Another essential day in the Studio, this time with the Quartet. Projectors have been rigged, our screens are up and we’ve cued the lights. We still haven’t got all of our screens working, due to cabling and compatibility issues, but I’m loving the shadows that we’re getting from the spotlights.
The projections look great on the drapes and the live layering of closeups onto wider shots of the musicians playing through vision mixers is really effective. We have more rehearsal time tomorrow afternoon to test out the different camera angles. Hopefully the tech issues will be sorted by then.
Great news today – our Prom is listed as being sold out! So, three nights at Colston Hall sold out with the Russian Winter and now this. How very pleasing. Musn’t get too used to it though, as I know how hard it can be to get people through the doors and you are only as good as your last show.
Big mystery now is who is the audience? At last year’s Sacconi Prom, attendees were notably older and more traditional than for the other Proms. Public perception of Quartet playing is that it is old fashioned and stuffy but the Sacconi’s are not at all like that. It is our hope that our cinematic setting with vj-ing will help to attract some younger audience members.
Michael Sides and I saw last year’s ‘from every angle’ Prom with Jan Lisieki. We experienced lag, as we were in the audience at the Watershed watching a live feed from the Old Vic theatre. The general view is that it was the lag or delay that made this experience somewhat unsatisfactory. Whilst this was indeed an issue, as the event was predicated on live relay, I also found the simultaneous overplay of so many multiple screens and camera angles distancing. For me, the visuals were too busy and the camera angles often failed to enhance the intimacy the performance. That said, my favourite part was when we saw a bead of sweat fall of Jan’s nose – as this made me feel more involved with the emotions behind his performance. I was also moved by the juxtaposition of his hands and feet as he was playing.
As documented by classical-music.com
One way around lag is to keep it to a minimum, the other is to play to it through the explicit use of slow motion. Both are valid approaches, the former being more theatrical and the latter more cinematic. Which art form is calling the shots in our project with the Sacconi Quartet? This question needs to be asked. As a multimedia person with a longstanding interest in the power of juxtaposition to reveal new ‘truths’, I favour the latter – or would at least like to try it out. Unfortunately, we are not able to do that because we don’t have the equipment or hire budget to do this with a live feed. No matter – all projects need limitations to push their creativity. I shall save this particular set of ideas for another time….For now, our priority is to keep things simple and to pay close attention to the music in the design of the visual treatment.
The i-Docs Lab is modular workshop where we invite people to expand their understanding of what an interactive documentary is and use a purpose-oriented approach when creating new projects. We presented our first lab in January 2013 at the BBC Broadcast and Beyond day as part of Digital Bristol Week. As well as speaking at this event, as documented in this video, I also curated the ‘meet the producers of two success stories’ session. I was delighted to be able to invite my former colleague, Max Whitby, Founder and now Director of Special Projects at Touchpress Digital publishers to give a talk alongside Patrick Uden of Uden Media.
Last week’s tech tests revealed that we needed to think carefully about where to position the projectors to maximise the sense of immersion and to prevent ‘keystoning’. This is distortion caused by projecting an image onto a surface at an angle. It will also affect how and where we can hang our drapes. In order to project a portrait as opposed to landscape image, we need to place the projectors on their side. This led to us building stands for the projectors to create a flexible rigging system. As a ‘practice-led academic’ who is constantly moving between analytical and intuitive processes, I’m loving the hands-on practical problem solving.
Last week, we had a day in the Studio at the Bristol Old Vic with the lighting engineer and camera crew to test out our ideas. We experimented with different ways to hang our projection screens, thought about where to position the projectors, tested out the cameras and experimented with lighting effects. Our general aim is to create a setting that will enhance the intimacy of the Quartet’s performance. In so doing, we want to help bring the uninitiated into the music without spoiling things for aficionados. Quite a challenge we know but heh – that’s what the Bristol Proms is all about.
We are keen to use drapes as opposed to flat screens to create an ‘organic’ setting for the projections in keeping with the humanity of Beethoven’s late works. We plan to hang them vertically – one for each musician – to privilege a portrait-style view of the players. The thinking behind this is that it will enable us to layer closeups onto a baseline mid shot of each musician playing. We only had one musician, which was me – rather scratchy but enough to establish that the layering of close-ups over a static mid-shot creates some beautiful imagery which is absorbing to watch.
A group of our students are part of an artist’s collective called Limbic Cinema. Whilst at UWE, they made a documentary about the rhythms of life in Bali which was screened as a triptych and performed in a theatre with a live orchestra. Subsequently it was commissioned as part of the London Olympics, Cultural Olympiad as a 360 degree live film.
Here is Limbic Cinema’s latest venture – an amazing piece of projection mapping for Trinity May Ball about the history of time. What I like about these students is the intelligent way in which they are pushing film into new territory – using multiple projections, live performance and a strong conceptual underpinning for their creative treatment of ideas.
I have designed a mood board as inspiration for my thinking for our cinematic setting. Shadows feature heavily in these images and we have every intention of picking out those fascinating and beautiful shapes that the Quartet make when they play their instruments. In line with general aim of the Bristol Proms, the idea is to bring new audiences to classical music by being innovative with approaches to its performance. Seurat’s drawings are a big inspiration – a recent discovery for me through my drawing classes. His work is wonderful – evocative and mysterious. Just beautiful.
We want to create an immersive setting which will allow the audience to become absorbed in watching how the Quartet relate to their instruments and to each other as they play. We do not, however, want this to compromise the listening experience in any way, particularly in the timeless third movement. I am looking forward to experimenting with the different possibilities for how we might achieve this when we have our full rehearsal with Quartet and crew next week. We plan to experiment with the lighting as well as camera angles to reflect the different moods of the music.
As part of my role at UWE, I teach filmmaking and creative media to undergraduates, masters and PhD students. Over the years I have seen many of our students achieve great things and this continues to be a very rewarding part of what I do.
You can read about my early days of teaching at UWE in this published paper or in this archive and watch a more recent short video piece of me talking about my approach. In this part of my blog, I will be posting about the interesting things that my graduates are up to.
I have been working with the Oxford Anthropologist, Professor Wendy James on her long term ethnographic archive from the southern part of the Sudan for a number of years. Our collaboration began as part of my PhD studies in interactive documentary and has grown from there into an ambitious plan to narrate the archive. Our first outcome was a website to support her most recent book about her fieldwork, which was published in 2007, and there is a peer reviewed paper available on-line about our subsequent work.
I have presented our wider ideas about database narrative and the cultural transmission of memory at a number of international conferences and have also written several further articles about our work. Some of these are as a single author, some are written with Wendy, and others with Paul Matthews who has been working with us on the computing side of things. For more information about this work, with the full text of my thesis and links to my publications, please go to my AcademiaEdu pages.
This project is currently on hold, due to the political situation in the region and my own wider business. Wendy is, however, still active as a Sudan specialist and I am building skills which will be applicable to this work as and when the time is right.