Sunday, April 17, 2011

Eenie, meenie, minie, moe...

The last time you heard the titular children's rhyme, most likely you were on the elementary school playground, either participating in a game of tag or watching children run around, enjoying their youth. Where was I? I was nestled comfortably in my seat in the theatre at EMPAC, RPI in Troy, NY. What was I doing? I was watching Jaroslaw Kapuscinski, a Polish pianist and composer, tickle the ivories while various images were displayed on the back wall of the theatre.

The performance was a compilation of five different works, covering 18 years of Kapuscinski's career. First was Mondrian Variations, where the artist used five pieces from Piet Mondrian's collection. Tied in with musical and sonic cues when lines would collide and cross, the video took the works of Mondrian, modified them, deconstructed them, but ultimately displayed them as the pieces Mondrian created. Next up was Catch the Tiger! 2.0, which was the first time the audience got to see Kapuscinski on the piano...which isn't just any piano, as was explained to us by the artist. The piano actually was tied into a computer, which listened to the piano and used the aural cues to manipulate the images on the screens. While Kapuscinski played, the images on the screen were a series of numbers and letters, and in the background, the voice of a child was chanting "Eenie, meenie..." in repition, putting the viewer in a trance. After Catch the Tiger! 2.0, the audience was treated to Juicy (and no, this has nothing to do with Notorious B.I.G.). This time, instead of letters, numbers, and children's rhymes, the images accompanying the music were those of fruit, with sound effects used to fill in the small voids left by the notes of the piano. At one point in the piece, a kiwi was spinning on the screen, while the notes ringing out from the piano could've been mistaken for being part of Clint Mansell's score for the The Fountain. With the music, it was almost as if the fruit, in it's size and darkly lit environment, took on a celestial presence. Following this peaceful sequence, the viewer was abruptly woken up by blueberries being crushed to the piercing sounds of gun shots. The last piece before the intermission was Oli's Dream. In this segment, the piano became a typewriter and the music became the poem spelled out on the screen for all to see. The scrolling of the words, along with the music and typewriter sound effects, made for a visually and sonically mesmerizing experience.

Before Kapuscinski proceeded to the final piece, he explained to us what we were about to see and the effort that went into creating it. He traveled all over the world for a month straight, staying for two or three days in any given country. At each location, each day, he would play for several hours, broken up into 30 minute sessions for the individuals he was performing for. As he mentioned, this process was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. More than 150 people and 12 countries later, the material was ready. The final piece was titled Where is Chopin?, and it capped off the incredibly unique, intimate performance. As our master of ceremonies played an original composition based on Chopin's 24 Preludes, faces of the people he interviewed were displayed on the screen. The purpose of this piece was to identify the emotions and thoughts of people of all different cultures as they listen to music, in this case, Chopin. The faces ranged from authentic to acted, running the whole spectrum of human emotion. As the people faded in and out, it was impossible to not feel a connection to them, for the reactions you were watching were filmed in a very similar environment, listening to the same music. Though the experiences of the audience and those on the screen occurred between massive gaps in time and physical distance, we were all part of one I guess you can say Where is Chopin? transcends time and space. When the final note rang out and the images of the faces transitioned to images of the cities where Kapuscinski visited, I couldn't help but smile, knowing I had just experienced something truly special and sincere.

After the show, the audience was given the opportunity to participate in a documentary that Kapuscinski is currently working on. While Where is Chopin? focused on the emotions on those listening to Chopin, the next step is to focus on the emotions of people listening to Chopin while they are focusing on the emotions of people listening to Chopin. Confused? Ask Chris Nolan, he knows a lot about "Inception"-ing someone. Jokes aside, I feel so grateful to have seen this performance and even moreso to have the chance to participate in the art of such a humble man. Through conversation between the audience and Kapuscinski , it was abundantly clear that his motives come down to the love of music, art, and the human experience.

Thank you, Jaroslaw Kapuscinski for the memorable evening. And thank you, EMPAC, for providing that Capital District with access to art and music that no other venue can offer.

To learn more about Kapuscinski, click here.

If you want to see what's next at EMPAC, click here.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you enjoyed the concert, Michael! Drop me a line at to find out about other upcoming EMPAC events that might be relevant to your interests.

    Jason Steven Murphy, EMPAC