blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

An extra dimension? Or not?

This lunchtime, as a festival pass holder for this year's Music and Beyond concerts in Ottawa, I was at a performance of Alexander Mosolov's String Quartet No. 1. Written in 1926, it's a serious, some would say difficult, piece of music in four movements, that deserves attention.

It was being performed today, very impressively, by the Utrecht String Quartet. They played in the National Gallery auditorium against the backdrop of a screen showing blurry extracts from contemporaneous (silent) black and white Russian films: documentaries by Dziga Vertov, and the tragic feature film, Mat (Mother), by Pudovkin. Some images were scenic, but those scenes portraying the early 20th century Russian underclasses were disturbing, to say the least.

Sebastian Koloski, the quartet's 'cellist, introduced the concert. He explained that the sequence of film clips selected to accompany the 25 minutes of music was compiled from 4 hours of footage in the Dutch Film Institute's archives, a challenging task. It created a "tricky" timing challenge for the instrumentalists themselves, as well.

Inevitably, so conditioned am I to the bombardment of images with subliminal sound tracks, I was almost completely distracted from the progress of the music by what was being shown on the screen and am now listening to it again in the YouTube recording linked above.

Mr. Koloski said that the intention was to give Mosolov's music "an extra dimension." However, I'm not so sure. Does the combining of music with visual images really does add to its impact? I have seen / heard it attempted before and thought the same then. What is wrong with leaving added images to an audience's imagination? is what I'd like to know. I can't help feeling that such experiments are no more than a gimmick and actually detract from the music.

Vice versa, I feel the same about attempts to add the "extra dimension" of music to a display of the visual arts, although I do see the point of wordless sound as a mood intensifier for emotional scenes in films. The background music for the battle scenes in Branagh's film of Henry V by Shakespeare is a good example.

The other day Chris and I listened to a radio interview with a New Zealander called Paul Cameron, the CEO of a company called Booktrack, which has added music and sound effects to e-books (novels and children's stories mostly) that you can hear as you read; apparently the app. adjusts to your reading speed. It would be hopeless for someone like me because I have the habit of hopping back and forth all the time while reading a book and the sound effects would never keep up. Anyhow, Booktrack's website advertises "a synchronised movie-style sound track" to enhance whatever you buy to read. Here's an example.

Do you think this is a good idea?

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