10 years of Dar­ing

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - ▶ Joseph Dal­ton is a free­lance writer based in Troy.

“Maker of worlds” brings more dance to EMPAC as the venue over­look­ing Troy cel­e­brates its 10th an­niver­sary./

Yara Travieso is a chore­og­ra­pher, direc­tor and film­maker whose work is so broad-based and all-en­com­pass­ing that she’s been called a “maker of worlds.” Since mid­sum­mer the New York-based Travieso has made re­peated and ex­tended vis­its to the Ex­per­i­men­tal Me­dia and Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter, RPI’S mas­sive glass and steel build­ing on the hill above down­town Troy, which is com­monly known as EMPAC and is now cel­e­brat­ing its 10th an­niver­sary.

The re­sult of Travieso’s res­i­dency is an elab­o­rate new fu­sion of dance, film, mu­sic and theater ti­tled “Sagittarius A.” The piece will have its world pre­miere on Fri­day night at EMPAC as part of a three­day fes­ti­val of per­for­mances and other spe­cial events.

“I think emo­tion­ally and in­tu­itively, not tech­ni­cally,” says Travieso. “Here the fo­cus is on a prag­matic way of ap­proach­ing things. It’s been an in­ter­est­ing

chal­lenge to em­brace the tech­nol­ogy and make work that is very hu­man.”

From his earliest meet­ings with the ar­chi­tects and acous­ti­cians be­ing con­sid­ered for the mas­sive con­struc­tion project, EMPAC Direc­tor Jo­hannes Goebel has been talk­ing about hu­mans – es­pe­cially our eyes and our ears.

“All of our spa­ces are built for the hu­man senses with­out tech­nol­ogy, so that we are see­ing and hear­ing and us­ing the full 3-D di­men­sions of a venue to the high­est de­gree of qual­ity,” says Goebel.

Next comes the task of bring­ing to au­di­ences things that might be be­guil­ing, fresh, in­sight­ful or mem­o­rable.

“Con­tent comes first,” says Goebel. “The tech­nol­ogy is just an­other in­stru­ment.”

Yet it is an in­stru­ment that re­quires in­formed care. Man­ag­ing the arse­nal of dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy at EMPAC is a per­ma­nent team who all but guar­an­tee pro­duc­tion stan­dards high enough to be wor­thy of an en­gi­neer­ing school. As for deciding what is seen in the fa­cil­ity’s four spa­ces (the con­cert hall, the theater, and two black-box spa­ces), that’s the job of EMPAC’S three cu­ra­tors, young artists and ad­min­is­tra­tors who are plugged into the in­ter­na­tional scene and of­ten ar­range joint en­deav­ors with other ma­jor arts cen­ter.

For au­di­ences ac­cus­tomed to more stan­dard con­certs or plays, the events at EMPAC over the years have of­ten been per­plex­ing and, well, dif­fer­ent. Even for reg­u­lar at­ten­dees al­ready thor­oughly ini­ti­ated into new art forms, the track record of sat­is­fy­ing or suc­cess­ful EMPAC pre­sen­ta­tions is mixed at best.

None of this trou­bles Goebel.

“Our ba­sic pro­gram­ming idea is this… We say please come, it will be high qual­ity. But you may or may not like it,” says Goebel. “That’s why the tick­ets prices are so cheap. So you won’t be dis­ap­pointed for your in­vest­ment.”

With reg­u­lar movie prices north of $10 and tour­ing rock shows usu­ally $100 and up, EMPAC’S ad­mis­sion charges are, in­deed, ad­mirable. The high­est ticket price this sea­son is $18. Dis­counts are avail­able for se­niors, stu­dents and mem­bers of the RPI com­mu­nity.

If you’ve yet to ex­pe­ri­ence the im­pres­sive build­ing, with its vast seven-story atrium and sweep­ing views of the western hori­zon, then this fes­ti­val is an ideal op­por­tu­nity to check it out. The build­ing will be open from noon to 11:30 p.m. on both Fri­day and Satur­day with a va­ri­ety of free ex­hibits, demon­stra­tions and talks. There are also five tick­eted events run­ning Thurs­day to Satur­day evenings.

Travieso’s “Sagittarius A.” should guar­an­tee a grand spec­ta­cle on Fri­day night. Along with a solo dancer and a live en­sem­ble of mu­si­cians, there will be new videos (shot on lo­ca­tions in Troy and down­state) pro­jected onto the walls, bal­conies and even the ceil­ing of the con­cert hall.

“My work gen­er­ally deals with find­ing truth through the myths and re­claim­ing the cul­tural and mu­si­cal story of women,” says Travieso. “I’m in­ter­ested in the way that we ex­pe­ri­ence women in a phys­i­cal sense. As a chore­og­ra­pher, the pol­i­tics of women’s bod­ies is im­por­tant to the char­ac­ters I cre­ate.”

