Visual Artist Netia Jones joins Manchester Camerata later this month (Saturday 26 March) at the RNCM providing imaginative visuals which will react to the music performance in real-time. The live visuals will accompany Schoenberg's early Romantic string work Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) which tells the story of a couple walking in a wood in winter; the woman confesses to the man that she is pregnant, but by another lover. The forest fills with transfiguring moonlight, and the man replies that the strength of their love will make the child their own.
Manchester Camerata spoke to Netia to find out more about her and her work...
I would say my background is essentially studying literature, visual art and music. My parents are a professional musician and a professional artist, so I haven't strayed too far from the family trades! I played quite seriously when I was younger, and it was a natural development to start my own work in music-based performance, in both opera and staged concerts. My interest in media-rich visual performance has led to working with live musicians and integrating a visual or conceptual world.
On the one hand music with a narrative or allusive source can give a lot of scope to approaching a visual language, and 'atmosphere'. It is also nice to incorporate projected text in a way that can support the musical performance by being fully integrated into it. On the other hand, 'programme' music, or music with a very precise allusion, often doesn't benefit from an extra visual layer - visualisation is better left to the mind's eye. Verklärte Nacht though falls between the two ideas of music which is allusive, or programmatic, and music which just exists in its own right. It is a wonderful piece to create a visual world for, and the film can also support the audience's journey through the poems narrative, highlighting those moments in the score when poem and musical composition coincide.
I have to know the score absolutely off by heart, it is the only way that the film can be played 'live' and fully integrated into the live performance. I do listen to recordings, but try to listen to as many different ones as are available so as not to get stuck with a particular interpretation. As I started on the violin at the age of 3 or 4 I think I could probably read music before I could read English so luckily it is very quick for me to learn a score. They may not know this, but I 'play' with the musicians, I anticipate upbeats, and follow changes in dynamics etc., with them, just as I might have done when playing in chamber groups. In operas I follow the conductor, in recitals I follow the soloist. In this way the live film can only be played by a person - computers and interactive triggers can't anticipate these live musical events which are what make live music performance so exciting.
The first stage in creating a visual language for live music performance is finding the right atmosphere and film style. So I tend to do a lot of research into a piece of music as well as listen to it or study the score. In the live performance I will mix the prepared film, which I will have edited working with the score, with some elements of live footage treated in different ways. The simultaneity of a live performer and their mediated image is always a pleasure, and something that offers a lot of scope for imaginative presentation, in many fields. In classical music it throws up its own technical challenges, but it has much to offer too.
Even reading the question is nerve wracking. Undertaking any kind of technology driven element in live performance requires nerves of steel. Of course there are technical problems, and these have quite literally almost killed me in previous performances. A projector blew up minutes before curtain up at the South Bank. The computer crashed mid-aria in Handel's Acis and Galatea. Several times I have negotiated computer malfunctions while still running the performance. Glitches, stutters, problems, incomprehensible codes flashing up on the screen - this is my world. But I believe that with every live performance the performer takes a leap of faith, mitigates as far as possible for these problems and trusts in the generosity and collaboration of the audience and artists who are all sharing in this live event. All my life I have been faced with people who are very anti visuals in performance who are very ready to be proved right by technical problems. But I have also experienced a great deal of support and interest, and I will confess to loving my job so much that I'm willing to take on the responsibility of technical problems, although I am absolutely sure that my life has been considerably shortened by these moments. But a violinist might break a string. An actor may forget his lines. It is part of the territory.
As a video artist, it is amazing to be part of a network of practitioners in many countries, who are all helping each other and collaborating. The internet has transformed the working process in this way, and leads to projects in many locations, which is always inspirational in one way or another. It also offers the possibility of going to concerts in many different locations. But I suspect that the result of having been to so many concerts changes the experience to a degree. I am either literally hovering above my seat with unsuppressed excitement or slouching in a snooze. A really fantastic concert was Asko/Schoenberg doing Andriessens La Commedia at the LA Philharmonic's concert hall in LA. But although Andriessen has worked a great deal with film, this concert was performed without it. I wondered though if the brilliance and flair of the concert did have something to do with its staged and filmic roots. It does seem that in the Netherlands this relationship between film and live music performance is accepted as a fruitful place to explore. Which I obviously believe that it is!
Find out more about Camerata's concert ft. Netia Jones >>
Netia Jones' website >>
Want to learn more about Schoenberg and his pupils? Come along to our Study Day. More Info >>