A musical installation gently leads audiences down the garden path
Garden is a three chapter series of performances, incorporating live music and video projection, exploring themes of night, place and the intersection of humans with their environment. Albuquerque music lovers can catch chapter one, “Night,” this weekend. Chris Jonas, the Santa Fe-based composer and multimedia artist behind Garden, hopes to give audiences a richer, more layered experience than a standard concert would. Meshing music with art installation, he’s working with different musicians and artists for each piece of his trilogy.
For chapter one, “Night,” Jonas collaborated with the San Francisco-based Del Sol String Quartet, placing them inside a cube of four 18-inch screens. Projectors stream images—shadowy figures inhabiting gossamer landscapes—from above, covering the screens but also washing the walls, floors and musicians with flickering pictures. To put the evening together, Jonas worked with stage director Acushla Bastible, who helped arrange the segments, supplied notes about length and even gave the musicians a series of gestures to add punctuation to the piece.
It’s a lot to watch, Jonas says. "There’s this beautiful mixture of very delicate imagery that plays all over the space—it’s a really interesting area to explore.” And explore is exactly what the audience is encouraged to do. When entering, patrons are asked to find a comfortable seat, but are also told they may get up and walk around at any point. There are gaps at the corners of the cube where the screens don’t meet, allowing attendees to watch the quartet, as well as see projections on the opposite sides. Depending on where someone stands, the perspective is different; Jonas says this is part of the draw. During the “Night” premiere in Santa Fe last December, many audience members saw the show once and decided to return, experiencing it from as many different angles as they could.
“There’s this beautiful mixture of very delicate imagery that plays all over the space—it’s a really interesting area to explore.”
The inspiration for the immersive concert came partially from the epic traditional Indonesian wayang kulit performances that involve shadow theater and music of a gamelan, and can last more than 12 hours. Attendees bring sleeping bags and food, they move about the room at will, explore the environment and sometimes even go to sleep. “I was really interested in creating a form in which there’s a number of things going on at any given moment,” Jonas explains. “The nature of the human psyche is one that, you can’t get it all ... you’ll miss things and that’s OK.”
He points out that one’s experience during “Night” is also shaped by the other audience members moving around the space. In this way the live performance’s power to connect people is intensified. “You’ll be standing next to somebody, watching something and suddenly the music changes and you’re the only two people who see it from that one particular angle.”
“Night” places The Del Sol String Quartet—violinists Kate Stenberg and Rick Shinozaki, violist Charlton Lee, and cellist Hannah Addario-Berry—in a different context than concertgoers may be used to, but the music is still a main focus. The quartet is a two-time winner of the Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, and the musicians impressed Jonas from the moment he encountered them. “Each one of them are terrific as individuals, fun to write for, as well as great ensemble players. So I created a piece that has all these interweaving quirks,” though he adds,“stylistically there’s a certain uniformity to it.”
Jonas’ composition is influenced by a variety of forms, including Indian music. Although listeners will not specifically hear this within the piece, they will notice departures from the constant cadences of traditional Western music.“My intention,” he explains, “is to make it both fresh, unusual—experimental, but also having multiple points of access.” He hopes “Night” will have a strong impact on its audience. “One of the most potent things that music can do is, when you put people in the dark and you give them an hour of musical experience,” he says, “[it can] take the world and really shift it.”