New Music Greensboro recently collaborated with the College of Visual and Performing Arts and its society of student composers to present a concert featuring the works of artist Christian Marclay, performed by the Swiss ensemBle baBel.
Christian Marclay is an award-winning visual artist and composer, a pioneer of the technique of using turntables to create sound collages. He often stitches together clips of pre-existing music and other audio recordings into an aural patchwork, whether digitally or by manually gluing together sections of different vinyl records.
The main focus of his artistic body of work is the idea of seeing sound and of hearing images, blurring the lines between the two mediums and senses.
This idea was a central theme in both works featured on the evening’s program, the first being ‘Graffiti Composition,’ featuring members of the UNCG student and Greensboro professional music communities alongside ensemBle baBel.
‘Graffiti Composition’ is a project began in the summer of 1996, when Marclay stuck 5000 sheets of blank sheet music around the walls of Berlin, Germany. Anonymous hands covered the sheets in drawings, words, and music notation, making the piece a great collaboration from the public. Marclay took 150 of these sheets to create the score of the piece, which individual musicians interpret uniquely into sound.
For performance on April 11, many musicians were spread out all over the hallways of the Weatherspoon, on both the first and second floor. Each musician had a few pieces of sheet music that they were to interpret, along with a ‘roadmap’ of sorts indicating when they should play. The audience members were invited to walk around, hearing the mixing of sounds and instruments from different angles and perspectives.
The featured musicians played a variety of instruments, from percussion to upright bass to a slide guitar modified with rubber bands and a roll of masking tape. Each person watching the performance interpreted it differently; some chose to sit in one place to listen for awhile, while others were more mobile and experienced the sound from every corner of the museum.
The result was thirty minutes of what Marclay calls “a musical portrait of Berlin.”
The second piece on the program was the North American premiere of Marclay’s ‘To Be Continued,’ which features a graphic score that consists of collages pieced together from comic books. Dedicated to ensemBle baBel, the score features visual representations of the musicians’ various instruments, indicating when each of them should play.
Each of the 48 pages lasts for thirty seconds, and the musicians individually interpret the images on each page the way they see fit. Though the score is visually interesting and captivating, it is typically only seen by the musicians during performance. However, the event sold copies of the comic book score, so audience members could follow along.
The aural interpretations of the images in the score were interesting, often akin to the functionality of film scores. Though each musician was interpreting the score uniquely, their sound was still cohesive and made for an interesting performance to watch and to hear.
EnsemBle baBel is a Swiss group that began in 2006, and they play music of all genres, particularly in the realm of art and experimentation. The past five years have culminated in a close relationship in collaboration with Christian Marclay, and the group has performed his pieces around Europe and, now, in the US. Last year, they released a whole album of Marclay’s pieces, including an interpretation of “Graffiti Composition.”
This was a unique event and a great expression of Marclay’s artistic endeavors. EnsemBle baBel played with impressive skill and interesting interpretation, making the concert especially noteworthy.