April 13, 2007
Music Review | 'Beyond the Machine 7.0'
Sounds and Visions, Auguring Tomorrow
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
In recent years a few American orchestras and opera companies have
tried introducing video elements to the experience: close-ups of the
conductor, or the solo oboist, or the soprano singing Mimi.
These tentative experiments must seem antiquated to the young musicians
and composers at the Juilliard School’s Music Technology Center. For
seven years the center has presented annual concerts of new works
involving up-to-date computer and technological resources. This year’s
free three-day festival of electronic and interactive music, waggishly
called “Beyond the Machine 7.0,” and subtitled “The Eye/Ear
Collaboration,” began on Wednesday night in the Clark Studio Theater, a
black-box space in the Rose Building at Lincoln Center.
Projected visuals were crucial elements of every piece. So as the
pianist Vicky Chow played the opening work, “Digits” by Neil Rolnick,
close-ups of her nimble fingers and leaping hands were projected in
split-screen images. But as the music built in intensity, the
projection design by Luke Dubois became increasingly elaborate, with
images subdividing into neat rows of mini-screens and blurry
Though the images were kind of cool, I was much more riveted by Mr.
Rolnick’s teeming piece and Ms. Chow’s brilliant playing. The music
began with churning eruptions in the piano’s low register, then built
into spiraling volleys and skittish “wrong note” arpeggios. Snippets of
dance rhythms and an elemental theme, like some Dies Irae motto,
intruded. As Ms. Chow played, isolated pitches, brutal chords and
rippling passages were picked up by microphones and processed through
the computer to extend and enhance the live piano sounds. It all made
for an exhilarating interactive piece.
Ms. Chow also performed “Hetz,” a shorter work with audio composition
by Andreas Weixler and visual composition by Se-Lien Chuang. At first
the work sounded uncomfortably close to New Age meditation music, with
ocean waves and whooshing winds and images to match. It was rescued in
its middle section by a pugnacious atonal outbreak on the piano.
Yui Kitamura’s “Awaumi” for solo violin, with projections by Mr.
Dubois, took musical phrases that could be heard as far-out Ravel and,
through a computer, wildly fractured them. Patrick Doane was the
compelling violinist. The projections, with shadowy images of Mr. Doane
against swirling watery backdrops, were rather corny, even though this
handsome violinist looked good in close-up.
Kenji Bunch’s “Ghost Reel” for violin (Ann Miller) and viola (Erin
Wight), sounded like an attempt to find common ground between
Appalachian fiddle music and Indian ragas. Steve Reich’s undulant
“Tokyo/ Vermont Counterpoint” pitted the marimba virtuoso Michael
Caterisano against recorded marimba tracks, accompanied by an original
film by Kirsten Kelly and Adam Joyce with cross-cultural scenes of
urban and small-town life: street corners, children in a playground,
Axiom Ensemble, Juilliard’s newest contemporary-music group, played the
final two longer works. John King’s “Trilogic Unity,” with the agile
soprano Charlotte Dobbs as soloist, scored for an eight-piece
electrified ensemble, was stylistically all over the place and a little
amorphous. Still, it was fun to hear Ms. Dobbs intoning repetitions of
words lifted from recent news reports, like “Libby” and “lies” and
Edward Bilous’s “Lucid Dreams,” for 18 players (who had to set up their
music stands and chairs amid a clutter of cables), was a brassy, fitful
work, like some high-tech riff on big-band music, including a vocal
part for Lori Cotler. In this case, the visual element was integral: a
striking film by David Norman offered overlapping images of a sensual
and body-twisting dance choreographed by Alison Chase. And close-ups of
alluring young dancers are a lot more captivating than, say, close-ups
of a typical maestro in a concert hall.
The final presentation of “Beyond the Machine 7.0” is tonight at 8 p.m.
in the Clark Studio Theater in the Rose Building at Lincoln Center, 165
West 65th Street; free.