Notes on Composing: 5 Collaborations in Film and Music reviewed by David Fujino

March 2, 2009, Isabel Bader Theatre, Toronto.

“Images Festival 2009” kicked off with a diverse programme of film and video artists in five collaborations with composers from Canada and the Netherlands.

The large, pulsing, flashing screen of Daichi Saito in “Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis” was the canvas for Malcolm Goldstein’s furiously swooping, bowed violin sound interventions. Alone on stage he played ardently to the screen’s rapid stroboscopic changes in light. Goldstein’s on-beat bowing eventually established a rhythmical drone underneath the single and combined voices that kept slipping out from his violin, and when the persistently blinking screen images — black silhouetted trees and tree trunks amidst sparkling and bright foliage — began to slow down, and the red and blue images started to visibly melt in front of our eyes, Goldstein sympathetically slowed down and then fell silent in the dark theatre. It was a fine structured improvisation with film.

Two films leisurely played side-by-side in “2 Cameras @ Sea” by composer
Oscar van Dillen and artist Clive Holden. The films’ narrator and the Continuum ensemble’s live playing made for a wistful sound score that started with a percussive clarinet/piano note and gradually took on a suspended quality with restless undertones. The left hand film was a black-and-white and sometimes blue image of a beach. The right hand film was black-and-white and sometimes a magenta image of a beach.
Both films had a dog. Much of this depicted the unspoken feelings between a boy and a father — all to the sound of rushing water …

“ONCE NEAR WATER: Notes from the Scaffolding Archive” by senior video
artist Vera Frankel and composer Rick Sacks is an artist’s interrogation of
a society that would reduce a city’s quality of life. As a lament for lost
space and place, this collaboration gained instant authority from its
voice-over woman narrator and a changing text that was superimposed upon tracking shots of Toronto streets, its people, and the construction of office towers in downtown Toronto. The loosely drifting pentatonic/gamelan/Asian-inspired sounds supported the pace of Frankel’s almost journalistic images and words. But when “Write, grieve, advocate, reminisce” appeared on the screen, the true nature of the political and emotional responses of Frankel and Sacks became clear.”… our city was once near water … by the time you read this, the person you know will be gone.” “Transience was all.”

After Intermission, “Behind the Shadows” drew us back into a moody
collaboration between composer Martin Arnold and artist Christina Battle.
Her images came from cinema and the man and woman walking on the screen were revealed in lightning-like flashes which later changed into two-colour abstract shapes. The late night whistling of pianist Laurent Philippe carried through most of the piece and, to these ears, gave it a Brazilian (bossa nova) big city lonely feel and emphasized the distances between people. Bat-like then gull-like forms flew from right to left across the screen, and after an image of a woman’s face beside an image of concentric circles made some gasp, the (careful) squeaks and peeps from violin and flute interacted above a piano/vibraphone/low clarinet drone.

But there was nothing (careful) about Guy Maddin’s “Glorious” — a mad black and white filmic celebration of all things physical and sexual, that homed in on glory holes as ‘dreamed’ in the film’s first section, “Father’s Dream”. The Continuum ensemble’s gong helped deliver visual punchlines but otherwise the crisp piano, tuba, and percussion defined and propelled much of the film’s other sections like “Desktop Family Organizer”, “The Shoes”, and the brief and funny “Obedience of the Children”. In this Maddin world, filled with bare-breasted voluptuous women, guns, and gangsters dressed in brimmed hats and white wife-beaters, it’s a well lit array of phalluses that finally stand out, waiting for glorification in the final section, “Six Shooter”.


That was some pushing against context.

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