Wednesday 27 June 2012

Aldeburgh Adventure with Aimard: a triple A experience!

Aldeburgh Adventure with Aimard

After conceiving, designing and practising the Piano Colours programme for a year and a half, how can you describe the kaleidoscope of feelings after our premiere at the Aldeburgh Festival on June 22nd: relief, happiness, exhaustion, pleasant surprise and deep satisfaction? Three curtain calls from a packed house (on a Friday morning!); an animated discussion for 45 minutes with a hundred people crammed into the room available; and I began to realise that this project really was a success. Together with Pierre-Laurent, I had moved people to tears, joy and understanding. They told me.

Before driving back to Holland, I took a moment to gaze out over Aldeburgh’s marshy landscape to reflect on this wonderful experience in the country of my birth, invited back here by a Frenchman.
Peaceful Snape landscape encompassing a turmoil of musical excitement.
The challenges of staging, logistics, rehearsal conflicts, projection-technique and nerves almost overshadow the actual performance of live kinetic painting - the purpose of the trip. As everyone in music-theatre knows, you have to hold it all together, stay focussed, then peak artistically for the relatively short time you’re on stage. 

How the pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, torn between a thousand demands and commitments as festival director and also performer in multiple programmes, survives this pressure is a miracle.

He and I so much enjoyed the rapport we discovered in performance, giving and taking as he watched my screen and I took his musical cues. Even though I had memorised the score, I realised how much flexibility and yes, improvisation there can be in music that is live and therefore creative. Flexibility in my case, as my colours flowed in slightly unexpected ways – (the hall was very dry) or my brush-strokes had to be adjusted to PLA’s tempi, where they differed slightly from the dress rehearsal. You are never satisfied and I’m preparing myself for the fact that the next performance will be different again.

If you’re not familiar with my performances of kinetic painting to music, read my blog post of June 11th, or go to the videopage on my website.
Moment of calm after the dress-rehearsal in the Britten Studio at Snape.

Just before leaving, what really made my (birth)day was the news that a certain super-intelligent and celebrated composer had been overheard to say after the concert that it was my visuals that “made sense of music that he knew, but hadn’t appreciated before”. Thanks a million. He and I have to talk.

Off to the Helsinki Festival in August with Piano Colours, but I’ll tell you all about that after the summer break. No more blogs until September. Have a great summer!

P.S. Bob Singleton, in his blog On an Overgrown Pathwrites with real understanding of the aims of our Gesamtkunst art form. His earlier blog was headed: "Pierre-Laurent sees the Light" :).

Monday 11 June 2012

An illuminating experience at Aldeburgh

An illuminating experience at Aldeburgh.

The pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard is celebrated for his genius in putting together enlightened and original recital programmes. It’s as though he’s hanging an exhibition, where the juxtaposition of the paintings deliberately influences the way you view the each one – and the whole show. Pierre-Aimard finds unusual ways of keeping you on the edge of your seat, surprised and delighted by these unexpected musical relationships. 

Our Piano Colours recital at the Aldeburgh Festival next week (June 22nd) is a lovely example of how he works. We shall play it straight through, without a break or applause, so you will discover how his five Debussy Préludes (and one Images) can flow surprisingly and seamlessly in and out of Liszt, Scriabin, Murail and Benjamin (the works to which I’m painting and projecting live 
kinetic visuals).
A still from the projection of my kinetic painting to Scriabin’s Sonata No. 9.
From Tristan Murail’s “Cloches d’Adieu, et un sourire – in memoriam Olivier Messiaen”. It’s all about the resonances of sound and colour.
Read my blog of April 23rd for the story of how this project developed. After working on our programme for months, I’m now getting very excited – and practising like crazy. Yes, you have to practice like a musician to paint in “real time” a tempo and from memory. And learn how to anticipate and adjust the rhythm of your brush-strokes to the other’s interpretation at that moment. You can’t learn that at Art college.  After nearly two year’s planning, I’m working together with Pierre-Laurent for the first time and this programme is our world première. A real milestone in many ways. 
A studio snap-shot from a rehearsal of George Benjamin’s “Fantasy on Iambic Rhythm”.
If you can’t make it to Aldeburgh, we’re taking Piano Colours to the huge Helsinki Festival on August 27th and in Salzburg Mozarteum on November 30th.


Monday 4 June 2012

Where’s the Right Critic for my Kinetic Painting to Music?

Where's the Right Critic for my Kinetic Painting to Music?

I’ve made life difficult for myself – and for the critics. Am I an artist, a musician, a lighting-designer, or a choreographer? Actually, something of all four: I create and paint live performances of luminous visuals that move with the music.

