DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Images 4 Music (2004) – PHILIP GLASS: 6 Scenes from “Les Enfants Terribles;” STEVE REICH: Piano Phase

Performances by piano Duo Namekawa/Russell plus Images by five video artists

Published on June 3, 2005

Images 4 Music (2004) – PHILIP GLASS: 6 Scenes from “Les Enfants Terribles;” STEVE REICH: Piano Phase
Images 4 Music (2004) – PHILIP GLASS: 6 Scenes from “Les Enfants Terribles;” STEVE REICH: Piano PhaseTwo-piano duo: Maki Namekawa & Dennis Russell Davies
Images by: Dietmas Offenhuber, Norbe Pfaffenbichler & Lotte Schreiber, Casey Reas, Martin Wattenberg
Studio: Ars Electronics Center Linz/Sony
Video: 4:3, NTSC one side, PAL the other
Audio: PCM Stereo
Extras: Booklet of note with stills
Length: Reich: 17:33; Glass: 32:50
Rating: * to *****, depending

Well-known conductor Dennis Russell Davies has been working with Ars
Electronica for a couple years on pursuing a synesthesia of visuals and
sound to present contemporary music in a fresh and exciting way.
The idea is partly to take advantage of the abilities to easily
generate and manipulate visuals in real time in concert with both
improvisational and scored musical performances. With the visuals, this
DVD might draw in listeners who would not normally sit to absorb a
half-hour-long Glass piano piece, even in a live performance.  But
it’s also possible it might drive some listeners right up the wall.

The DVD doesn’t document a particular performance at the music
festival, but takes a pair of two-piano performances which were
videotaped and then reprocessed in their studios by the five visual
artists involved. In every case the video artists tried to apply a
visual treatment that followed the structure of the piece – its melodic
patterns, sequences of notes, rhythms etc.  The Reich work is an
early one exploring his fascination with the sound juxtaposition of two
nearly-but-not-quite-in- sync sounds.  Every year Rome is visited
in the fall by huge flocks of migrating birds that form bizarre
patterns in the sky.  The video artists made film loops of some of
this footage and tied them in somehow to the number of notes in the
music. There are two side-by-side screens im most of these visuals in
an analogy to the two pianos, and sometimes the visual loops are played
back at slightly different speeds, on themes of difference and
repetition. The second section of Piano Phase tries to suggest with
blurry, fluid images that move in and out synchronization what is being
heard in the two piano parts.

Philip Glass created a series of new soundtracks for classic films of
Jean Cocteau and others. In the case of that director’s “Les Enfants
Terribles,” he wrote an entire opera, with the vocalists accompanied by
three pianos. Davies transcribed the music for two pianos and without
the singers. The visuals for the first couple movements of the suite
employed blurry images of Japanese streetcars and a woman with an
umbrella. The last section moved to a very effective visual display of
words dancing around on the screen, using a program written by a
digital artist who has a strong background in mathematics. He wanted to
echo the additive rhythms built up by Glass in his music, and used
two  “video instruments” in counterpoint with one another and
using photographs as their raw material. Later it switches to his
Poetry Loom, which computer program builds concrete poetry from a few individual words which generate “trains of thought” across the screen
via word association .  Fascinating! And truly adds to
appreciation of Glass’ score. This last bit was for me worth the entire
avant effort.

- John Sunier




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