Visuals in the musical performance.
In my capacity of being supervisor for research fellows, co-programmer for the NMH Sinfonietta and a composer myself, I have strived to obtain a unity of visual and musical impact on the audience in performances I have had an influence of.
Normally standard setups are being used by orchestras, string quartets and other classical configurations of instruments. When performing contemporary music with non-standard configurations, musicians often just elaborate on these standards, they do so only taking serious one parameter: the ease of communication between the players.
Very seldom musicians are aware of another important parameter: the sound projection in the hall. Singers want the piano lid closed, because the dynamic range of the piano is felt being obtrusive. Of course the closed piano lid restraint the dynamics, but it also cuts away the higher frequencies of the piano, leaving only a dull, anonymous sonority for the audience.
Another factor is the projection of frequency ranges emanating in different angles from the physical body of the instrument. Having a piano played within an ensemble from the right hand side of stage (seen from the audience) sends most of the desired frequency content backwards and leaves the audience to listen to the first reflection (from the back wall). For the French horns this is what their role is (except when pavane in aria is required).
With the classical orchestra setups (American and European) certain symmetries in sound projection: in the left/right, back and forward, has been taken care of. With smaller ensembles and even soloists such a balance do not came about automatically. Balance must be taken care of not only as a whole, but also in terms of variation. An imbalance in one piece can create variation for the audience when balanced by another imbalance in another piece. No setup is ideal!
Related to balance in sound projection is the visual impact. Even though I come to this point after the two preceding, there should be no hierarchy when planning major performances like Counting, Memory and Interrogation (2009), The Quantum Mechanics of My Life (2010) and Material Investigations (2011 and 2012). The instruments have a visual presence and that is of high importance (even it is only unconscious) for the impact of the total experience of the concert.
A triangle of three parameters: (1) the musicianÕs optimal experienced communication on stage, (2) sound balance and variation, and (3) visual impact, makes a dynamic situation in which a change in one parameter influences both other. When working, and rehearsing, with the above performances, a considerable effort was made to adjust all three parameters. This means that the rehearsal scheme must be more substantial than normal.
In the final productions of my two research fellows, Victoria Johnson and Sunniva R¿dland Wettre more than four full days were allocated for setup, rehearsals and adjustments. This was about the limit the Norwegian Academy could imagine as possible for the productions. Doubling of the harps was used in the case of Wettre to obtain a visual concentration, and at the same time a smooth transition between the pieces. In the case of Johnson one major breakthrough came when we found out that moving the whole setup forward half a meter meant that we could suspend the video screen instead of having a basal support!