Some thoughts about Julie Groves’ piece

Here is some writing I did as part of course homework about my MA coursemate Julie‘s piece, Chromesthetic Solo. Much like my own videos, which I recently blogged about, this was her first venture into audiovisual work (and with limited means), and as such a bit of an experiment, but I think it’s interesting and has potential.

In Julie Groves’ brief audiovisual piece, Chromesthetic Solo, we are presented with a continuous shot of the artist filmed from her shoulders up, staring straight into the camera, a gentle breeze running through her hair and the foliage behind her. The film begins as black and white, and some breathing sounds can be heard – but no ambient sound. Then music begins to play – a flute performance of Telemann’s Fantasia in F sharp minor – and the image turns to colour as the artist’s face becomes animated, anticipating and accompanying each musical phrase with her expressions. Flashes of colour in the image, as well as other visual effects, punctuate salient points in the performance. The expressions on the artist’s face are those of a classical musician in performance, and the artist herself is in fact the performer of the piece we can hear.

The idea of sound causing the visuals is hinted at in piece’s title. Sound quite literally precedes visuals in Chromesthetic Solo: it was recorded before the visuals, and the visuals are a real-time documentation of the artist’s response to listening to the recorded sound. However, although the visuals could be read as a mere reaction to the sound, the relationship here between image and sound is much more complex than a simple reaction/response.

This is because the facial expressions we see are those of a performer, not just a listener; they are informed by knowledge of the written score and physical memory of the performance of the piece. They are also a result of cultural mediation, as these are the facial responses of a western classical musician, rather than just any musician.

These may well be responses to sound, but they are also more than that. Indeed, the changes in facial expressions often anticipate what we then hear in the film’s recorded score rather than simply reacting to it. They are a response to the memory of performing, to prior knowledge of the written score and of how the entire performed piece sounds – a memory and anticipation that is, however, at least triggered by listening to the recorded performance.

Furthermore, though the facial expressions appear to be caused by emotional responses to the sounds heard, they do in fact largely anticipate them, are a manifestation of a memory of the emotions that the musician imbued her performance and the resulting music with. These physical changes are a re-enactment of the thing that gave the sound its emotional shape. In their visual enactment they give the visual an emotional shape, influencing the audience’s listening experience of the music and emotional response to it.

In a way, here the performer is imbuing us with emotions, guiding us in our listening by providing a visual guide to the emotional response to be had. The visuals are a sort of score – this is what western classical music looks like. The chromatic changes and visual effects, coupled with the changes in the performer’s expressions, suggest to us a particular emotional response. Without the visuals, maybe the spectator’s response to the music would not be the same. The visuals open up a new dimension, they give us a window into how performers hear and guide our emotional response.

Finally, while the facial expressions anticipate the sound, the “chromesthetic” flashes of colour accompany/react to it, further complicating the causal relationship between visuals and sound in the piece.

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