Saturday, April 27, 2013

Projectile Frustration

Here we are at the end of Charlotte's 2013 Ulysses Festival.

With a theme focusing on the convergence of technology and art, we saw a lot of projections. Images projected behind performance art is not an inherently bad idea by any means--for instance, CSO's 2013-14 Knightsounds series will include a program celebrating Ansel Adams. Now that would be a great place for some projections.

"American Music Masters and Pioneers," the April 19 Knightsounds concert, had a great line-up: more living than dead composers, a timpani concerto, some minimalism--excellent prospects. And the music was wonderful. But the accompanying primary-colored geometric projections were frustrating.

Knightsounds is designed for a younger crowd--younger music, the availability of tweet seats, drinks and a DJ following the concert. But I can't help but think that the projections are meant for young people, too, that the involvement of digital technology is thought to lure Generations X and Y from their iPhones.

But the projection quality was abysmal. As I was trying to absorb some new music I had never heard before (kudos to the CSO), I was distracted by what looked like my 1997 Windows screen saver. Or latte art. To fracture my attention for these swirls and lines is...well, it feels patronizing. It reminds me of pacifying a fussy baby by hanging a mobile in the crib.

And here's the kicker: it was the second time that week I'd been annoyed by nonsensical projections. In Opera Carolina's production of "The Pearl Fishers," a few large props were placed on the stage and supplemented by backdrop projections. This makes a lot of sense financially, and some of the images were nice, but logic was left behind. As the story progresses, the action takes place in the same location for a long time--Bizet and other opera composers didn't vary location much because scenery changes were logistically difficult. It doesn't take much to change location with projected backdrops, but upping the change frequency because it's easy doesn't make sense. As the action progressed on the tangible temple steps for close to an hour, the background changed every few minutes. Projection for projection's sake. But the images weren't worth it--if Knightsounds covered the Windows screen saver, Opera Carolina projected the desktop images. I've seen that tropical cove before.

I didn't see Opera Carolina's production of "The Magic Flute," I didn't live in Charlotte at the time. From the pictures I've seen, the more abstract aesthetic allowed more flexibility with projections and their rate of variation. "The Pearl Fishers" aesthetic was supposed to be realistic. The two methods and aesthetics don't cross over very well.

I understand that projections are a low budget way to visually enhance a production, but I think we can do better. If what we do with technology confuses the message or jeopardizes the integrity of the original art, it's a problem. No one can blame anyone for experimenting, but the hypothesis and result diverged along the way. Let's hone and progress.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

David Sedaris's voice

I love to be read to. There hasn't been a time in the last five years that my car hasn't held several books on CD, checked out from the library and often overdue. I spend a lot of time in the car these days, but even when my commute was quite short, I would listen to books 10 minutes at a time (I'm currently listening to "Great Expectations," picking up all the subtleties that I missed in the ninth grade English class).

What's even better is having the person who wrote the book read it to you. It would be hard for me to find a recording of Charles Dickens voice acting Miss Havisham, but I  listened to Tina Fey read "Bossypants" and I've heard David Sedaris read his essays in a number of auditory venues.

So I was thrilled to hear Sedaris read his work on Monday night at Blumenthal Performing Arts. He read a few essays, monologues and poems (couplets about dogs featuring rhymes like "sphincter" and "distincter") from his new book, "Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls: Essays, Etc.," available this week. 

Sedaris makes plenty of self-deprecating jokes about his high-pitched voice, but that's not what I'm talking about. To hear an author's inflection, or where they whisper and yell, or where they talk out of the side of their mouth uncovers so much more about the story. In Sedaris' case, the experience usually unearths more giggling.

If what you're reading is written by someone still breathing, see if the public library has it. Or if the author tours, buy a ticket to their show. You'll learn a lot.

Monday, April 22, 2013

#TweetSeats at the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra concert

Live tweeting is a big thing in journalism school. As an arts journalist who focuses in performing arts, I would flinch every time Syracuse University asked me to live tweet an event. The thought of sitting at a symphony concert or opera with my phone out goes against every lesson I've ever learned about concert etiquette. And I have glowing concert etiquette--I live to defy the people who mutter something about the young people who are late, who have their phones out, who are talking during the concert.

