Friday, 22 January 2010

Cambridge 800 - Thoughts on Programming

For those who have been checking my status on LinkedIn, I have spent most of this month working on two of the three projection art installations by Ross Ashton that made up "Transforming Tomorrow" - the closing event of the University of Cambridge's 800 year anniversary celebration.
You are all aware I was in New York in December overseeing the staging of a specially created version of the opening work for the Gotham Ballroom, and also in Beijing in June for a cultural festival that featured the same thing.

"Transforming Tomorrow" featured 3 new works: "Blurring the Boundaries" a video installation on Senate House and the Old Library was the smallest and was the original site for the first piece done in January 2009. This time there was a new site, which I had the enormous privilege of creating the programming for. The other two pieces, "Nano" and "Planets to Proteins" were projected onto Kings College Chapel and the Gibbs Building across the large open green that forms the magnificent open panorama of buildings next to the River Cam, between Kings Bridge and Clare Bridge.
Programming for these particular large format projections can have a series of varied requirements - some pieces are with sound and some without. It can be something of my creation or something of somebody else's creation. In this case, there were some fascinating juxtapositions for me that I thought I would like to talk about.

Firstly, there was a close physical proximity between these two pieces. The face of the Chapel that contained the work "Nano" was next door to the Gibbs Building and "Proteins to Planets".
Secondly, the music was intended to work as an atmosphere, a mood that grasped the central concept of both works. It was not to be synchronised to!

As a person with a creative burn towards sound and vision, I took some time to think about these two things before beginning programming. I decided my aim was to bring all three elements together but without actual formal synchronisation. I approached each piece as a separate entity in its own right, and brought together moments, looks, colours and movements to allow the two pieces to occasionally join into a single panorama before breaking free once more. Their movements were complementary, they wove in and out of each other without compromising their integrity as individual pieces.
I listened many many times to the music, a piece called "The Angels" composed by Jonathan Harvey. This choral work captured the ebb and flow of angelic voice, layered in a way that suggested the sound of something universal rather than purely religious. What would an angel sound like if you could hear it?
I let the tempo of the music dictate the image movement, the ebb and flow of the voice was mirrored in the way the images faded in and out. Nothing was synchronised and yet I hoped that such an approach would create continual fusion between image and sound. I believe I succeeded in what I set out to do. Over those three days, nobody would have experienced the pieces the same way twice.

Why mention this here? Because programming is not a simple task - it requires thought, sensitivity, an instinct for timing and the ability to respond with physical tools to something as seemingly transient as a flow of sound through to the demands of hard rhythm.
One of the things that attracted me to sound is that to me, I hear rhythm everywhere, and have for as long as I can remember. I discovered that when I first saw a projected image, and began to work with that, I could see the rhythm in that. When I began in stage management in theatre, I could feel the rhythms of lighting changes, scene changes, the pace of drama, and I got the opportunities to follow that. Everything has its own life and flow and the thrill for programming for me is being the person to flex the creative muscle in bringing all these disparate forces together under one's steady control to achieve a whole new desired effect.

I believe art lies in there somewhere too, in that drive, concept, control and final realised vision.