Deep Earth poster

Environment Provides Inspiration for Multimedia Piece “Deep Earth”

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This Thursday, April 17, composer Matthew Burtner and NOBROW.collective percussionist Aaron Butler will provide a multimedia performance of Deep Earth at Central Venue.

The piece, which is part of this year’s Athens International Film + Video Festival, is an evening-length work for ensemble, electronics and video, exploring the interaction between humans and our planet.

This collaboration between Burtner and Butler suggests that when we work in harmony with the earth, amazing things are possible; when we try to control it or work against it, the outcome can be terrifying.

Much of Matthew Burtner‘s work has focused on multimedia operas, each based on geographical regions of Alaska, where he was raised. The environment plays an integral role in Burtner’s music, through a method he calls “ecoacoustics.”

The NOBROW.collective, according to the group’s Facebook page, is “a rotating cast of musicians dedicated to the performance of exciting music, be it old, new, highbrow or low.”

WOUB’s Bryan Gibson also caught up with the pair to discuss this Thursday’s event and the inspiration behind it.

WOUB: Could you tell me how this project came about?

Aaron Butler: I formed the NOBROW.collective in 2010 when I started grad school, and after a few concerts, I decided to commission a piece for the group; something that would be more than just a piece of music. I was growing more and more concerned with mining and fracking practices in our region (and in general) so I thought that I’d like to find a way to incorporate that into a piece of art.

WOUB: How did the two of you meet?

AB: Matthew’s work had been on my radar for a number of years and I had performed one of his percussion solos a few times, so I cold-emailed him to see if it would be a project he’d want to take on. Somewhat surprisingly to me he said yes, and that began years of work to find the money to make it all happen. As I was searching for for funds, I mentioned the project to Ruth Bradley, and she immediately committed to helping and getting the Athens Film Festival involved.

WOUB: Has the NOBROW.collective been involved with similar projects?

AB: One of our earliest performances was an evening of silent film accompaniment at the Athena Cinema. We performed original scores and improvised to films like Un Chien Andalou, Symphonie Diagonale, and Marcel Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema. After that, Ruth Bradley asked us if we could perform with Nosferatu the following Halloween, and now here we are performing at the Film Festival for the second year in a row.

WOUB: Matthew, could you explain what “ecoacoustics” are?

Matthew Burtner: Ecoacoustics is a method for embedding energy from the natural world into musical forms. The energy might be sounds such as a recorded whale call or recorded sound of wind. But it might equally be some non-sounding energy of the environment, such as temperature or light which has been mapped into music through sonification. Ecoacoustics often involves the performance of real natural materials, such as water or dirt or stone, to create the music. The performer works with the natural material to produce musical results. This might involve the materials in a concert hall, or a performance in the outdoors using the materials found in their native context.

WOUB: Could you tell me more about Deep Earth, and the multimedia being used in the performance?

MB: In Deep Earth, I was very fortunate to collaborate with the Athens Center for Film and Video. The piece uses samples of natural earth processes such as lava floes, geysers, rivers and mountains. This footage, shot on 16 mm film, provides a beautiful tableau of shifting color and form. Deep Earth also uses sampled material released by mining and mining equipment companies. These videos are designed to promote the public image of mining, and to sell mining equipment used for drilling.

WOUB: After you’ve collected the various elements for the piece, how do you put it all together?

MB: I abstract all the film sources using signal processing, and look for distinctive motives in the output. I also use computer-generated images such as the squashed and twisted orb in “Investigation of the Laws Observable in the Composition, Dissolution and Restoration of Land upon the Globe,” and the amassing icon texture of “Carving Light from Earth.” The resulting non-narrative and mostly non-figurative video lends itself to layering in a rich media context, and it supports an ecoacoustic theater acted out on the stage by the musicians.

Deep Earth will be presented at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 17 at Central Venue, located at 29 East Carpenter Street in Athens. Joining Burtner and Butler will be Greg Becker (percussion), Eli Chambers (guitar, bass, percussion), James Farley (viola/violin), Andy Gross (clarinet), Greg Sigman (saxophone), Amelia Thornton (violin) and Joseph Van Hassel (percussion).

Opening the program will be David Colagiovanni’s video composition, Dinner Music, and the world premiere of Matthew Schreibeis’ percussion quartet based on it, Kinetic Attractions.

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