Sunday, April 27, 2008

Carrousel perpétuel

I mentioned a couple of posts back that I had a project in mind involving Poulenc's Trois mouvements perpétuels. This is not that project - but having recorded the piece, I somehow ended up imagining and then producing the following. I think it's pretty cool.

Although I recently wrote about a fabulous music-as-rollercoaster video, putting Poulenc on the merry-go-around was not originally intended as another trip to the fairgrounds. This happens to be a wonderfully circular piece that is also conveniently brief, so my first thought was that all the notes could be wrapped around a big disc. You can see what that early version looks like here. I then thought about a variety of ways to make sense of this score-as-circumference, including depicting it as the edge of a spinning coin or LP. Then came the idea of putting a flag on top to help show how far around we'd gone, and soon it had become a carousel. Of course, the 3D animation (created with this freeware) is pretty crude. I'd love to have the Pixar techies on hand; as it stands, this is rather like a composer posting a MIDI recording when the London Philharmonic isn't available. It's the thought that counts. (The notes are a little clearer if you go here and choose the "watch in high quality" option.")

This also gives me an excuse to revisit the thrilling Ries Rollercoaster. I was talking to a student recently who confessed that she sometimes prefers experiences in the jazz/pop world to classical because of the more natural invitation to express oneself physically - specifically, to dance. I mentioned the rollercoaster video to her - it exploits the same basic principle as those motion rides that use visuals to fool the body into thinking it's being whipped around. On some level, that's how we want audiences to respond to music - it's neither passive nor overly intellectual, but rather an intuitive interpretative response that makes us feel - well, whipped around.

And sometimes, after you've been whipped around on the rollercoaster, you just want to go for a nice relaxing merry-go-round ride. Actually, there's a famous French musical merry-go-around by Debussy that hardly sounds relaxing. (Lyrics here. Hear here.) Nevertheless, Poulenc's little bit of perpetual motion is closer in spirit to most carousels I've been around. And notice how the ups-and-downs of the ostinato L.H. can be heard as wooden horses gently bobbing up and down. If you think I didn't think about trying animate that - well, you don't know me very well.

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