals since (it's on VImeo as well: 1st movement vimeo.com/12767232, 2nd vimeo.com/12780807, 3rd vimeo.com/12851118)
Here's an interview in which Pierre talks a bit about the process: sequenza21.com/2011/01/houstons-musiqa-presents-real-and-imagined/
By the way, Mikel Kuehn and I also embarked on a similar journey, first by my making a silent piece for which I also put together a music collage as a temporary time structure (available here: vimeo.com/46068202). I sent Mikel the silenced piece for which he composed music, resulting in "…lilac shrieks and scarlet bellowing…" (vimeo.com/18551194).
Interesting twist ("In my end is my beginning..."): this first collaboration with Mikel will be presented during the 2012 edition of the BGSU New Music Festival, where it all started back in 2007: bgsu.edu/colleges/music/MACCM/festival/BGNMF2012/index.html
Then recently, Mikel and I also reversed the process: I created images for one of his existing compositions, resulting in "The Visible Resonance of Bookends" (vimeo.com/50114936).
I am immensely grateful to the world of music (and to my many musicians friends) for allowing me to work the way I do. There are some deep and mysterious connections between music and images unfolding "in/as time," and the way music and images inform each other is something I keep on discovering as being much greater than my understanding.
I would not want it any other way, paraphrasing Pessoa/Caeiro, I could say: "I don't know what I am doing, and I don't want to know..." alberto-caeiro.blogspot.com/
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