Seeing (and hearing) is believing

The Visible Sounds conference promises a synesthetic feast for the senses.

By BY BARRY DAVIS
February 16, 2010 22:49
3 minute read.
Jean Claude Jones.

Jean Claude Jones 311. (photo credit: Christine Baudillon)

 
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There’s nothing like a cross-sensory experience to set the grey matter in motion and, possibly, the blood rushing. At least that’s what Menahem Zur from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance (JAMD) and his cohorts in the upcoming Visible Sounds conference presumably expect from the five-day event.

As strange as the notion of “visible sounds” may initially seem, there appears to be growing interest around the globe in this kind of artistic juxtaposition. “The idea came about when [JAMD] deputy head Michael Melzer suggested to Yaarah [Bar-on, a historian from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design] to do something connected to the artistic areas of both institutions,” said Zur. “Yaarah then got in touch with [Bezalel musicologist and a philosopher of music and art] Yael Kaduri and things took off from there.” Zur then gave the venture an incremental shove in the right direction. “As soon as I realized just how big the conference was going to be I got in touch with Oxford University Press and asked them in they’d be interested in putting out a pamphlet about the proceedings. Their reaction was: ‘Proceedings? Are you kidding? We’ll publish a whole book about it.’ They had cottoned on to the fact that this was the hottest item in the world in the field today.”

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Zur and the rest of the conference organizers quickly set about drawing up an impressive international roster of speakers and musicians from Israel and around the world, including the likes of Columbia University professor of philosophy Lydia Goehr, Swiss animation film director Georges Schwizgebel and composition professor from Keele University in the UK Rajmil Fischman, as well as an impressive lineup of eminent academics and artists from this part of the world.

The conference’s subtitle – Interrelationships Among Music, the Visual Arts, and the Performing Arts – spells out the event’s working premise. Between February 21 and February 25 a packed schedule of lectures, presentations and live music will examine the ways in which different art forms interact, influence each other and combine to form new vehicles of expression. Goehr’s first day slot, for example, is called Pictures at an Exhibition: On the Possibility of Musical Ekphrasis. The latter term is defined as “a rhetorical device in which one medium of art tries to relate to another medium by defining and describing its essence and form, and in doing so, relates more directly to the audience, through its illuminative liveliness.” Later in the program Zur will talk about Dennis Miller’s 2009 film White Noise, which depicts the use of noise as a means to generate visual and musical elements. The film features constantly shifting perspectives and abrupt juxtapositions of elements to evoke reflections on the chaos that permeates everyday life.

IT ALL sounds – and looks – enticingly stimulating but, surely, the idea of illustrating musical sounds in a visual format is old hat? Anyone who has ever put a CD in a computer must have caught a glimpse of the Sixties-style graphics provided by the Windows Media Player software. According to Zur that is a world away from the conference’s intent. “We are not putting on Visible Sounds to see how the hand of man leads the interaction of different media in order to create a narrative. As a composer I know we still have a lot of things to discover in music, just as people who create in dance have to look outside the genre for solutions. But we’re not looking to marry different areas of the arts just by clicking a button. Multimedia technology makes that very easy. When we started working on the conference we looked for people who engage on the counterpoint between the different fields. We wanted to see whether an artist from one genre is capable of speaking in the language of an artist from a different field. That’s the fascinating area.”

Most of the lectures and screenings will take place in the Feldman Building of the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus, with other items being held at the JAMD’s Navon Concert Hall and at the Bezalel Academy on Mount Scopus. The conference will also feature live music, including an intriguing confluence between Jerusalemite bassist, experimental musician and record label owner Jean Claude Jones and sound text artist Josef Sprinzak, and a presentation and performance by Germany-based New Zealand jazz saxophonist Hayden Chisholm.

For more information about the Visible Sounds conference: http://www.as.huji.ac.il/conferences/visible_sounds.

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