Saturday, 20 August 2016

Sejong plays Murmurs in the Mist of Memory

Sejong plays
 Murmurs in the Mist of Memory

Augusta Read Thomas is a widely acclaimed and prolific composer in whose music I find a wealth of lyrical colours and a palette of textures. It was a stroke of genius by Hyo and Kung Kang, Directors of the Sejong Soloists*, to invite me to create and perform kinetic paintings to Gusty's Murmurs in the Mist of Memory, commissioned for this brilliant young string ensemble, based in New York. In 2007 we took it to the Great Mountains Music Festival in South Korea and our performance was very well received. The media were all fascinated that I possessed brush skills that were apparently distant relatives of their own calligraphic traditions. 

It's with some trepidation that one ventures to give visual form and colour to the work of a living composer, but so far the contemporary composers that I had contact with about their work: George Benjamin, Toshio Hosokawa, Tristan Murail, Rautavaara, Huang Ruo and Augusta Read Thomas - have all been enthusiastic. This is what Gusty (to her friends) wrote about my treatment of her Murmurs:
“Norman, I love your work so dearly!!! I was in shock.  When I got your DVD in my Chicago mail, I opened it right away and was totally thrilled. It is truly amazing. I was in tears too! Your work is the most beautiful thing anyone has ever done with my work, for sure”.  
I had sent her a DVD for feedback, but I only got this message after the concert, so that was a relief! And the start of a creative friendship.
This week I have been working with Amsterdam video producer Bob Aardewerk to record and edit a new performance of Murmurs with the Sejong Soloists in October, for the new Lotte Hall in Seoul. This time, to avoid the long flight, jet-lag and freighting of my gear to Seoul, I have provided Sejong with a HD video recording. If I performed on stage, I would follow their cues. But now our roles are reversed. The ensemble will follow the projection of my kinetic images as they play, confident that my paintings are synchronized to their own sound-track (it's been my practice material for weeks). With four cameras on me and my projectors, almost as in live-streaming, the audience will watch me painting to the music, as though I am in the hall.

This work for eleven players has four movements: Ceremonial, Lullaby, Ritual and Incantation. Flowing memories of tenderness, spice, tears, determination, beautiful songs and miniature dances, full of irregular rhythms and colours and quite tricky to paint to. Here's the video link to Incantation, the haunting fourth movement. (View it full-screen).
* named after the 15th century Korean Emperor Sejong the Great, known for his contribution to the arts.  

Friday, 12 August 2016

Black Rain

Black Rain

August 6th has passed again, the awful day when in 1945 the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, creating unprecedented destruction and a horrible death for many thousands. And a dramatic warning that mankind could now easily annihilate itself. The radioactive fallout from that bomb - the "black rain" - became the title of a Japanese film, for which Toru Takemitsu composed his beautifully tragic music.

On that same date in 2007, when I was performing live kinetic paintings to Takemitsu's Black Rain in the South Korean Great Mountains Music Festival, that disaster felt very close indeed. Only just across the Sea of Japan in fact. Thousands of Korean forced labourers in Hiroshima also died from that bomb and some of their descendants were watching our performance on television.

The brilliant young string-players Sejong Soloists and I joined in paying tribute to all those victims and our audience was deeply moved. I felt a deep identification with Takemitsu's music and grateful for the opportunity to make a statement in my own visual language - the language of the brush, that my Korean audience understood very well. 

That terrible event of August 6th 1945 was a news-flash that made all other news pale, although its significance was not yet fully understood. Even though today's power-wielding maniacs may be unable to "see the light", we artists need, more than ever, to continue to speak, play, paint this message - an annual reminder of the fragility of human life. Words fail me, so here's the five-minute video of my studio painting rehearsal for Takemitsu's Black Rain, (with acknowledgements to Marin Alsop's recording of his Three Film Scores) with the Bournemouth Symphony). Turn the sound up and play it full screen.

(Below) Two images from Black Rain, by Toru Takemitsu. Total devastation. In the final image, the red sun has turned white.

More next time on another upcoming project with Sejong.