Over the past week, I’ve been acclimating myself to the great green north again as I begin my third summer teaching composition at the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp in Interlochen, Michigan. Not only does this adventure give me the opportunity to advise some very talented students and collaborate with many top-notch performers from around the country, but I get to work with several composer colleagues who never fail to inspire. Whether it’s a discussion over plastic trays laden with that day’s lunch, a presentation to the studio in our Composition Techniques class, or late-night musings over IPAs and bourbon, these interactions are a never-ending source of provoked thought, re-evaluation, and outright discovery.
One perfect example of this occurred earlier this week when the four composition faculty—returning veteran Robert Brownlow, first-year faculty N. Lincoln Hanks and Jonathan Newman, and myself—presented examples of our own work to our studio of 18 student composers. Newman, with a bit o’ flair for the dramatic, concluded our presentation with a brief but very effective demonstration of how the combination of a quality recording and basic video technology (i.e. iMovie) can be used to introduce a new work to conductors, performers, and gobsmacked campers.
Newman explained later that he had been inspired by the jazz composer Tim Davies, who had created several score videos for his big band works (see below), and decided that it could be a useful and eye-catching tool to generate interest in his newly transcribed piece. (Blow It Up, Start Again was originally written for the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra in 2011 and transcribed for wind ensemble the following year.) Davies’s Quicktime videos are more simplistic, displaying the full pages as the recording plays along, but they are also still very effective.
Each of these videos allow the viewer to digest the music they’re hearing in different ways. Davies’s videos let the eye meander over the entire score page with little attention to detail, since the image is relatively small. Newman, on the other hand, only shows you what he wants to show you but in much greater detail. In both instances, however, it’s difficult to not be affected by the video as you listen to the music. The visual stimulation is strong for those who can read the scores, and aspects of the pieces that may have been glossed over in a purely aural setting are sharply enhanced.
Neither of the videos mentioned above are intended to be part of the artistic presentation; they were made primarily with the hope that conductors and performers would enjoy the work enough to purchase and perform it. Of course, these aren’t the only examples of composers using video to enhance their music. The incorporation of video as part of the creative process is slowly becoming a new and important aspect of new music in general. From Michel Van der Aa’s groundbreaking work, including his Grawemeyer Prize-winning cello concerto Up-Close and his new 3D film-opera Sunken Garden, to Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir projects which incorporate social media and crowdsourcing concepts to an extent that could not have been imagined only ten years ago, composers are exploring how video can be used in the creation, performance, and dissemination of their music. As technology becomes even more pliant and simple to use, we’re only going to see more innovations in this area in the years ahead.