By Xin-Rui Lee, Staff Writer
It was a promising prospect: one acclaimed ambient musician and one experimental photographer dabbling in the moving image, coming together one lovely Thursday evening for a special concert at the Museum of Modern Art. The setup was minimal; spending the whole 40 or so minutes standing behind her keyboard and various mixing apparatus at the far right corner of the stage, Julianna Barwick recorded and played back loops upon loops of her voice layered over pre-recorded instrumentals as Matthew Brandt’s piece played on the big screen. Barwick previewed tracks from her upcoming album Will, a textured and haunting piece that starts strong and ends off unassuming. Unfortunately, performing as a one-woman show didn’t quite work to her advantage, and I would argue that listening to the recorded tracks on my iPod is infinitely more rewarding.
Brandt’s visuals were at times beautiful and provocative, his collection of moving images including sequences of burning images, tons of time lapses of molding photographs, bean sprouts and expired twinkies, morphing images of wires into liquid colours, soap suds abound, and a persistent black tar-like substance that was at one point pouring forth from the ceiling like a torrential waterfall, and at another point trickling out from the top of Claude Monet’s famous “Water Lilies.” However, since there’s no narrative progression or tension to hold the audience’s attention, the piece relied entirely on captivating visuals. For some that’s all right, but for most it’s not quite enough (the man sitting next to me nodding off 10 minutes into the show being exhibit number one).
During the post show Q&A session, the artists did little to convince the audience and instead further fanned the flames of my skepticism, leaving me questioning whether what I had just witnessed could be considered “Art” at all?
Is not the purpose of holding a joint concert and charging people $25 a pop so that they could create some sort of heightened sensory experience? Shouldn’t each artist be concerned with how the viewer/listener is influenced by the addition of an equally powerful medium and the different emotions the combination of the two would elicit? Sure, Barwick mentions how she was able to “engage with what was happening on the screen” making the show “a little more spontaneous than the average set,” but it was clear that both artists worked almost completely independently.
Live music paired with moving images isn’t a new concept. Andy Warhol famously did it with The Velvet Underground, and plenty of bands have background visuals to accompany their live shows. But the difference between these artists and the two at question is the former had some sort of collaborative effort between the mediums to attain a preconceived aesthetic. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but I was left feeling underwhelmed.