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Bell Solaris

Twelve Metamorphoses in Piano Theater
Composed and performed by David Rosenboom
Directed by Travis Preston

Bell Solaris is a concert-length composition for solo piano by American experimental music pioneer David Rosenboom, with music built upon an underlying narrative about evolution expressed through transfigured myths. Renowned theater and opera director Travis Preston conceived an enveloping theatrical experience of the piece for its performance at REDCAT in downtown Los Angeles. This concert-theater production included choreographed movements of a large ensemble of performers interacting with the on-stage musical performance while wearing multiple video cameras and moving projectors to capture and display performance images. Preston created an extravagant visual score, an imagistic expansion of the music that intensifies the audience’s listening experience and brought them into closer communion with the ecstasies and meditations of the music and the musician. The work was performed by David Rosenboom.

This project was supported by an anonymous donation for interdisciplinary projects, Yamaha Corporation of America, the George and MaryLou Boone Fund for Artistic Advancement.

Program Notes - David Rosenboom

Bell Solaris—the Sun rings like a bell, initiating waves of influence that traverse, shape and create space, time and life. Various influences in the composition include GONG (Global Oscillation Network Group), on-line access to the daily spectrum of portents from the Sun’s vibrations, and selections from Ovid’s catalog of transformations among gods and mortals and his chronicles of Pythagoras’s lectures on change—all transfigured by the composer’s views of history, evolution, and a penchant for symbolic replication and anthropomorphism.

The musical architecture of Bell Solaris reflects my interest in making musical forms that emerge in the way forms of nature emerge out of the dynamics of vast numbers of component parts. The music is created by transforming the shapes of items in a lexicon of human gestures coded in sonic metaphors to create an unusual form of counterpoint and an arboretum of intertwining lines. In Bell Solaris, all of these musical shapes and lines are derived from transforming aspects of a simple “Hymn of Change”, a kind of gospel waltz about transformation, change, and dying. This “Hymn of Change” is the genesis point for the entire work and is only revealed in the tenth movement after a large array of other musical dramas have already played themselves out. Except for the opening fanfare, all musical material appearing in the piece emerges in some way from this origin point. The dramas underlying the music are presented in the score as a thread of narrative lines, phrases, statements, questions, quotes, and poetic images intended as a means of extending the way the notation communicates with the performer. They are also meant as musical meditations expressed through the composer’s transforming of mythological archetypes to reflect contemplations about modern conundrums in the way we deal with change and our place among the multiplicities of intelligence populating what we regard as our universe. In this way, narrative and dramatic forms are imbedded inside the musical forms.

Written in 1998 for pianist Katrina Krimsky, the original version of Bell Solaris has been expanded here with two pianos, a primary instrument with motion sensors on the keyboard and a second, a Yamaha Disklavier, which responds in some movements with transformations of the music played on the primary piano. In some of these parts, with partial models of musical perception, computer software written by the composer mimics ways in which listeners tend to segment musical materials into chunks or phrases in perception and manipulates these phrases with some of the same procedures originally used to transform musical materials appearing in the written score.

Travis Preston and I had a mutual interest in undertaking a collaborative project together for quite some time. About two years ago, Preston suggested Bell Solaris as the basis for such an exploration. He identified the potential of extending the solo piano performance through carefully choreographed movements of performers interacting with the on-stage musical performance using multiple video cameras. His intent was to create an imagistic expansion of the music to intensify the audience’s listening experience and bring them into closer communion with the ecstasies and meditations of the music and the musician. The essence of this theatrical magnification is to explore a new way of focusing and encouraging the creative listening that is so important in interacting with new kinds of music. This collaboration has helped us uncover inspiring new territory in which music and theater artists can merge efforts in common, mutually supportive work.

(DR 2005)

Production Team

David Rosenboom, Composer, Performer
Travis Preston, Director
Christopher Barreca, Scenic Design
Dianna Daughtrey, Assistant Scenic Design
Laura Mroczkowski, Lighting Design
Adam Howarth, Sound Design
Miriam Kolar, Sound Design
Austin Switser, Video Design
Bill Ballou, Production Manager
Jon Winans, Stage Manager
Laura Mason, Assistant Stage Manager
Carol Bixler, Producer (CNP)
Areni Agbabian, Video Performer
Alanna Blair, Video Performer
Dan Evans, Video Performer
Jane Grothe, Video Performer
Alison Heimstead, Video Performer
Betty Le, Video Performer
Luis-Tonatiuh Sanchez, Video Performer
Kimberly Turney, Video Performer
Elizabeth Frances, Video Performer