Surface Tension: Abstract Sight and Sound
Chasing a small, brief respite from my end-of-the-quarter burdens, I traveled to Winifred Smith Hall last Thursday night for Surface Tension, an aesthetic concert combination of piano and interactive video presented by the Gassmann Electronic Music Studio at Claire Trevor. After settling into a seat in the lightly-packed theater, David Rokeby gave a presentation about the exhibition as Eve Egoyan prepared herself at the grand piano.
Separated into multiple parts, Surface Tension’s first half opened with “Machine for Taking Time,” featuring a time-lapse photography compilation of the Montreal cityscape while Egoyan played a somber, lethargic tune invoking sadness and resignation. About 20 to 30 minutes long, with a constant repetition of the same notes in different tempos, the pairing of music and video created a zone of immersion that came with its own interpretations.
The duality of sorrowful music amongst a gray city drew me into a dreamlike satisfaction. Minute details about Montreal’s skyline became prolific under the trance of the paced music as the windows and AC units transitioned to a distant forest and a group of kids in a playground. The changing seasons became more and more lucid as the urban landscape cycled between green, orange and white, contrasting nature and the urban jungle in its morbid appeal.
For the second half of the performance, Rokeby connected a computer program to Egoyan’s piano, which detected the notes she played and created a corresponding image on screen. The following five sections were all improvised, where Egoyan balanced the line between image and sound, conducting her own ideographic video. A ripple of water, a series of concentric circles, a jaded, angular tower, a game of connect the dots and a blizzard in a city were the scenes that rose out of the improvisation. Each were certainly abstract, and came with their own interpretations. I imagined towers rising out of the abyss, like a rendering model of Tokyo’s skyline coming to fruition.
The beauty of this exposition was that every person saw something unique and personal. Gary Quang Ngoc, a third-year public health sciences major, noted how “The visuals and the varying musical motifs reflected how little changes over time affect our perspectives of everyday life.”
The scenes of Montreal’s urban sprawl, as well as the improvised water ripples certainly reflected this, and Adiell Diel, a third-year biological sciences major, noted that, “The ripples are chaotic, and [like] life returning to balance”.
Above all, Surface Tension was an artistic journey into the smaller world of exhibitionist art, with the music providing striking contrast between the images projected. It almost seemed like early silent film, with the art film playing on a projector and the musical accompaniment backing up the display. Perhaps that’s why the title of the exhibition was Surface Tension, as if the concert was walking on the fence between two distinct mediums and jumping back and forth for a completely new outlook.