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National Gallery of Art

35th Anniversary of the East Building

65th American Music Festival
Sunday, November 10, 2013

solo percussion || video projections || computer transformations

steve antosca ≈ composer & concept

ross karre ≈ percussion & video

william brent ≈ computer musician & video technology

with special guest Lura Johnson ≈ piano

HABITAT for percussion, video and computer transformations was premiered in the Atrium of the I. M. Pei architectural wonder, the East Building of the National Gallery of Art at an evening concert on November 10, 2013. The performance was a part of the NGA’s 35th Anniversary celebration of the East Building, the modern art wing of the Gallery, and the 65th American Music Festival. HABITAT is a concert-length 45 minute technology venture with composition and concept by Steve Antosca, percussion performance and video content by Ross Karre, and audio and video technology by William Brent.

The conceptual framework behind HABITAT involves a percussionist who operates comfortably within the domain of his instruments, and over the course of his performance, emerges into a larger, more profound environment. The percussionist emerges through the use of his skills as a performer and activator of the technology. This involves his movement to and performance into a spiral galaxy of stations of unique percussion instruments, distributed throughout the performance space. As the percussionist moves through the performance space, a multiplicity of effects – visual, auditory and architectural – enter into the complex formula which comprises the HABITAT performance.

Stations include video elements that are triggered by the percussionist, as well as video tracking as the percussionist moves through his galaxy of instruments. The image content serves as a window, mirror, and lens/filter. Gestures from the percussion performance are captured from a close perspective and are played back across several monitors. Custom-designed video tracking software by Brent is used to follow the motions of the percussionist.

HABITAT stems from the tradition of Intermedia art in which a variety of media are employed for the mutual benefit of underlying concepts. From the outset of the compositional process, HABITAT treats percussion instruments, flat screen monitors, and projection surfaces as installed sculptures and unifying elements of the project.

To enhance the complex role of gesture, the custom-designed video tracking software used to follow the motions of the percussionist in performance provides information having a varied impact on the sights and sounds within the space. At times, arm motions may be tied to drastic consequences, causing sounds to be thrown across the hall, stretched, or shifted, and images to be distorted, saturated or faded. In other contexts, such movements will be re-purposed to initiate more subtle shadings and transformations.

Analogous everyday gestures are also displayed to serve as a window into the psyche of the performer's domestic and workplace habitat. This catalog of gestures are abstracted to the point of ambiguous textures via time remapping, image layering/compositing, flickering reorganization of frames, and numerous other filtration methods. The overall experience for the viewer will be a visceral, hypnotic, rhythmically engaging interaction of multiple image surfaces and live musical performance that provides fleeting glimpses of familiar gestures and formal logic.

In addition to video, the tracking system will feature real-time audio analysis of the percussionist's playing, allowing predetermined combinations of audiovisual treatments to be cued in synchrony with specific instrumental timbres, generating real-time processing and spatialization throughout the Atrium. In all, the tracking system enables a layer of digital media manipulation that leaves control to the liberty of the performer as seen fit moment-to-moment within the media landscape.

The varying placement and instrumentation that define the percussionist’s journey allows the audience to adjust their auditory perspective, through spatialization cues and through timbral shifts. The audience will be encouraged to wander with the percussionist, as they would while experiencing gallery exhibits, constantly reformulating their perception of the performance. The spatial re-positioning of the percussionist, the technological transformations and architectural interventions will serve to generate a complex audio and visual mix for the audience.

The creation of HABITAT is a bold, catalytic moment, stretching and blending artistic boundaries. HABITAT is “on the edge” of music, technology and its integration into fixed architectural space, but it is not risky – rather, well thought out. HABITAT is transformative.

notes by Steve Antosca, Ross Karre and William Brent


The concert was reviewed by Stephen Brookes for the Washington Post

VIDEO of the premiere performance can be viewed at the NGA

The lecture/performance HABITAT – Composition | Performance | Technology | Spaces

is archived at the Library of Congress


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