SPECTRE | DREAM
MAY 22-24, 2019
“Was it a vision, or a waking dream? Fled is that music: - do I wake or sleep?”
- John Keats
Dialogue of the Unexpected
In early 2019, within a concise timeline of only two months, a partnership between Library Street Collective and the Detroit Sessions brought to life a performance installation with the goal of creating a heightened synergy between diverging artistic styles. Thus, joining the conversation would be interpretations of Brahms helmed by violinist Roberto González-Monjas, and Jason REVOK, translating a series of paintings to live digital projections to be cast upon Detroit’s former church of the Good Shepherd, as well as Rivera Court of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
For an author who never composed at the instrument, the musical approach of Johannes Brahms is indeed remarkable. This apparent creative “rationalism” is at odds with the overwhelming spectrum of emotions that has become an inextinguishable part of his reputation. Is there a kind of added beauty that is a result of such rigid structures and self-imposed rules?
For Jason REVOK, the mind behind the calculations of the buzzing tape loops, there is a strong parallel. “I wasn’t aware of that about Brahms, but it makes sense. As with all known things in the universe, there is a certain kind of law that governs - there is a certain structure and border to all things. Within that framework, nearly anything is possible.” For example, in REVOK’s spirograph compositions, math is indispensable. Within a set perimeter, only certain actions can happen, and a predetermined path is followed based on the exact design of industrial tools. However, inside this system, there remains room for spontaneity, with strokes of color arriving in a multitude of ways, imperfect and uncontrollable.
These rules draw the artist toward a certain kind of harmony, with the resulting work becoming a unifying dialogue in and of itself, exploring a balance of opposites. Opposing forces are crucial to this interplay, competing with each other - clashing, pushing, pulling, all without a clear victor or leader. What manifests into existence is a spontaneous composition born of a significant preceding struggle.
Functioning clearly outside of the graffiti context and origins, REVOK is conscious of these self-imposed barriers - “I forced myself into a really disciplined and restrictive way of making, where I was not allowed to do anything gestural, thus prohibiting the use of a kind of language that I had developed and relied on for so long.”
The result is an entirely new style of studio work. This symbolic return to painting is now characterized as an homage to his roots, where any remnants of graffiti aesthetics have been stripped and deconstructed to the sheer materiality and energy of spray paint, as seen in the series of tape loops. The focus now is centered upon transcending the excitement of making a mark toward something else entirely.
Spanning nearly ten years, the elusive cycle of Brahms violin sonatas offers a similar window into the music of a composer under constant evolution. If the opening movements suggest explicit connections to song, it is in the second sonata that melodies begin to vanish, appearing between fleeting moments of dance and bringing us to the final sonata in d minor. It is here, with no clear beginning, that we find ourselves in a completely different world, and the traditional sonata form is but an outline of a vessel.
“There are so many instructions with how each passage needs to sound, and yet, the music of Brahms is all about the unsaid,” says Roberto González-Monjas. “If one plays exactly how it is written, it might even sound banal - it is all about finding the hidden meanings.”
Having inspired himself through some of his own vocal pieces to compose the violin sonatas, echoes of voice are omnipresent in the intimate atmospheres of these masterworks. The sonatas for violin showcase an unmistakable choice to forego endless lyrical lines and themes of grandeur, all in favor of a close-range, intimate style of music making where rigid discipline and perfectionism is countered by motherly lullabies and whispers.
Thus, in the early first sonata, a refreshing youthful atmosphere is underlined by the Regenlied. The entire dramaturgy is transformed by the theme of the second movement, which persists as a kind of idée-fixe into the finale, a coming-of-age effect that builds toward an ultimate sigh of arrival, a feeling of inner growth and transformation.
The perpetual smile of the second sonata is an autumnal transition between the first and final sonatas, gently wavering between joy and melancholy. This is the backdrop of fantastic worlds, hidden dances, and the extraordinary, a fairytale that delicately captures the words of Theodor Billroth, a confidant of Brahms, who once described it as a piece that "has immense grace and kindness, a lovely child, so dear and charming."
This elegance is the antithesis of all that follows - the agitated and passionate third sonata underlines a boundless tragedy, paused only for a moment by the duo of the second movement. As Brahms concludes his cycle by touching the deepest and most extreme emotions of humanity, it becomes clear that the love of the first sonata is no longer present - it is a love that is gone, only a memory.
"There is value in doing cycles as this gives perspective, however, the best exhibitions that I have been to set a dialogue between times and places," says González-Monjas. "It is the strength of these ideas that is able to show a viewer how art travels through time, and what is the real essence of art."
While projection mapping to classical music is an exciting new medium that is capable of increasing the scale of expression dramatically, this unchartered terrain is prone to tremendous challenges and risks. Timings, lighting, and animations, all perfectly in sync while allowing for the freedom of a live performance place immense demands on all team members and artists, with reliance on automation and pre-programming out of the question.
"Here we are on the day and we still don't know if it's going to happen," notes REVOK. "Working with light is entirely different than with a traditional canvas - it is ephemeral and momentary, nevertheless, there is something invaluable in the nature of this irreplaceable experience."
With these words, the curtain opens on a singular event where all - audience, artist, and musician, are placed in a space to confront the unexpected. Perhaps some people will have come for art, some for music, but for an age dominated by automation, replica, and conditional approval, the spontaneous dialogue between artistic mediums and people of Spectre | Dream is certain to evoke a reaction.
The first notes of violin and piano emerge out of darkness and REVOK's buzzing tape loops gently begin marking the walls and ceiling, all as if composing those lines of Klaus Groth that first inspired the Regenlied of Brahms - "pour, rain, pour down, awaken again in me those dreams that I dreamt in childhood."
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