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Eastman Audio Research Studio presents Image/Sound Festival

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Editor's note: due to the funeral event for Louise Slaughter at the Eastman School on Friday, March 23, the Ensemble Garage concert for Image/Sound has been moved to 9 p.m.

A brand-new Rochester event seeks to bring together audiences with an appreciation for experimental film, music, and avant-garde art in a two-day celebration of image and sound. Presented by Eastman Audio Research Studio (EARS), the inaugural Image/Sound Festival kicks off this Thursday, and its organizers are excited to give attendees a chance to enjoy works wildly different from anything they'd traditionally see performed at the Eastman School of Music.

The Image/Sound Festival will present a lineup of US premiere concerts, workshops, and talkbacks on Thursday, March 22, before culminating with a concert by internationally-acclaimed artist collective Ensemble Garage on Friday, March 23. A full schedule can be found at esm.rochester.edu/ears. All events are free and open to the public.

EARS is the Eastman School's platform for research, experimentation, and the realization of new music and sound art. It's a mission that this new festival continues as it provides a showcase for work from international artists who delight in playing with the foundational elements of the music and film mediums.

"We live in the age of image, and the increasing visual paradigms in our culture raise many questions. In putting together the festival program, we've involved a collection of artists who are actively questioning the relationship between image and sound, and finding some intriguing answers," says EARS Director Oliver Schneller.

These artists are using musical ideas or musical composition qualities to create exclusively image-based pieces. This "visual music" combines elements of music, film, and, performance art in ways meant to highlight the varied interactions between the visual and auditory senses.

The festival first begins with a symposium, featuring presentations by artists and scholars who will explain and demonstrate different ideas and approaches to this relationship, ranging from the collaborations between Alfred Hitchcock and composer Bernard Herrmann, to contemporary VJing.

Thursday's schedule includes a screening in Hatch Recital Hall of works by eminent Austrian videographer Claudia Rohrmoser, who specializes in audio-visual constellations using animation. Following that presentation will be a concert by Eastman's own Empire Film Music Ensemble, an Eastman student group that has been dedicated to the performance of classic film music.

Their performance here sees the group branching out into multimedia work that will place an emphasis on sound, light, and color, through works by Philip Glass as well as new compositions by Ensemble members and contributing artists Claire Caverly and Jose Escobar. The three presented pieces seek to "push the boundaries of what we think traditional composition or traditional performance can be," Escobar says.

The anchor of the festival will be German composer and performer Brigitta Muntendorf, who will be performing with her very own collective, the Ensemble Garage. This ensemble specializes in works that involve complex visual components -- video art, live-video, performance, and theater, Schneller says. "And the group commissions and performs works by contemporary composers from all over the world."

Following the Empire Film Music Ensemble concert, Ensemble Garage will be holding a live masterclass at the Visual Studies Workshop, which will bring visual artists and composers together to share and discuss their work. Appearing before their Friday concert, the ensemble will provide a platform for young artists to exchange ideas and experiences while allowing participants to gain access to the composers in a way that audiences rarely get in the more formal concert setting. As with the rest of the festival's events, the workshop is free though pre-registration is required.

Though the idea behind visual music can seem like heady stuff, Eastman students Caverly and Escobar are quick to emphasize that the medium remains entirely accessible, since it isn't after any specific interpretation. Visual music performances delve into the arena known as Psychoacoustics (the modern scientific study of sound perception and its physiological effects), and as such, are open to whatever emotion it stirs within the audience. The medium only requires that viewers pay attention to their physical reaction to the sounds and images they're experiencing, which means there's truly no wrong way to enjoy it.

"Visual music can be an overwhelming experience," Caverly says. "But that sense of being overwhelmed with feeling can be beautiful when you allow yourself to just watch, absorb, and let yourself kind of fall into it. I think that when it's done really well, it's a totally amazing experience -- like nothing else."

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