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.