Dynamic Elements

AE interviews composer Larry Austin
March 9, 2007

On Monday, February 26, EMF and NYU present Mark Hetzler & Luke Dubois in a multimedia concert combining instrumental performance with interactive electronics and video. We asked them both a few questions about working with sound and image together. Below is our interview with Hetzler about his work with photographer and visual artist Katrin Talbot. Read our interview with Dubois here.

AE How do you work with music and image in live performance? Does one support the other? Or are they equal contributors to the aesthetic experience?

MH Very often, when music and image are combined in a live performace, the images are, for me, akin to an interpretation of the music. Just as a conductor can alter tempi, and a musician can work with phrase and shape, we interpret music through visuals. I often see images in my mind's eye while listening to a piece of music, and I get excited about trying to bring those visions to life, to share them with an audience through performance.

Some of the music we perform was created to be combined with particular imagery; in other cases, we add our own images to existing music. I perform many concerts without any projection, and I have a deep love and respect for the purely acoustic aspect of the music I play. But I am also a product of the MTV generation, and as such, the combination of music and image have always been part of my cultural experience. I rarely hear a piece of music without either a series of images, a dramatic story, or waves of color unfolding in my mind. This is true for all genres - pop, classical, jazz, modern, you name it.

So. during the creative process, I would say that image is subordinate to sound, just because the music is our starting place. However, as far as the resultant aesthetic experience is concerned, the goal is that the two be integrated into a cohesive whole, experienced on all levels, all at once. We accomplish this through many means, for example making the images move in exact sync with the music. The way we approach performance, neither can exist without the other.

AE How did you come to collaborate with Katrin Talbot? And how do the two of you approach a piece together?

MH I work with Katrin's husband, Parry Karp (cellist of the Pro Arte String Quartet) at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Our families have become very connected - they have three daughters and we have two and there are many meals shared and performances experienced together.

Katrin had created two settings of song cycles to be performed with another colleaugue, Paul Rowe (a baritone also teaching at Madison). I went to these performances and was happy to see another person interested in images. After many conversations we decided to embark on our first project, Visions of America. This concert combines a musical program of American composers; each work is set to visuals (both still photography and video), and the entire show is connected by documentary-like interviews of Americans discussing aspects of their lives, providing a context for each composition on the program.

Katrin and I work very well together because our tastes are similar, and yet our perspectives are unique. We usually have long periods of brainstorming that involve listening to the music we have selected repeatedly, taking notes and jotting down ideas. Our creative process is an exploratory one, and we often end up in a very different place artistically from where we started out. If ever we get trapped in the world of the abstract, one of us will say a particular word, or catch a glimpse of a particular object, and our direction will immediately become clear again. Working with Katrin over the last two years has been very rewarding.

AE Your program is entitled Dynamic Elements and includes works by contemporary composers such as Robert Rowe and Meredith Monk, as well as by older composers like Charles Ives. How are these pieces related to one another, and to the theme of the concert?

MH We are actually performing parts of two different shows at NYU. New York Requiem by Meredith Monk is part of our Visions of America concert. The rest of the program is from Dynamic Elements. As I said earlier, Visions looks at cultural and social issues in our country, and the Monk work was inspired by the AIDS epidemic and looks to loss in general. We have tried to set the work as a series of five tableaux that reach into the human spirit and show how fragile we can be. It was one of the first things Katirn and I created and I continue to be amazed at how powerful Meredith Monk's music is.

Robert Rowe's Arcturus, which he composed for me through a commission, is part of our new production Dynamic Elements. Here we combined music by an eclectic mix of composers with an introspective visual journey through the physical world where seemingly endless constituent parts exist in constant motion. We tried to show the physical world for what it is: a place with fluidity and process, growth and decay, assembly and dispersal; and though matter never completely comes to a rest, moments in time can be sustained for fractions of a second or frozen for millions of years. In any given time and place, one can view the elements of matter in a variety of states and in an infinite array of placements and locations.

After visiting numerous research institutes at Madison campus (eg Geology, Zoology, Entomology, Biology, Genetics, Engineering, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Physics and Astronomy, to name just a few), an traveling to over 15 states, we tried to create a show that gives the audience perspectives as diverse as the inside of a dividing cell and a window open to the entire Universe. This concert looks at concepts such as communication, information theory, transportation, DNA, and decomposition. In a very poetic (and times, quite abstract) way, it attempts to tie the four elements together, making sense of the order and chaos in the physical world.

The works we chose for this performance, different as they may be, are all related by virtue of the fact that together they create an arc which expresses these somewhat intellectual ideas aesthetically.

© 2007