The city symphony was desperate to revitalize an aging subscriber base with performance events that would engage a younger audience. The artistic director had heard of a concert that combined “animated video” performed with live orchestra and on the advice of the Development Director, contacted Rose Bond Moving Pictures.
They wanted an original “animated video’ to be performed live and in sync with the symphony’s performance of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphonie: This symphony is 75 minutes in length and regarded as one of the most challenging orchestral works to perform. It is also, for many audience members, one of the most difficult to listen to.
Considered an iconoclastic masterpiece of 20th century music and often described as a “symphonic gumbo,” the Turangalîla combines a lush and exotic array of sounds and cultural influences including birdsong, Balanese gamelan music, post war pop culture, Sanskrit and the myth of Tristan and Isolde. The composer Olivier Messiaen had synesthesia—he saw visions when hearing music. In its fullest expression, it seemed fitting that his work would be experienced both visually and aurally. However, the city’s grand symphony hall, restored to its 1915 vaudevillian rococo splendor, presented considerable challenges to large scale projection.
After viewing the hall, testing some projected images, it seemed that the solution—the creation of visual match for this powerful work—was to break away from the rectangular screen and immerse the audience in a sustained and choreographed display that partnered with the space. For visual inspiration, the design team looked at evocative avant-garde films and abstract visual music.
The animations were composited on black backgrounds so they feathered into the architecture. As a result, the room, with its elaborate flourishes, came and went—as the images moved and enveloped. It was quiet and tender at times, creepy and odd, then swelling to glorious crescendo.
The multi-screen projection, controlled by Dataton’s Watch-Out, needed over 100 cues to stay in sync with the conductor and performances over a three-day run. To plot those cues, the Associate Conductor met with Rose Bond in the studio. They agreed on cues to be synched visually and by music notation. During performances, the Associate Conductor was in the booth, calling cues to the programmer as six massive projectors worked their magic in the hall.
With an audience walk-out rate that could rise to as high as 40 percent, Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila had never been performed in Portland. On opening night, in a sold-out hall seating over 2,000, the Artistic Director counted only 12 people who left. The critical accolades and response were overwhelmingly positive as was the younger audience.
One reviewer had this to say: “At the work’s conclusion we took to our feet to express our gratitude in the only way audiences know how. We stood, we clapped, we roared, we went outside to smoke and talk about how we had all just experienced something real, something special, something beyond words, something we’ll talk about for years.”
"An excellent collaboration of thoughtful technology and classical music to create the ultimate musical experience."
"The synesthesiac explosion that is the Turangalila Symphony is a ripe candidate for dynamic visualization, and this project presents a technically impressive attempt at engaging the visual senses in accord with the music. The research and care put into the visual translation of Messiaen’s manic tonality and polyrhythms, and the focus placed on creating an experience of synesthesia, rather than an experience about synesthesia, is powerful and fun."
Rose Bond (project director, producer, lead animator), Zak Margolis (composite artist and lead animator), Steve Rochelle Farris (production and programming), Andrew Wade (production design consultant)
Pacific Northwest College of Art Student & Alumni Animators: Grayson Bear, Arianna Gazca, Sarah Hickey, Kathryn McAnalley, Makai Mendiola, Carla Melnick, Teagan Smiley Wolfe, Ari Stramel, John Summerson, Micah Weber
Carlos Kalmar (music director), Steven Osbourne (piano), Cynthia Millar, Ondes Martenot
Matt Stone (projectionist and video vendor), Mario Gallucci (prototype model of symphony hall)