Monday, 8 February 2010

Straight From The Source - "Germania Meets Europa"

I thought today I would look at a recent piece I created for October 2009: "Germania Meets Europa".This public artwork was a video, light and sound installation for "Rheinpartie" in Germany last year.
Ross Ashton and myself were both commissioned to create the work. For this piece, I focussed on the sound element and Ross created the projection.
The work itself became deeply layered. We had a variety of themes to work with, some of which were identical but there were others that were not. As a result, we came up with different storyboards for each element and gave the storyboards enough breathing space to allow for a sympathetic entwining of ideas and leading themes. For us, this gave the piece a greater depth for the viewer/listener to experience.

What kind of themes did we look at? The basic idea was that Germania, as a myth figure, would transform into another mythical figure, that of Europa and so the piece would be a symbolic representation of European union. It would be a site specific work capturing something of the dream of peace and change.

For us both, this was a site specific work and so we drew on the Rhine and water as another key theme. Ross implemented these themes into the animation on the statue.
I reflected the themes from a different angle. I decided to work with the full water cycle. For me, the simplicity of all sources of water gradually joining together to finally form a single oceanic body was what I wanted to aurally explore. I liked the idea of active union automatically inherent within this idea. I also wanted to follow nature's example because I was very aware that borders are manmade constructions. Rivers don't acknowledge borders, or different countries, they go where gravity pulls them and then they meet. Into this mix, came Beethoven!

The European Union anthem is taken from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and specifically from the very famous Ode To Joy. It is a very strident piece indeed, and I spent some time listening to the 4th movement and studying the score thinking about how water and Beethoven would mix. I have a great respect for the musical greats and geniuses that have gone before. I decided to "go English" in my reserach and see what the response was amongst my fellow countrymen.

I read through a commentary by Ralph Vaughan Williams in which he looked at the "Ode To Joy". He had nothing but praise for the melody itself but questioned at times its arrangement and handling, the very things I wished to reconcile for this artwork. I decided to follow my initial ideas of re-arrangement and allowed the water cycle itself to dictate pace, overall tone and density of arrangement. Water drips, fast flowing streams and enormous majestic oceans, all intertwined with the re-arranged theme and the additional scoring at times I put in as "watercolour", if you will pardon the pun. It would be Beethoven still, but framed anew.

The video below (by Oliver Blum) was taken onsite when the piece was playing. The sound quality is live, so it is a little indistinct at times.
The section of audio you hear is from the part I called "Stream Tumble". In this clip, that section is repeated a few times, though in reality it is followed by the section "The Rhine" as the whole piece is about 7 and a half minutes. "Stream Tumble" went elsewhere into the score, playing with the harmonies and arrangements underpinning the Ode itself.
I hope to put the whole thing online in the future.