PuSh Festival: Turning Point Ensemble pairs music and movies five ways
As befits an elegy for his recently departed mother, Ferruccio Busoni’s early-20th-century masterwork Berceuse élégiaque is sombre and thoughtful to the point of being distinctly crepuscular. Its shadowy strings and woodwinds progress at a glacial pace, almost prefiguring ambient music, and yet the work is also shot through with considerable warmth—or at least the memory of warmth.
So when Judy Radul decided to translate its strains into visual art, it seemed entirely appropriate to shoot the cinematic component using thermal-imaging cameras.
“They remap the visual realm, I guess,” says the interdisciplinary artist and SFU associate professor, who splits her time between Vancouver and Berlin. Reached at her East Van home, she adds that this relatively new technology has, so far, been used primarily for military purposes—and for ghost-hunting shows on reality TV. “They see close enough to what we see, because they see the sort of shapes we see, and enough of our features have different temperatures. Like, a beard has a different temperature than a face, and so you actually see differentiation. But I suppose it also kind of reminds me that all you are seeing is differentiations between hot and cold.”
Between life and death, too.
“I’ve always been interested, in a certain way, in death,” Radul notes. “Not in a negative way at all, but the condition of life also includes the condition of not-life.”
Radul’s Good Night Vision, accompanied by Busoni’s music, makes its debut this weekend, along with collaborative works both old and new from artists as diverse as pioneering film composer Hanns Eisler and innovative media artist Stan Douglas. All the music will be performed live by Vancouver’s Turning Point Ensemble, whose co–artistic director and conductor Owen Underhill curated the Cinema Musica program along with composer Michael Bushnell.
“This is actually, in a way, like a five-feature show,” says Turning Point’s other artistic director, trombonist Jeremy Berkman, in a separate telephone interview. “It’s five different projects, and five different ways that music and moving image are put together. Each one has different challenges for the musicians. In some of them, it’s more traditional: we’re going to have to synchronize with Owen and with what we see, and hopefully that all matches. But in others, we’re actually interacting with the images, so that’s going to be interesting. Talk about being distracted! We’re going to have to be aware of what’s real and what’s imagined, and what’s still and what’s moving.”
Radul was initially drawn to Berceuse élégiaque because of its contemplative beauty. “It’s not so active that you can’t imagine doing another thing while you listen to it, which is looking at something, right?” she says. So, in her case, she’s distracted by another, very different factor: she has yet to get her hands on the thermal-imaging cameras that will be used in the live video shoot, so she’s not entirely sure how her work will look.
“It’s not a real heat-generating piece,” she muses, “but maybe it’ll heat up a little bit.”
Both she and Berkman are comfortable with the experimental process, however.
“It’s a real exploration,” says the trombonist. “So we’re all frankly in this together, and with such talented people, it’s kind of exciting. It’s a big philosophers’ café, and I think it’s going to be really cool.”