Visual Enhancements

Visual Enhancements

Over the past week, I’ve been acclimating myself to the great green north again as I begin my third summer teaching composition at the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp in Interlochen, Michigan. Not only does this adventure give me the opportunity to advise some very talented students and collaborate with many top-notch performers from around the country, but I get to work with several composer colleagues who never fail to inspire. Whether it’s a discussion over plastic trays laden with that day’s lunch, a presentation to the studio in our Composition Techniques class, or late-night musings over IPAs and bourbon, these interactions are a never-ending source of provoked thought, re-evaluation, and outright discovery.

One perfect example of this occurred earlier this week when the four composition faculty—returning veteran Robert Brownlow, first-year faculty N. Lincoln Hanks and Jonathan Newman, and myself—presented examples of our own work to our studio of 18 student composers. Newman, with a bit o’ flair for the dramatic, concluded our presentation with a brief but very effective demonstration of how the combination of a quality recording and basic video technology (i.e. iMovie) can be used to introduce a new work to conductors, performers, and gobsmacked campers.

Score video of Blow It Up, Start Again by Jonathan Newman, performed by the Florida State University Wind Orchestra under the direction of Richard Clary

Newman explained later that he had been inspired by the jazz composer Tim Davies, who had created several score videos for his big band works (see below), and decided that it could be a useful and eye-catching tool to generate interest in his newly transcribed piece. (Blow It Up, Start Again was originally written for the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra in 2011 and transcribed for wind ensemble the following year.) Davies’s Quicktime videos are more simplistic, displaying the full pages as the recording plays along, but they are also still very effective.

Score video of Counting to Infinity by Tim Davies, performed by the Tim Davies Big Band

Each of these videos allow the viewer to digest the music they’re hearing in different ways. Davies’s videos let the eye meander over the entire score page with little attention to detail, since the image is relatively small. Newman, on the other hand, only shows you what he wants to show you but in much greater detail. In both instances, however, it’s difficult to not be affected by the video as you listen to the music. The visual stimulation is strong for those who can read the scores, and aspects of the pieces that may have been glossed over in a purely aural setting are sharply enhanced.

Neither of the videos mentioned above are intended to be part of the artistic presentation; they were made primarily with the hope that conductors and performers would enjoy the work enough to purchase and perform it. Of course, these aren’t the only examples of composers using video to enhance their music. The incorporation of video as part of the creative process is slowly becoming a new and important aspect of new music in general. From Michel Van der Aa’s groundbreaking work, including his Grawemeyer Prize-winning cello concerto Up-Close and his new 3D film-opera Sunken Garden, to Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir projects which incorporate social media and crowdsourcing concepts to an extent that could not have been imagined only ten years ago, composers are exploring how video can be used in the creation, performance, and dissemination of their music. As technology becomes even more pliant and simple to use, we’re only going to see more innovations in this area in the years ahead.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

7 thoughts on “Visual Enhancements

  1. Rob Deemer

    “Facepalm”…totally forgot to mention Steve’s videos. Not
    only another excellent example of score videos, but if you’re going
    to publish works that include electronics for mass consumption, you
    won’t find any better support videos to model after than

  2. Robinson McClellan

    It’s great that this idea is getting out there – it’s a wonderful way for performers to peruse music they’re considering, and for casual listeners to get a more vivid experience of the music.

    Last year I added a few of these for my pieces to my website, using the iMovie method described here, but I wanted to mention another way to do it, a little easier for both composer and listener/viewer: the online music notation program Noteflight allows you to sync a youtube, or any MP3 posted online, with a score, bar by bar. The viewer can follow the orange playback line and can see the whole score easily at once. Noteflight scores are viewable online by anyone via a url, exactly the way youtube videos are.

    Here are a couple of samples:
    A choral work of mine, synced to an MP3 file hosted on my own website:

    A larger score: a mvt from a Mozart’s Haffner Symphony synced to a Youtube video. This one is shown in “strip layout” which might be easier for larger scores like the one you sampled above.

    You can then embed a Noteflight score in any web page, just as you’d embed a video. Here’s an example from a blog about tango:

    You can embed so that it will display in strip layout as well.

    I’m sort of writing simultaneously in two capacities here – partly as a composer, because I’m excited to spread the word about perusal videos like these because I agree that they’re a great way to present one’s music. And partly in my (recently added) capacity as a consultant/musician advocate working for Noteflight, the company. So I guess on that side this is “company promotion”, but (wearing my composer hat) I truly hope it alerts people to a useful new tool.

    Anyway thanks Rob for another great article!

    1. Robinson McClellan

      Forgot to add: you don’t have to re-engrave scores from scratch inside Noteflight – you can export an XML file from Sibelius or Finale and import it. Might require some tidying up but nothing extensive. The Dreaming in Darkness score above took me about 5 minutes to convert.

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