In the loops

Pasatiempo - - Art In Review -

Chris Jonas has had his eyes on— and his hands in— a cer­tain plot of land for some time now. He chose the par­cel wisely, pre­pared it thor­oughly, put in the seeds care­fully, and has pro­vided plenty of fer­til­izer and wa­ter ever since. He’s brought in ex­pert friends for ad­vice with an eye to mak­ing the har­vest strong and plen­ti­ful.

In Septem­ber, the acreage put out some col­or­ful though not quite ma­ture buds. They were promis­ing but needed some se­ri­ous in­ten­sive care— a bit of re­pot­ting, as it were. Three months later, and af­ter plenty of in­tense culling and prun­ing and sweat­ing, Jonas and his friends are ready to open the gate and let every­one in to watch what they hope will be a ri­otous, bril­liant out­break of dark-bloom­ing fruit, com­plete with blos­soms.

We’re talk­ing sym­bol­i­cally here, of course, but the plant sym­bol is apt. Af­ter years of work, Jonas will un­veil “Night,” the first move­ment of an on­go­ing, mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary art/mu­sic/the­ater piece ti­tled Gar­den. The five per­for­mances this week­end at the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts in­volve Jonas, the San Fran­cisco-based Del Sol String Quar­tet, videog­ra­pher Robert Drum­mond, pho­tog­ra­pher and net­work tech­ni­cian Petr Jer­abek, di­rec­tor Acushla Bastible, and move­ment artist Echo Gustafson of Mov­ing Peo­ple Dance The­atre. In­terns from the Santa Fe-based non­profit Lit­tle­globe, founded by Jonas, have also as­sisted.

“The Septem­ber per­for­mance ac­tu­ally ne­ces­si­tated a growth spurt for me,” Jonas said re­cently, just af­ter he re­turned from a fi­nal re­hearsal in San Fran­cisco. He was re­fer­ring to the Del Sol’s per­for­mance of a Gar­den ex­cerpt, along with other con­tem­po­rary mu­sic, at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter. There were se­ri­ous prob­lems then, not creative but tech­ni­cal; and in a work so de­pen­dent on mi­cro­cir­cuitry and pro­gram­ming and pro­jec­tion, even one prob­lem is too many.

“I learned that tech­no­log­i­cal sta­bil­ity is re­ally im­por­tant,” Jonas said with un­der­stated rue­ful­ness. “Now we have mul­ti­ple re­dun­dan­cies built in. It’s one of those bal­ances be­tween a re­al­is­tic bud­get of re­sources and what it takes to make a piece suc­cess­ful. If you’re go­ing to spend a year writ­ing a piece, you can’t have a com­puter crash­ing on you!”

Thus the in­clu­sion of Drum­mond, “a won­der­ful video artist, who has con­trib­uted so much in terms of tech­no­log­i­cal per­spec­tive,” and Jer­abek, who is “a net­work­ing guy and com­puter guy but also an artist in his own right and a very fine pho­tog­ra­pher. We’ve got­ten to the point where we look at a photo we plan to an­i­mate for the video, and I frankly can’t re­mem­ber if I took it or [he did]. Acushla has been in­volved with the creative side since Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera, and then there’s her strength in stage­craft and mu­si­col­ogy.”

Jonas’ first meet­ing with Del Sol — vi­o­lin­ists Kate Sten­berg and Rick Shi­nozaki, vi­o­list Charl­ton Lee, and cel­list Han­nah Ad­dario-Berry— was in July 2007, when the quar­tet was in town for the pre­miere of Dun’s Tea: A Mir­ror of Soul. That fall, Ad­dario-Berry came back to Santa Fe for the High May­hem Fes­ti­val, where Jonas and she did im­pro­vi­sa­tion work with other mu­si­cians. She liked what she heard there of the Gar­den project, which was based on a 1998 duet Jonas wrote for bass clar­inet and so­prano sax­o­phone with three-screen pro­jec­tion. She took it back to the other mem­bers of Del Sol, a San Fran­cisco-based group that con­cen­trates on con­tem­po­rary mu­sic, and back-and-forth artis­tic work has gone on ever since. Jonas vis­ited San Fran­cisco in June 2008, bring­ing a num­ber of mu­si­cal lines and four­part pieces for the quar­tet to ex­per­i­ment with.