Her dis­tinc­tive ti­tle refers to the name of the point at the cen­ter of the Milky Way, thought to be the spot of the orig­i­nal black hole that led to the cre­ation of the en­tire so­lar sys­tem.

“The work is in­ter­twin­ing or par­al­lel­ing the story of how our gal­axy was cre­ated,” says Travieso. “It’s a cre­ation myth.”

An early in­spi­ra­tion for the piece came from Travieso’s first visit to the EMPAC fa­cil­ity, when she ob­served the curved wooden shell that sur­rounds the ex­te­rior of the con­cert hall.

“I walked into the mon­u­men­tal ar­chi­tec­tural space,” re­calls the artist, “and saw a gi­ant sphere in­side a cube. There’s a sense of life, some­thing preg­nant.”

As an ex­ten­sion of her fem­i­nist mind­set, Travieso likes to mess with per­for­mance spa­ces, utiliz­ing them in un­ex­pected ways, go­ing against ex­pec­ta­tions and break­ing down hi­er­ar­chies and pa­tri­archies that get en­shrined in ar­chi­tec­ture. While the EMPAC con­cert hall does uti­lize the tra­di­tional model of a stage at one end, it was con­ceived to han­dle most any­thing an artist can dream up.

Ac­cord­ing to Goebel, the hall was de­signed in such a way that no mat­ter where mu­si­cians per­form – from the stage, on a side bal­cony, amidst the au­di­ence, or up in the rafters – they can be heard with the same op­ti­mal acous­tic qual­ity. In ad­di­tion, each of the four spa­ces in the build­ing is equipped to eas­ily show­case any genre of per­for­mance or “time based” art. “Black boxes are usu­ally a com­pro­mises of dance, theater and mu­sic,” says Goebel.

The con­cert hall will again be in use on Satur­day night and for an­other elab­o­rate un­der­tak­ing. This time it’s a con­cert of the In­ter­na­tional Con­tem­po­rary En­sem­ble with con­duc­tor Tim Weiss per­form­ing a suite from Olga Neuwirth’s opera “Lost High­way,” based on the 1997 film by David Lynch. The pre­sen­ta­tion won’t re­sem­ble opera though, since there will be no singers or vi­su­als. In­stead, it’s billed as a 45-minute dis­til­la­tion of the opera’s sound world.

Join­ing the en­sem­ble will be a team of six in­stru­men­tal soloists, plus an elec­tronic sound­track de­liv­ered via a spe­cially con­structed dome of 64 loud speak­ers. The sound sys­tem, known as Am­bisonic, is an ad­vanced form of sur­round sound and, it’s promised, will give the ef­fect of clouds of sound com­ing from ei­ther close by or from a vast uni­verse away.

An­other ver­sion of sur­round sound, known as wave field syn­the­sis, will be demon­strated through­out the week­end with record­ings of Mozart. One of the sys­tem’s unique ca­pa­bil­i­ties is to project a sound at a par­tic­u­lar spot, so it feels as if a cel­list, for ex­am­ple, is per­form­ing right next to you. The term for this sonic ef­fect is “holophony,” some­thing akin to a vis­ual “holog­ra­phy.”

Ac­cord­ing to Goebel, the soft­ware for wave field syn­the­sis was de­vel­oped in Europe in the 1980s, but it took EMPAC to per­fect the hard­ware. The past two sum­mers EMPAC hosted week­long sem­i­nars for en­gi­neers, pro­duc­ers and mu­si­cians to ex­pe­ri­ence and learn the sys­tem.

“We had com­posers here, in­clud­ing one who had worked with wave field sys­tems and was not sat­is­fied with the re­sults” re­calls Goebel. “He said this is in­cred­i­ble, it works!”

Again look­ing be­yond the mere cre­ation of fancy tech­nol­ogy, Goebel adds, “Now we are com­mis­sion­ing works for that sys­tem. We didn’t just de­velop a stupid tool.”

Lori Van Buren / Times Union

The Cur­tis R. Priem Ex­per­i­men­tal Me­dia and Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter (EMPAC) at Rens­se­laer Polytech­nic In­sti­tute in Troy is mark­ing its 10th an­niver­sary.

Paul Buck­owski / Times Union

Aviewofthe 1200 seat con­cert hall and the fab­ric ceil­ing in EMPAC while it was un­der con­struc­tion in Septem­ber 2008.

Joseph Dal­ton

Credit: Har­ald Hoff­mann

Some of the per­form­ers tak­ing part in the week­long cel­e­bra­tion of empac’s 10th year in­clude (from left) com­poser olga neuwirth, “boy­child” and the for­mosa Quar­tet.

Credit: Cour­tesy EMPAC

Yara travieso’s im­mer­sive theater ex­pe­ri­ence “Sagittarius A” will be pre­sented on fri­day night.

Credit: mick Bello, EMPAC

Credit: Saman­tha Zauscher

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