Chasing Memories in ‘Choreograph’: new music inspired by the photographs of James Welling
The Latest Update
Update from Kay He
It was great to talk to James Welling. The conversation with him and other composers really inspired me a lot and it made me thinking about how to approach this commission. James Welling talked about his process of creating these works and how he extracted colors from different layers of photography to compose each work. I have been reviewing the images and imagining how sound will emerge from it. When I am looking at the images, each time it tells me a different story. My imaginations went wild with James Welling’s works. The next step is to organize all the colorful ideas and imaginations together to produce a piece of music that is truly inspired by these amazing art works.
Update from composer Kamala Sankaram
The George Eastman Museum was kind enough to host a conversation between James Welling and all three of us composers. He talked about his process for creating his work, a technique that involves using the color filters in his photo-editing program to bring out particular hues in the photographs. I’ve been thinking about how you might be able to do something similar with music, so I’ve been experimenting with using audio filters on found sounds and converting them to midi to generate musical material. I’m hoping to use this as the basis for the layers of my composition.
Update from composer Robert Lydecker
After talking with photographer, James Welling, I’ve been pursuing a more intuitive approach to
our “Choreograph” project. As a first step, I’ve spent time just looking at the images, seeing
how they make me feel, and also spending time away from them to reflect during walks or other
spare moments. And, I’ve also been taking time to just imagine different sorts of music for Five
by Five. As a way to make tangible progress, though, I’ve tried just pulling up the images and
improvising music against them. I’ve been treating it a bit like scoring a film, except unlike with
a traditional film, I’ve realized that the mood or story in these images is fairly open to
interpretation, and I can almost add my own narrative or can change how the viewer responds
to the images by the music I create. Instead of thinking about translating these images into
music, my thought is to see if I can add another layer of meaning or feeling, that could give the
viewer a completely new experience. While I still have more of the piece to develop, the
sketches I’ve been happiest with so far, all have a somewhat optimistic and whimsical tone to
them. I felt this contrasted nicely with some of the darker hued images. My next step I think will
be to come up with a few more musical sketches, and then piece them together and revise to
make a satisfactory throughline.
Rochester-based quintet fivebyfive is excited to commission three new works for the exhibition “Choreograph” by internationally renowned photographer James Welling which will run July 2020 through December 2020. The exhibition will be held at The George Eastman Museum (Rochester, NY), the world’s oldest museum dedicated to photography. The works will be premiered by fivebyfive (flute, clarinet, electric guitar, bass and piano) in September 2020 during the exhibition.
Photographer James Welling has been questioning the norms of representation since the 1970s, and his practice has influenced an entire generation of artists and photographers. Welling’s latest body of work, “Choreograph”, explores his passion for architecture, dance and the landscape through boldly colored and multi-layered photographs. The George Eastman Museum will be the first museum to exhibit this collection.
As the name “Choreograph” indicates, these photographs draw heavily from Welling’s love of dance. Welling’s interest dates back to 1970 when he saw the Merce Cunningham Dance Company perform while attending the University of Pittsburgh. This exhibition marks his return to dance, albeit in photographic form.
Welling found the temporary nature of dance intriguing, like a memory. In an interview Welling commented, “My work, for myself, is about memory, feeling, touch…a sense of my relationship to the physical world, colors, sensations, photographic emulsions, but all in the service of chasing memories, both very distant and recent.” Adding, “This is the least understood part of my work.”
Eager to explore these ideas and the bold, multi-layered world of Welling’s work, fivebyfive will commission three new pieces by composers Kay He, Robert Lydecker and Kamala Sankaram that will be inspired by the photographs in “Choreograph”. These composers were chosen for their unique multi-discipline voices that we believe will effectively capture and reflect upon the multi-layered world of Mr. Welling’s photographs.
In July 2020 the “Choreograph” exhibition will open. During the Summer of 2020 there will be Open Rehearsals and Preview Performances at the museum, a first of its kind for the institution, with each of the composers and fivebyfive. The new works will be given their premiere in September 2020 among the photographs at the George Eastman Museum (GEM). Further plans include collaborating with live dancers, recording the new works, making a film inspired by the photographs, and touring to other museums where ‘Choreograph’ will be shown.
Concerning process and presentation
Embracing the spirit of accessibility, fivebyfive and GEM propose a large window of time for development. Through open rehearsals and preview performances, audiences will be given the opportunity to connect with the artists, ask questions and experience the work as it evolves. Both fivebyfive and GEM believe this to be essential to the ultimate understanding of the art and to the development of an engaged audience.
June 2020 – delivery of scores and materials to fivebyfive
Summer 2020– open rehearsals / preview performances at GEM
September 2020 – premiere performances of new works at GEM
Late 2020 through May 2021 – subsequent performances of works, audio recordings and film in progress
Awake combines the cyclic processes and layers of Javanese gamelan music with harmonies and colors of Western classical and popular music.
Patrick Burke, composer
Performed by fivebyfive:
Laura Lentz, flute
Marcy Bacon, clarinet
Sungmin Shin, electric guitar
Eric Polenik, bass
Haeyeun Jeun, piano
Recorded live on April 26, 2017, WXXI Radio – “Live from Hochstein”
Cue @ 2:25-5:00
In On the Pivot of an Abandoned Carousel, the flute and electronics overlap so the audience cannot determine what is real and what is not. This mimics our memories, so as to show the exaggerations and delusions that form in our head.
Yuanyuan (Kay) He, composer
Kenzie Slottow, flutist
2015 EARS concert in Austin
Cue @ 1:18-2:56
In this 90 minute contemporary opera-theater work, the libretto originates from a series of interviews with Mukhtar Mai whose world was shattered by an act of brutality that could have destroyed her. The score is a dynamic collision of Hindustani and European opera influences with an ensemble of six singers and six instrumentalists, featuring flute, violin and viola, upright bass, piano/harmonium, and percussion (drums and tabla).
Kamala Sankaram, composer
Performance – June 18, 2017 at Redcat with LA Opera and Beth Morrison
Cue 1:56 to End
Start and End Dates
07/01/2020 — 05/01/2021
Rochester, New York