Af­ter Septem­ber’s ex­pe­ri­ence and feed­back, Jonas kept writ­ing fu­ri­ously. “I de­liv­ered a full draft of the piece to the quar­tet a month ago,” he said, “but I wasn’t sure what would work and what wouldn’t. The quar­tet was com­mit­ted to the cre­ation of the mu­sic and video, but I gave them 10 times more ma­te­rial, both video and mu­sic, than we ended up with. It’s a very in­tri­cate bal­ance. It would be much eas­ier just to write a string quar­tet!

“We in­vited an au­di­ence to come to the fi­nal re­hearsals in San Fran­cisco,” he added, “to make sure we had a strong artis­tic flow. I’d say it was 87 per­cent there. Peo­ple were very sup­port­ive; we had a mar­velous re­sponse. I couldn’t be hap­pier.”

Orig­i­nally, Gar­den was con­ceived as tak­ing place within spa­tial lay­ers cre­ated by six large screens hung in par­al­lel. The quar­tet would oc­cupy the in­ner space, with the au­di­ence seated in the outer sec­tions. As lights raised and low­ered and video pro­jec­tions came and went, lis­ten­ers would some­times see the quar­tet, some­times those seated be­yond the cen­tral space, and some­times only opaque screens.

That’s changed now, Jonas said. It was a case of prac­ti­cal­ity and pro­duc­tion ease as well as suit­ing artis­tic aims. “The big con­fig­u­ra­tion change is in the screens,” he said. “We re­al­ized that with six par­al­lel screens, we’d have to spend 40 grand on pro­jec­tors. Now we’re go­ing to have screens as a box around the play­ers. It still func­tions in an im­mer­sive way, but it also works bet­ter for seat­ing the au­di­ence. The ex­pe­ri­ence will be just as strong ar­tis­ti­cally.”

Mu­si­cally, the Del Sol play­ers will in­ter­act with both aleatoric and planned sonic se­quences — what Jonas calls open and closed forms. “I cer­tainly de­rive some of that from Lu­toslawski, who uti­lized a lot of that stuff. Stock­hausen and Be­rio, too. A lot of com­posers have ex­per­i­mented with the use of a cell or loop of some com­plex sonic form. The du­ra­tion of the loop is up to the per­former. If you feel good, you can stay in it for a while.”

The loops can be en­tered and ex­ited at the per­form­ers’ whims or cued by an out­side op­er­a­tor. In San Fran­cisco, Jonas said, “I did all the cue­ing, be­cause I was still us­ing the re­hearsal as an op­por­tu­nity to try things. We’ll see how it turns out. You might get ex­cit­ing mu­si­cal si­lence or video si­lence when the screens go dark.”

Af­ter this week­end’s open­ing, Gar­den will be­come an in­stal­la­tion piece, on dis­play at CCA from Dec. 11 through Jan­uary 2010. A video of the quar­tet and its live per­for­mance, in­clud­ing the de­but au­di­ence re­ac­tion and pres­ence, will be pro­jected onto the screens in a 45-minute loop. Del Sol plans to take “Night” on tour in 2010 and will re­main in­volved as Jonas keeps work­ing on Gar­den’s other move­ments for the fu­ture.

“The project is so full-bod­ied right now,” Jonas said. “There are so many bits and pieces and con­cepts. It’s been burst­ing me awake. Come mid-De­cem­ber, I hope I re­mem­ber how to sleep again!”

Han­nah Ad­dario-Berry and Charl­ton Lee of the Del Sol String Quar­tet

Kate Sten­berg of the Del Sol String Quar­tet

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