Christopher Bono, "The Unexcelled Mantra"
Film written and directed by Ingibjörg Birgisdóttir
©2013 Our Silent Canvas
Icelandic visual artist Ingibjörg Birgisdóttir created a new video inspired by composer Christopher Bono's choral work, "The Unexcelled Mantra".
This is the first of two videos created in response to Bono's two new choral works -- The Unexcelled Mantra and Unity -- both of which were recorded and released in October by the New York Virtuoso Singers led by Harold Rosenbaum on Our Silent Canvas, distributed digitally by Naxos. The next video, by artist Tobias Stretch for Bono's work Unity, will be available on December 3. Bono gave unfettered artistic freedom to both film artists, encouraging them to create their own personal statements in response to his music.
Christopher Bono's The Unexcelled Mantra is a setting of text from the Heart Sutra, a sacred text in Mahayana Buddhism on understanding Shunyata, or Emptiness, in order to realize Nirvana. The mantra reads "gaté gaté paragaté parasamgaté bodhi svaha," which can be translated as "Go, go, go beyond, go totally beyond, be rooted in the ground of enlightenment."
Of her video for The Unexcelled Mantra, Birgisdóttir says, "In this video I rearranged body parts and made some hominoid- jellyfish creatures floating amidst the Icelandic landscape. They appear, linger for a little while and then float away. They represent the impermanent and transient nature of existence and how we are constantly changing and reinventing ourselves. Although there is a quality of sameness within our being, we are always growing and mutating like the strange, amorphous entities of the video."
Ingibjörg Birgisdóttir graduated from the visual arts department of the Icelandic Art Academy in 2006. She held her first solo exhibition in the Reykjavík Art Museum in 2009 and has exhibited both in Europe and America. Birgisdóttir has made album covers and music videos for bands such as Sigurrós, Jónsi, Múm, Seabear, Sin Fang, Sóley and many more and released her first film Grandma Lo-Fi, The Basement Tapes of Sigrí!ur Níelsdóttir in 2011. She lives and works in Reykjavík.
Bono describes The Unexcelled Mantra and his other choral work, Unity, as contemplating the search for a modern form of spirituality. He says, "Both works explore a path to transcendence or 'true being' through union with the cosmos -- The Unexcelled Mantra from a Mahayana Buddhist point of view and Unity from the Western philosophical tradition of Plato."
Visual artist DZO Olivier has created original illustrations for the cover art for Unity and The Unexcelled Mantra audio recordings, intimately influenced by Bono's music and the concepts it explores.
The release of Unity and The Unexcelled Mantra follows Bono's first classical album, Invocations, a chamber music collection released in fall 2012 and on vinyl in August 2013. The originality and inventiveness of Invocations was noted by composer and writer Frank Oteri in NewMusicBox, who wrote, "While much of 21st-century contemporary composition is not beholden to any rules, to the extent that I could probably claim everyone to be an 'outsider' in some ways, Bono's music sounds as though everything he writes is something he is discovering for the very first time, even if there are clear reference points throughout to the sound worlds of other composers from both our own time and other eras."
Christopher Bono entered the world of classical music much later than most of his contemporaries. He spent his childhood and teenage years devoted to baseball; in 1999 he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners but an injury kept him from playing. Filling the void left by the end of his athletic endeavors, Bono began playing the guitar when he was 21, and for several years he toured, recorded, and performed in an alternative roots-rock style. In his mid-20s, he made the choice to learn classical composition techniques in order to more fully realize his music. For seven years, in nearly hermetic isolation, he taught himself to read music, and studied composition independently with Juilliard professor Kendall Briggs and at La Scola Cantorum in Paris.