V/A ~ Stills 01

Here’s a unique idea:  ask sound designers to look at works of art and imagine them as movie stills.  Then ask the composers to score the subsequent scenes.  A trio of artists from the String and Tins family selected works from London’s Britain Tate Gallery for the first in a series, and the results are exquisite, opening new modes of viewing, thinking and hearing.

Jim Stewart chooses Paul Nash’s oil painting Totes Meer (Dead Sea), which was inspired by photos Nash took of an aircraft dump.  Nash writes, “The thing looked to me suddenly, like a great inundating sea … something static and dead.”  Stewart responds with processed piano and horns, presenting a broken, hollowed soundscape that bobs and weaves on sonic waves of sorrow.  The slow glissandos are like planes falling to their deaths: the suspended time before collision and the shattered time after, excising the crash itself.  The sounds of creaks and dragged glass bring the painting to life; while watching and looking, one can imagine animation.

Mary Martin’s abstract Inversions is the subject of Simon Whiteside’s piece.  Martin’s fascination with architecture inspired the creation of 96 aluminum panels, the second 48 an inversion of the first.  An additional inversion is provided by the reflection of the in-person viewer.  Whiteside’s notes (far more than 96) sound as if they, too, could be placed in boxes; the staccato strings mimic the rigid architecture, while the fluid strings mimic the morphing reflections.  As with Stewart’s piece, the tension grows throughout the span of the composition.  As to what sort of scene the still is from, the question is wide open; could the scene be taking place inside the museum, instead of the region of construction?

And then there is The Annunciation, the most straightforward of the artworks.  Or is it?  According to infrared photography, there was once another woman behind Mary; and the painting was inspired by the non-canonical Gospel of James.  Joe Wilkinson captures the mystery of the oil painting with the slightly changed title of “Annunciations,” starting with choir and light drone and progressing to a sense of gentle wonder.  The bells and mallets that enter mid-piece produce a feeling of energy that matches our estimation of Mary’s reaction.

These Tate artists are long gone, but one wonders what their reaction would be to these works.  One would hope their descendants are pleased at the reverence shown toward these works, as well as the effort to bring appreciation to new audiences.  It’s only fair to mention a fourth work: Camille Rousseau’s cover, which carries the project a step further.  This physical image reflects sonic images based on other physical images: an usual chain of influence that sparks a new idea: what if Stills 02 were to begin with a reaction to Rousseau’s work?  (Richard Allen)

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