Megumi Masaki (piano) at St Peter’s Church of Ireland, Drogheda, on 4 May 2019
May the 4th has particular resonance for film-fans, and if any of them are in Drogheda tonight they are in for a rare tribute-act. In Dublin last night the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra offered a ‘live screening’ of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind in the National Concert Hall, and in tonight’s Louth Contemporary concert the sound-world of that film, among others, comes under renewed scrutiny.
Composer Nicole Lizée is interested in creating work at the potentially glitch-laden interface between sound-creation, technology, and listening, and the work performed tonight focuses on filmic material: ‘études’ for piano, electronic (and other) media, and video, based on the work of film directors Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, and Alfred Hitchcock.
Opening with the ‘Kubrick Études’, the relationship between the sampled film excerpts (with soundtrack and electronic overlay), and the tangible presence of the grand piano, played by Megumi Masaki, is initially jarring. Transitional moments are played and re-played on screen, the composer engaging with particular contours of sound and movement, such as the buzz of Danny’s tricycle on the carpet of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Masaki’s role is to provide another layer of sound, her pianism not so much an ensemble role but instead perhaps a commentary, or an agent for an alternative point of view. As well as instrumental playing, we hear her sing, type, and even throw ping-pong balls at the screen. The sheer sense of playfulness is delightful, cheekily subverting the controlling frame of Kubrick’s design.
Commissioned specially by Louth Contemporary and receiving its premiere, the ‘Spielberg Études’ extends this play of cyclic form, imagination, and surface texture. Film excerpts give way to documentary footage of John Williams, pictures breaking into smears of colour. As with accompanying any live-screen performance, the agency of the living player is restricted, but Masaki makes up for this with her energy and good humour, providing extra sound effects on top of her attention to the keyboard, tearing paper and spinning whirly tubes.
The concert closes with the earliest of Lizée’s film studies, the ‘Hitchcock Études’ (2010), with Masaki’s piano taking on the role of the ghost in the machine. On one side, the piano shadows awkward gestures like Norman Bates’s stutters, before twisting the balance between present and recorded sound. This is most notable at the end of the sequence, where the Psycho shower-scene is played out not to the slashes of Herrmann’s original score, but to complexly flowing passagework. Is this a glitch, a response, or an alternative view? The sense of opening possibilities, and the strange meeting between ill-fitting elements (ourselves included) makes for a curious meditation on the act of reception, inspiring conversation as we leave the unlikely setting of St Peter’s, with its Georgian splendour.
Nicole Lizée: Kubrick Études; Spielberg Études; Hitchcock Études
Megumi Masaki (piano)
Images by Jenny Matthews