Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Rautavaara’s Cantus Arcticus - an experience with kinetic synchronicity

Rautavaara’s Cantus Arcticus - an experience with kinetic synchronicity

This is a work like no other in my performance experience in live kinetic painting. The Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara describes it as a concerto for birds and orchestra – integrating the taped cries of Arctic birds with the score in an unusual way, deliberately allowing a certain flexibility for both the musicians and the tape operator. Every time the tape and the music is played there will be subtle differences to the previous performance.  (In the music of the last sixty years or so, this phenomenon is not unusual). Yet in this piece, you can’t help feeling that Nature itself is unexpectedly intervening, providing dissonances, harmonies and synchronicities (what Jung would call “meaningful coincidences”). 
At times this work sounds like glorious romantic film music (yes, my kinetic painting is the movie!), with the brass and strings taking vast strides across the landscape of Finland and the winds provide approximations of bird sounds. But then the real birds pipe up and the composer’s decision to allow chance or synchronicity keeps you guessing, as contemporary music tends to do. Who’s playing what? Is that bird out of tune? Where am I? This is not just a trip to northern Finland. This performance is taking us out of this world.
Normally I write into the score my complete visual choreography (the colours, shapes, brushes, etc. that I plan to use with each phrase). The design for this piece is also mapped out. But however well I’ve memorized the score and however much I practice, Cantus Arcticus really keeps me on my toes, ready to respond to unexpected bird cries and to improvise with both brush movements and paint flow.  The opportunities to improvise creatively are endless. As is the potential for the audience to perceive synchronicity, in every bubble of paint that collides with another, or bursts, right on a musical cue. As a painter of kinetic visuals, I can use my knowledge of paint flow dynamics to set up such oppportunities. If all is going well, during the performance the audience/spectator will often discover synchronicity that was unintentional on my part. (But isn’t it always unintentional?). Those discoveries are part of the magic of kinetic painting in performance and are deeply personal.

I don’t paint any birds, although the flitting movements of my brushes, the splatter of water drops, or dabs of white in the sky might convey the illusion of bird-like activity, of outdoors, certainly of the passing of time.  

During the three movements (The Bog, Melancholy, and Swans migrating), my settings (or abstract “landscapes”) merge, shift in perspective, colour and mood, gradually taking you into wide open spaces and eventually leaving you in lonely monochrome emptiness, after the swans have migrated - a few faint cries still just audible. 



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