To satisfy my assignments, I would live tweet restaurant experiences, art galleries visits and street fairs.

Some things are fated, though. The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra experimented with tweet seats during their final Knightsounds concert last Friday, and I was asked to participate. Two back rows were reserved for tweeters. We were given a few hashtags and asked to dim our phone screens.

There were about five tweeters. It's an interesting product in itself, but it wasn't a great concert experience--not because the music wasn't good, but because I wasn't listening the way I usually do. I'm not terribly interested in taking my (very few) twitter fans to a concert--it fractures my attention and creates a superficial musical experience because I'm trying to cook up a witty comment rather than listening to the subtleties of the music.

Below is the result. I storified the #knightsounds tweets--fyi, the latest tweets are at the top, so you should read from the bottom up, like a twitter feed.

Knightsounds season finale--American masters and pioneers

The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra concluded their Knightsounds series with an evening of American music and an experiment with tweet seats. Here's the concert from a social media point of view.

Storified by · Sun, Apr 21 2013 11:53:58

Stepped out of the theater into a dance party at Knight Theater thx to Charlotte DJ Andy Kastanas @cltsymphony #KnightSounds #ulyssesfestJamie Wolf
And thus ends the live tweeting, but not the dj beatz. See you at the reception. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
I love a concert with no intermission. I hate the 25 minutes of interruption. #knightsounds #kudosLeah Harrison
@leaheharrison You do realize the soundtrack you've provided tonight, in probably the most dramatic night in the history of Twitter?Matt Ewalt
Not the only one swaying to American in Paris. A Gershwin night at the Knight! @cltsymphony #KnightSoundsJamie Wolf
@CLTsymphony American in Paris Where are Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron? #KnightSoundsHeidi Frankson
Gershwin's "American in Paris" completes the concert. Visions of Gene Kelly @CLTsymphony #KnightSoundsJessica Thomas
@leaheharrison I LOVE Short Ride! So jealous.Kelly Vaneman
Crazy ride! Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine. Frenetic and exciting. #KnightSoundsHeidi Frankson
Adams's ride is uncomfortable! #KnightSoundsMandy Smith
I've been on that ride with my brother. Adams was right, it's terrifying. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
John Adams! Yes! Minimalism! A short ride in a fast machine is based on driving in the N. Cali mountains. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Taking a frightening but exciting trip in a Lamborghini w/ Adams and then off to Paris w/ Gershwin! @cltsymphony #KnightSounds #ulyssesfestJamie Wolf
Bairos is a great emcee for events that are meant to attract the young and hip. Lucky Charlotte! #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
...So it's weird to like some of their music so much and not care about other pieces they wrote. Afraid that's the case here. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Both Gershwin and Copland have such identifiable sounds, & much of their respective catalogue a sound similar... #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
To end, Gershwin in all his cartoonish glory #anamericaninparis #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
So it's not the best Copland piece. Sure does sound American for having Mexico in the name. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Brass killed it w/ Copland's El Salon Mexico! Tequila, anyone? @cltsymphony #KnightSounds #ulyssesfestJamie Wolf
So excited to hear El Salon Mexico! @CLTsymphony #KnightSoundsHeidi Frankson
Is that tequila I hear? #copland #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Copland's #elsalonmexico next. Inspired by a night in a Mexican nightclub. #knightclub #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
American composer inspired by a Mexican salon. CSO takes us across the border w/ Copland. @cltsymphony #KnightSoundsJamie Wolf
Standing ovation at #knightsounds. Leo deserved it!
Mesmerized. On the edge of my seat. A full range musicality and emotion from the timpani. @cltsymphony #KnightSounds #ulyssesfestJamie Wolf
Great timpani soloist. Bravo, Leonardo Soto! #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Leo is #AMAZING. Timpani concertos rock at #knightsounds #CSOrocks
Urban Sketchers are here tonight! #KnightSounds Symphony
Wow! Leo Soto "Rose the Roof" in Michael Daugherty's spectacular work! #KnightSoundsHeidi Frankson
Now I think we're dealing with mallets that have mini maracas as heads. #whoa #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Pedals adjust pitch n kettle drums. Lots of sliding and scooping. Like trombone drums. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
If you thought drums couldn't have a full range of melodic pitch, check out M. Daugherty's timpani concerto. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
And now, a timpani concerto. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
A DJ composer, Bates really puts a spin on the sound of the Symphony! @CLTsymphony #KnightSounds #ulyssesfestCharlotte Symphony
Technology integrated into the orchestra via a "laptop player" for Mason Bates' piece @CLTsymphony #KnightSounds #ulyssesfestJessica Thomas
Mason Bates. Tech=focal point. Laptop player sitting among violins. Tech sounds are so much smaller than instrumental sounds. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
#KnightSounds just felt scared, excited, nervous and relieved all within the last 7 min of Dooley's pieceCharlotte Symphony
A new Indiana Jones score, perhaps? #templeofprojections #raidersofthelosttux #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Paul Dooley in the house to hear his electronica-inspired piece performed tonight @CLTsymphony #KnightSounds #ulyssesfestJessica Thomas
American music has an ambitious, bright-eyed sound. #ADAMschoenberg #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Schoenberg is first artist since Mahler to be signed by Universal says Rafael-Bairos. #notbad @CLTsymphony #KnightSoundsJessica Thomas
In rondo form, a principal theme alternates with one or more contrasting themes. 'Rondo from American Symphony' #KnightSoundsCharlotte Symphony
A. Schoenberg American symphony. No, not Arnold. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
Informal means no penguin suits, untucked shirt tales and swirly projections. #knightsoundsLeah Harrison
About to live tweet the @CLTsymphony #knightsounds concert. American masters and pioneers, majority still breathing!Leah Harrison
Here we go tweet seats @CLTsymphony #KnightSounds #ulyssesfest Thomas