So which critic should I invite from the Arts Desk? Will the music critic know anything about visual art? Will the visual arts critic appreciate the musical connection? Do they like dance? I usually get to perform in concert venues, where the audience will expect music or other time-based art forms, and I’ll get a mention from the critic who has essentially come for the music. I used to hear the reproach “cobbler, stick to your last!” (i.e. you can only be good in one discipline). But today’s multi-disciplinary arts world has changed that attitude.  The classic separation of disciplines, so convenient for academics and critics, no longer suits our multi-media age. So I’m hoping for a critic with an open, audio-visual mind.
My brushes in action with Circle Percussion (The Netherlands).
Reactions to my live kinetic painting can be anything from the begrudging “Perryman’s visuals didn’t detract from the music” (the purist classical music critic) to “His visuals really gave us an insight into this difficult music” (the curious and pleasantly surprised critic). You also get grumbles from old Aunt Bessie, who didn’t look at the programme: “Came to hear Beethoven and I had to watch kinetic painting with Stravinsky”. Still, I’ve often been honoured with more positive reactions:

From music critics: “How thrilling to be at the birth of a new art form!” “Perryman followed the structure of the music, but at the same time allowed the development of his interplay of forms and colour.”  “It was exciting to see how the live painted images alternately collided with and blended with the music.”

From dance critics: “Perryman treats his brushes and paint just like a choreographer.” “This was one of the most amazingly novel stage spectacles of the writers’ experience.... it adds a complete extra dimension in ballet theatre.….an absolutely fascinating collaboration.”

Many people are producing digital images with music today. Am I the only one actually painting live in classical concerts? My oeuvre creates a link between hand-produced static painting and art that only exists while it moves. Ha, you might say, don’t forget Joshua White’s poured and dripped fluids on overhead projectors in the sixties, spectacular analogue images originally conceived for classical music and jazz, then employed for psychedelic trips with Frank Zappa, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix in the New York seventies scene. Since then, the digital visuals of the VJ (video-jockey) seem to have taken over the planet. But the way I perform, you don’t need a computer programme. Just two things: an ability to paint and musicality.
Painting on super low-tech analogue overhead projectors.
To any musician watching the timing and structure of my kinetic images, it’s obvious that I know and love the score. The sounds of the music are my primary inspiration. One of my aims is to complement them with a visual counterpoint or harmony, rather than detracting from the music by imposing a baffling overload of conceptual images on the audience, as many video artists do these days.

A respect for the precise characteristics of the music is fundamental. These inspire the shapes, colours, rhythm and tempo of my images. So I listen, try to memorize the score and practise endlessly. I’ve also developed an unconventional use of the paint-brushes. I have them stroke, dance, splash and swirl with the paint, often synchronous to the music in a visual choreography. This synergy is often absent in contemporary audio-visual performances.  The critics expecting yet another hi-tech fireworks display will be disappointed – yet perhaps intrigued. Since 1973 I’ve been using low-tech overhead projectors. And they still have huge potential. You can paint on a glass surface and project the result (magnified about thirty times its original size) as a giant kinetic painting without pixels, that’s in synch with the music!

So Mr./Ms. visual arts critic, if you did show up for my concert, what did the visuals actually do for you? Is painting in real time on an overhead projector just too incredulous for words? Did you see a link with Kandinsky, Jackson Pollock, the stained-glass windows of cathedrals, Calder’s mobiles or Zen calligraphic art? Would you group this under expressionism? I know that my work goes against the trend of contemporary conceptual art (only comprehensible with long verbal statements). It’s fashionable to see painterly skills as old-fashioned, compared to clever digital effects.  But, forgive me, I am a painter. Audiences experience the spectacle of the movements of my paintbrush as sensual, surprising, humorous or something that takes you out of this world. Stroking feels good, if you’ve practised your skills and have sensitivity. Especially when synchronized with stroking by other instruments made of wood and hair (e.g. the violin bow). The brush is my instrument and I want to play visual music.
Painting on five overhead projectors in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw.
A welcome development is the increase of music and dance events in art museums these days (Watch this space for more news!) I’ve had innumerable shows of still paintings in art galleries internationally, but galleries can’t sell kinetic paintings. Compared to an old-master in a frame, DVDs of my ephemeral events don’t fetch very much. I have considered my kinetic images for screen-savers, kinetic paintings on your wall and visual therapy for nervous patients in the waiting room. I just need a producer. Any other bright ideas?

Critics – watch out! Or should I say – listen up! Figure it all out at my next performance, with master pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard at the 2012 Aldeburgh Festival on June 22nd. The Piano Colours recital will include Debussy Preludes, and kinetic visuals to the music of Liszt, Scriabin, Murail and George Benjamin.