Last weekend I was in Calgary for the Forms of Sound Festival at the University of Calgary. The closing concert of the Festival was presented by Land’s End Ensemble, which had put together a wonderful concept programme called Real Time Art. Three different composers were paired with three different visual artists who would create in real time during the performance of the music. As they worked, their progress was projected onto a large screen for the audience to follow. It was a great idea that made for a great evening highlighting the intersection of sight and sound.
Artist Brianna Strong interpreted Festival guest composer Agostino Di Scipio‘s music with her highly detailed technique of pen and line, while the music of Nicole Lizée inspired artist Kerry Warner, who created a large panel of diaphanous shapes and colours with a fascinating watercolour technique. Painter and “combine and assemblage” artist Aran McCormick responded to my From the Chalice of Becoming and Triple Witching. It was fascinating to watch him work (and the easiest of the three to watch because his canvas was up on an easel, so one could see the painting emerge both onstage and on the screen, from two different angles).
From the Chalice of Becoming had also been performed earlier in the festival by UC students Conor Stuart and Ethan Cayko. Now Land’s End members John Lowry and Kyle Eustace were performing it. It was a special experience to hear two quite different interpretations of the same piece in one week! Aran began painting as Kyle started From the Chalice‘s opening bass drum solo, and continued through the piece, the set change and then Triple Witching, creating one large work over about 20 minutes.
Triple Witching was performed by clarinetist Stan Climie, cellist Beth Root Sandvoss, and pianist Susanne Ruberg-Gordon. Susanne had played the piece before, and had worked out her piano preparation and un-preparation routine (certain keys have to be taped down so that those notes can ring sympathetically, but along the way of the piece, the keys have to be released). It was wonderful to work with this trio and the Chalice duo, both of whom gave a tremendous amount of rehearsal time to exploring every detail of the music.
I had no idea what Aran was going to do. He attended the dress rehearsal to hear the music but none of the artists “tried out” their ideas at the dress. It was quite spontaneous during the concert. As the painting emerged, a realisation came to me: when I write music, I think in layers. Each layer has something going on in it. The music is built in these layers. And here was Aran, applying a layer, an idea, then applying another layer on top, then a new layer, each layer interacting and building out. We create in the same way. I knew that painters do this—I’ve watched my partner Pascal Milelli paint in layer after layer—but I’ve never seen it happen in conjunction with my music. It was a revelation.
I’ve had my music interpreted by choreographers before, and it’s fascinating to me to see how, where an idea creates sound in me, the same idea creates physical movement in a choreographer. Now I was seeing how an idea that was sound to me could be, for a painter, visual.
I loved that there were three very different composers on this programme, and three artists with very different approaches to their own work.
Bonus: each of the artists showed other works in the lobby space, and Aran responded with three “combine and assemblage” pieces inspired by the idea of “what if music were taken away from us.” As a musician, I look at these pieces and see creativity shackled by the constant struggle of making a living as an artist.
Thanks to Land’s End for a thought-provoking evening, and to Aran for his beautiful (and spontaneous) work!
Artwork ©2015 Aran McCormick