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Poetry of Resilience" screening at CPCC Wednesday and Thursday

After tragedy and persecution--Hiroshima, the Holocost, the Rwanda Genocide--six people consider human resilience through poetry.

Katja Esson documented their experience in her award-winning film, "Poetry of Resilience." CPCC will screen the film at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday in Pease Auditorium and at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in Tate Hall.

Esson and one of the featured poets, Li-Young Lee, who survived China's Cultural Revolution, will discuss the film and poetry at 11 a.m. after the Thursday screening in Halton Theater.

When I spoke to Esson, she talked about her early anxiety about presenting poetry through film. She didn't want to have poems read over blurred footage of water lilies--there must be visually compelling material for good film. Likewise, she was nervous about excerpting parts of other artists's work (Lee's poems are very long).

She feels confident about the finished product now.

Esson will also address film and videography students at CPCC while in Charlotte.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Artist Emily Connell to give lecture on Tuesday at CPCC

As a child of two ceramicists, Emily Connell was born with it in her hands. At least that's what the letters adhered to her face and shoulders say in an image of her work.

Photo courtesy of Emily Connell.

Text on the body, hands and self reference are three themes that permeate Connell's work. Currently living in Kansas City, she is visiting Charlotte this week as a guest artist during CPCC's Sensoria festival. Connell will discuss her work at 11 a.m. on Tuesday in CPCC's Center for Arts Technology, room AU 101. This lecture is open to the public.

Another biographical bit that makes it into her work: Connell grew up attending Catholic school, so expect to see reliquary images, references to the crucifix and Bibles. The last of these may not be immediately recognizable, though, as they have gone through processes with ceramic materials. Connell alters books (dictionaries, encyclopedias and Bibles--reference books) by covering the individual pages with slip (a liquified suspension of clay particles in water). Some of these are fired, some are cast in plaster, some are embellished with wells of gold luster. Many of these pieces have also been sliced with a round saw more commonly used on bricks. 

