Why an internet film competition?
Live performance is by its very nature ephemeral – which makes it so powerful. But live performance is also local – if you can’t go to the performance, you’ll miss out on the full experience. With rising costs of production, a population that chooses to sit in front of the TV rather than go to the theater, and the fact that the U.S. doesn’t do much in the way of supporting its artists, mounting a live show is hugely risky, even if you get grants, have a nonprofit to back you up, or get press coverage. And, when you add to the equation a piece that is “experimental” and that has never been seen before, a short run doesn’t give the audience enough time to digest what was seen and heard. (With my work, add an additional obstacle: my pieces thrive in reverberant spaces, and most black box theaters have extremely dry acoustics.)
How can the Fisher Ensemble’s work reach a receptive audience in this increasingly compartmentalized age? One solution is recording, since it is digital and anyone around the world has access via the Internet; yet a recording, by itself, only alludes to the inherent visual elements. A website’s photos can be enticing (such as the ones that Paul Brown did of our production Psyche). Video clips can help document the production – but I rarely find this medium satisfying – I’m usually left thinking “I wish I was there.”
Enter the Internet Film. What excites me about this medium is that it can partner with music in a way that becomes an art piece in-and-of itself. It’s home is the Internet, not a stage; it’s not trying to be something it’s not. I also like Internet films because almost anyone can make one, making it far more accessible than film. The genre of Internet film is also less developed than other genres, and hasn’t yet been bogged down by schools of thought or art movements.
I broached the idea of a film competition with the board of the Fisher Ensemble as a way to begin to explore this medium. I wanted to use a soundtrack to one of my operas as the basis for the Internet films, to see how different artists would interpret the music and “make it their own.” In film, usually the music comes last; I wanted it to come first. By only allowing very short films – between 10 seconds and 2 minutes – based on any portion of the soundtrack – I hoped to encourage participation.
I picked The Passion of Saint Sebastian because the piece is brief (around 10 minutes), it’s beautifully performed (Katherine Hanson & Maria Mannisto, vocalists; Greg Bagley, 6 string fretted acoustic bass; the recording also includes Indian harmonium), and the subject of Saint Sebastian has been a favorite among artists and composers for centuries – and is sure to inspire contemporary media artists.
I wonder what Harry Partch, with his admiration of the live arts, would think of Internet film-operas. While I’m looking forward to this adventure, I don’t see it as a replacement of live productions, but instead as another way to bridge ancient and modern forms.