Sunday 2 January 2011

Arctic…nature through a tech filter

Arctic is a multimedia performance in which Max Eastley plays live along to a video art work by David Buckland, director of the Cape Farewell Project. I attended the concert on 26th November 2010 at the Fundación BBVA ‘s magnificent complex in central Madrid, housed in a beautifully renovated palace, in an intriguing event organized by the Fundación BBVA and the British Council with Ubik Europe as part of the Innovarte festival promoting sustainable culture.
After the performance there was a discussion which included Max Eastley and Allison Tickell, moderated by Silvia Grijalba, which I have commented on in an earlier post Can Music Save the World?
The following is an almost unedited transcript of my reflections noted down during the performance, including the distractions which creep into mind when listening to music, at least into my mind. It is not meant to be a formal analysis and the division into movements may well be imperfect, as I was not following the score. The film is not a documentary, rather a piece of video art which uses techniques proper to the genre. There are reactions to the programme notes, which explain that the natural sounds of birds and other sea life were recorded from and on board ship during three journeys as part of the Cape Farewell expedition in the Arctic, and that the natural sounds are as important to the performance as the man made sounds.
First movement 4/4 at about 100bpm, regular rhythm, beat, action scenes, sailors hoist sails in hostile weather conditions, birds fly, but not over the rainbow and not the warrior, this is not Greenpeace. Deep deep sounds, animal, natural or studio?
Second movement sea of tranquillity, earth not moon, in any case, how long will that one last   if we ever get back there...long sustained notes, no definite pulse, whales, sunset reflections, blood red, glissandi. Live performer and soundtrack are difficult to distinguish, it all comes to me through a tech filter.
Segue to third movement white satellite radar dishes upturned on white snow, snow on snow, motorised sleighs, no santa here, laser green rays, even quaver beat, chimney stacks billowing dirty smoke, green lights natural or man-made, sea animal, is it the walrus, I am the walrus, they also used overdubbing, multi-tracking, only 8 track not digital, not let out of the Cage, musique concrète, no mention of maestro Karl,  images of entrance to underground tunnels, white slab  like tombstones, like Indiana Jones or pyramids  but no gold not all gold, prefer milk tray, all in white bleak yes, deep yes, don’t know if it’s midwinter she doesn’t say, now I long for yesterday...Electric snowball where is Snowman, walking in the air, crescendo molto, molto, too much, white noise, all white, white noise white screen not Christmas, could be no calendar, black screen, black hole. Silence.
Fourth movement, underwater gurgles oil or water, to dry land, abandoned hut ice pack collapses, contrast dramatic image/motionless music, repeat oil or water. Industrial image to views of ice flows, remains only really, leftovers after the sail after the sale, or sell out of our future, who was the buyer and who the seller, winner, loser, profit maker? Remains of ice flow, sea animal in water then on dry land, rocks where snow should be.
Fifth movement ice again, peace, gentle image gentle sounds, can sounds be gentle or induce gentle feelings, gentlemen, god rest ye merry – suddenly dark, foreboding, bird calls, no sign of the birds. Boat, red, pond still water, false calm there should be ice not water, easier for the boat to move, though, will use less fuel cause less damage to the environment, if ships can pass through the arctic it’s a shorter route, save millions of fuel costs I read it in the Economist, or was it Newsweek or Guardian on-line, no Times they charge, mean, could afford to pay for that, they think we remember which is which so long as they’re free what do I care?  Aerial photo images of sea, open sea, no ice.
Sixth movement up-tempo birds fly, still no rainbow, super fast moving, birds in a loop, birds like mini fighter planes – ice. Sound track is not synched, can’t hear the bird call, or was that it, just gone, are they gone forever those birds, next time we go back they will be extinct, cheated out of their habitat?
Seventh movement red boat, easily plying through soft ice, shouldn’t be that easy, snow/rock, snow/rock, too much melting, meltdown? Even quavers in  groups of 4, ice sculptures isolated mid sea, should be ice-scape not ice sculptures, red sky, is it night or morning, delight or sailor’s warning? Crescendo and accelerando, semiquaver groups, demisemiquaver groups, ice crash again, same as before, or was it bigger this time? Lots of lake like water, could be Windermere?
Eighth movement snow now by not much if this was a ski resort the papers would say poor conditions let get the snow machines out but that’s the problem, too many machines already, not here, but here there and everywhere. Rocks now, without snow. Ice flow crashes again, the same or a different one, is this a loop for dramatic effect or another one down. Ice flow, choppy weather, metallic sounds using a metal beater on the fretboard. Ice crash again, sheets of ice, ice crash again, loop definitely. Light glistening on water, should be blindingly white on ice. Tranquil or threatening, natural sounds or man-made sonics?  Aleatoric  sequences, oil or water, radiophoncs, distortions on screen, do not adjust your set, Dr Who when who he was was something special, scary daleks, who let them use that theme music when we were six? Two members of the audience sitting in front of me get up and leave, at least it’s not something I said, can’t ask for their money back it’s free, but there is a price if all the ice melts, that’s what we’re here for, or is it for the music?
Ninth movement, not ninth symphony but this could just as well be the call to arms the call signal. The cellist who is not a cellist taps on the fingerboard, triplet figures, ice at last, polar bear looks wistful, or is that so much Disney cheating me? Is that the call of a sea animal or music? Bowed sounds, lots and lots, repetitive, falling eerie sound, sounds like setting 84 mystrynte on my Kawai K1 synth from 1990’s. Polar bear runs, why is s/he alone? More Disney or disaster, is not Disney a disaster, they’re building one in China now. Squats down, cue voice over  gee guys, you’ve been kinda mean to the ice flows, can’t you them a break? But only in my mind, the movie in my mind, not on screen.
Cellist who is not a cellist plays while following images on the screen at his feet, like a rock start singing from autocue, why not just learn the words, people used to do that once. Fade into darkness, black screen, end of film, end of the world.
Epilogue ice sculpture in mid-water, water is eating away at the base, maybe next time I look up from writing it will have disappeared. Two ghost mountains in the background, long sustained sounds again, wind effect, more glissandi. Ice, still, timeless, dark screen, fade, applause.
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