Photo courtesy of Emily Connell.

The book series is particularly exquisite. The finished pieces resemble hunks of natural material that age and weather have changed--they look almost petrified.

Contemporary art has the capacity to feel intimidating, but this lecture is a friendly environment for newcomers. Attendees can hear from the artist and ask her questions. After hearing her lecture this morning, I was reminded of seeing a Shakespeare play. As you settle into an unfamiliar language (Elizabethan English or 21st-century art), your brain is a little slow to pick up details and subtleties, but it will adjust! Hang on and you'll absorb some new ideas and expressions.

You will also get to see this beautiful piece, created while Connell was in school at the Kansas City Art Institute. She was required to use an umbrella, a chair and herself.

Photo courtesy of Emily Connell.

Join Connell on Tuesday morning to see what contemporary art looks like. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mill Village: A Piedmont Rhapsody

Tuesday evening, the Levine Museum of the New South hosted "Mill Village: A Piedmont Rhapsody."

The multimedia performance--live music, videos, images--was part of the Ulysses Festival whose 2013 theme is "Brave New Worlds: Technology and Art."

 A dozen Charlotte Symphony Orchestra musicians crowded around projected images and videos as they played a six-movement work composed by David Crowe. The piece tells the story of textile mill workers in the Piedmont region, both when they were content with their new jobs and when the mechanized industry left them desolate. Crowe's music is dependent, in parts, on the weaving room recordings for rhythmic backbone, and does a nice job of incorporating footage of mill workers. This work is more than music that adds multimedia aspects; all elements congeal to make a truly integrative whole (a number of composers have attempted this, but most do not succeed).

The "Prologue" opens with a lone clarinet solo and instruments join in one at a time with an individual figure they repeat on a loop. The folk-like melodies and the minimalistic repetition combine to create a half Aaron Copland/half Steve Reich sound.

There are oodles of musicologists who study how regional location is represented musically. With this piece, there are plenty of obvious answers. The footage of a specific place, for instance, is a dead giveaway. But there's something very American about the sound of the music itself: the way the motives mimic industrial rhythms; the folk songs and hymns used to express the community's entertainment and praise; the broad melodic lines in the brass indicate a spirit of ambition and grounded values--things we associate with a national zeitgeist.

I was never the music-and-place kind of musicologist, so I don't have all the answers. But there is something thrilling about hearing a region you know represented accurately through sound. Community, regional and national identity are difficult things to articulate, and recognizing an idea you've had but haven't been able to define is thoroughly satisfying.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Impressionism in the springtime

When spring is in the air, Debussy is on the sound waves.

Last weekend, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra performed a concert opening and closing with works by music's most popular Impressionist. On Tuesday, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art hosted a program centered around a Debussy piece in their Music and Museum series.

As I walked away from each concert, Tryon Street's cherry blossom petals floated around me, straight out of a Monet garden painting.

The tie between Impressionism and springtime isn't exactly a mystery. There's a high concentration of natural subject matter for these artists--the ocean, meadows, all those water lilies Monet painted--and springtime allows our rediscovery of nature (maybe only theoretically since winter in Charlotte hardly keeps one indoors).

Musically, Impressionistic qualities include freedom, undulating dynamics and loose rhythm. Like the out-of-focus sunsets and reflecting pools in Impressionistic paintings, the music lacks defined boundaries. I think the thing that places this late 19th-century aesthetic in this season is its likeness to heat. In the opening of Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun," the flute solo drips downward and rests lazily on the lowest note before languidly moving back up the scale. Listening to the CSO play this Friday night slowed the speed of a hectic week, giving me my first deep breath in a busy spring season.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Technology & Art: Gimmick or Transformation?

In a panel discussion on Thursday evening, members of Charlotte's arts community gathered to consider whether the convergence of art and technology produced conditions for a transformative experience or just a gimmick.

