Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Jacksonians, here's your chance to witness a cutting-edge 21st-century multi-media presentation in tandem with a late-1930s musical work based upon an early 13th-century manuscript made up of more than 1000 poems and songs—the "Carmina Burana." Make an appointment with yourself to be at Thalia Mara Hall, 601-974-1422, April 22 at 7:30 p.m.
Jason Marlow, 25, whose business card says he works with film, music and multimedia, contracted with the Mississippi Chorus to produce a visual event worthy of the music and the manuscript. He proposed a motion-design project that would take Jackson 15 years into the future. "Why not try something that hadn't been done here before," he explained to me, seated in his Fondren Corner studio, filled with computer equipment, keyboards, guitars, an upright piano, shelves stuffed with film reels, stacks of CDs, the walls hung with inspirational artwork. There's even a small window through which Marlow photographed birds on the wires, an image that's in the finished multi-media piece.
A call went out to Mississippi artists who responded in plenty. Marlow's voracious creative appetite for input eventually led to a couple of 8-inch high stacks of CDs filled with digital images—lots he scanned, some artists submitted digitally, some filled with photos of textures he took himself. After studying the music and reading the "Carmina Burana," Marlow's mission over several months was to use Photoshop and a three-dimensional computer program called After Effects to mix two-dimensional objects into three-dimensional space and then animate it to the music. The vivid one-hour, five-minute feast that resulted plays on a 15-by-20 foot screen as the live music is performed on stage.
Watching a loop taken from the work, mesmerized by the world Marlow had created, I heard him listing the contributors—painters, dancers, illustrators, graphic designers, filmmakers, poets, writers, typographers, architects, glassblowers, photographers, sculptors—but couldn't turn away from the screen. He's combined elements taken from these works into scenes—sometimes with as few as four layers, sometimes with as many as 700—that move, pulling the viewer inside the experience. (You can see a bit of it yourself in TV commercials running this week, promoting the event. Look at the TV the second you hear that music you'll recognize from the Capital One credit card commercial.)
Throughout the process, contributing artists would stop by the studio. "I saw some on the verge of crying because they were so excited," Marlow said. "They had never seen their stuff move like that. One guy told me he has gone back and started a new series because he'd never thought of his work that way."
Marlow wants people who come to "Carmina Burana" to go away feeling like that artist did. He said there's an overwhelming sense of promise emanating from this project, not only for himself, but for showing what young creatives can do.
Of course, without the unification of the visual with the aural, that promise would go unfulfilled. The music will come to you courtesy of the combined voices of the Mississippi Chorus, the Millsaps Singers, the Mississippi Boys Choir and a 59-piece orchestra that includes seven percussionists and two pianos.
Tim Coker, director of the Millsaps Singers, inherited the project last summer when Mississippi Chorus founder Martin Bittick retired. "What a wonderful, glorious project to inherit," Coker told me over the phone last week. "We don't very often get to hear choirs sing secular music; it's usually sacred or opera."
This is an opportunity for the choir to sing songs of a more sensual, earthy nature, Coker explained, going on to say that the original poems and songs were written by young men who wandered Europe in the 12th century—students and clergy. They questioned the inconsistencies of the leaders of society, the church, using satire to hold up a mirror of sorts, the same thing creative people still do. About the potent music, Coker said, "People respond viscerally to rhythm. Our bodies have to move as we listen to this wonderful piece of secular music."
A review of the Boston Camerata's CD of "Carmina Burana" from David Vernier on Amazon.com said: "The unpredictability of fate, the delightful turmoil and tribulations of love, the sensuality of spring—all of these topics are addressed, sometimes with poetic elegance, but just as often with unsubtle lasciviousness and vulgarity."
Eternal themes, 21st century-style. Creatively conveyed.