The Kingdom of Glottis
In 2012, I collaborated with the Croatian visual artist Damir Ocko on a video work entitled Spring. Layers of instrumental and electroacoustic music samples were combined with image and narration. The piece was exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris as part of a solo exhibition of Damir's called The Kingdom of Glottis.
Scored for two sopranos, flute(s), cello, contrabass, live electronics, and video, epiglottis was intended as a sort of convoluted commentary on Spring. As is described below, the vocal, instrumental, and electronic material was derived directly from the images and text of the video work.
epiglottis consists of three songs, separated by brief audio-visual interludes, and concluding with an A/V postlude, for a total duration of ca. 13-14 minutes. On the February 2014 concert, the second song will not be performed due to time constraints.
The visuals employed in Spring consist of footage of the Stromboli volcano in Italy at various levels of lava activity, as well a collection of contortions, balancing, and precarious conditions to which the human body may be subjected, filmed on a constructed black-box set.
Using an image processing and analysis program, I created several representative still images from the video, which were analyzed for color density levels. This data was then converted into (audio) spectral information and used to synthesize audio samples. In turn, the newly generated audio files were analyzed and re-synthesized into images. While the produced sounds themselves became the basic ingredients of the electronics component, the spectral data associated with these sounds determined the pitch content of the vocal and instrumental parts.
In the first two principal sections of Spring, a contortionist performs a series of complex, repeated motions:
These motions were transcribed (by hand), resulting in a collection of contours, of abstractions from the physical actions. Pairs of physical parameters were mapped to these contours, which were assigned to both voices and instruments. In effect, the performers reconstitute the anatomy, the moving parts of the human contortionist. Due to the changes in and rate of change of the parameter mapping and shifts in layer density, this "anatomy" takes on a volatile, fragile, and unpredictable character.
The Spring narrator recites four poems that Damir Ocko himself wrote for the project. In epiglottis, I set three of these texts, as well as one that was originally intended for the video, but was ultimately discarded.
The first poem makes several allusions to resonance, ringing, melting, trembling, and cracking. The subsequent text consists of an "instruction manual" for constructing a vocalizing meat puppet. Poems 3 and 4 appear in the third song (entitled "Nickering"), and depict a schizophrenic state. Through the gradual increases in tempo, rate of change, intensity, and exchanging of texts between the singers in "Nickering," comprehensibility progressively diminishes, enabling the physicality, the sonic properties of the poetry, to percolate to the foreground.
In the first song, the voices and instruments undergo live processing. Reflecting both the recurring imagery in the first poem and the Stromboli volcano footage, a resonant penumbra of varying harmonic content, density, and intensity surrounds the source-sounds.
The video component consists of three of types of material: 1) moving images of the human contortionist; 2) still images derived from Spring; and 3) images "resynthesized" from the video-audio-video conversion process described and illustrated above.
Besides presenting epiglottis in its entirety (to occur during the 2014-2015 season), I am planning to utilize this "song cycle" as the basis of a one-act chamber opera. Prior to Spring, I contributed to Ocko's 2010 video The Moon shall never take my voice—"three songs for muted voice and various sounds"—a sort of song cycle in its own rite. The Moon was also presented on the Palais de Tokyo exhibition last year.
It would be of great interest in the chamber opera context to integrate themes, images, and texts proper to both video works, expand the epiglottis instrumentation, and incorporate lighting and staging.