This panel discussion opened the Ulysses Festival, whose 2013 theme is "Brave New Worlds: Technology and Art." Featured speakers included UNC Charlotte dance professor Sybil Huskey, Opera Carolina's Director of Production Michael Baumgarten, School of Architecture student Evan Danchenka and theatrical video designer Jay Morong. Each participant briefly examined the ways in which technology enhances or distracts in their artistic ventures.

Huskey discussed Dance.Draw, a 2012 art and technology project that joined UNCC's dance department with the software and information systems department. Dancers wore or held a tracking device that created and projected digital images based on their movement. You can watch an excerpt here.

In the opera world, there has been a big move toward digital projections as replacements for painted backdrops and scenery. This method eliminates lengthy set changes, large stage crews and presumably updates an artistic genre that needs younger patrons to buy tickets. Baumgarten discussed the steep learning curve required of him when Opera Carolina purchased projectors, but showed that this streamlined scenic delivery allowed sophisticated subtleties: a giant moon can change position over the course of an aria. Digital projections will be used in Opera Carolina's production of "The Pearl Fishers," opening April 13.

(To see the ultimate tech gimmick in opera, go see Robert Lepage's "Ring" cycle at the Metropolitan Opera.) 

Danchenka worked with UNCC's Digital Arts Center and music series, Fresh Ink, to create digital projections accompanying a performance of Morton Feldman's "Crippled Symmetry." For the February performance, audience members laid on reclining lawn chairs borrowed from the Y to watch the series of images as they listened. Watch Danchenka and other contributors talk about the experience here.

Morong designs video for theatrical productions that usually challenge the traditional--a word Morong doesn't like--perception of theater (for instance, that all speaking parts will be played by a live actor). In UNCC's upcoming production of "romeo.juliet," well-known characters will be represented digitally. 

From Morong's point of view, technology is definitely a gimmick, just like costumes, props and make-up. And he's absolutely right. This discussion of technology is really a discussion of digital multimedia--technology as a concept is not new. Imagine the first time dancers used canned music rather than a live orchestra: new technology. Wagner wrote music for an instrument that didn't exist, and then created it. The Wagner tuba is a gimmick if I ever saw one.

That this evolution of artist production is simply a part of how time passes does not make its discussion futile. The desire to bombard performance art with another visual stimulus, to possibly overload the audience (a reaction most panelists heard from portions of their audience) is merely a testament to the idea that art reflects culture. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Light Factory: "Connected There but Not Always Here" explores the reality of social media

The Light Factory's current exhibit, "Connected There but Not Always Here," is zooming out from all of those Facebook pictures we "like."

While social media often purports an unending stream of lively, crowded activities, the photos hung in The Light Factory contradict this account with depictions of the person behind the post. These scenes betray the cyber myths, showing a much lonelier reality.

Dina Litovsky's series, "Untag this photo," shows clumps of people hovering around a smartphone or camera, enjoying their cyber lives instead of the ongoing party. Posing for pictures takes the place of company, and those without devices sit alone.

Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman have taken to cyber stalking in the name of art. In their series, "Geolocation," the two have photographed the location from which a tweet was sent; the photos are accompanied by the tweet that summoned the artists. To capture these images, Larson and Shindelman watched  their twitter feed for interesting posts and traveled to the  locations listed by the tweeter's GPS tracker. The lack of people in any of their photos accentuates a sense of desolation.

Two photos from Larson and Shindelman's "Geolocation," in The Light Factory through May 19. Courtesy of The Light Factory. Click on the photos to enlarge.
Gabriela Herman's "Bloggers" is a series of portraits in which the subjects' faces are illuminated by their computer screens. This collection seems to observe something more positive about lives spent at a computer; the glowing laptops give off warm light and cast heavy shadows on everything except the blogger's face.

From Gabriela Herman's "Bloggers," in the Light Factory through May 19. Courtesy of The Light Factory.

This exhibit allows an opportunity to record your reactions. Visitors can sit at a computer in the gallery and respond to prompts about each artists' work as a webcam films them. The responses are then fed to a video loop projected on the wall. Celine Latulipe, Berto Gonzalez and Annabel Manning created the concept and technology for this interactive addition.