Sonatas and Interludes. 2006
Two channel video to accompany live performance of John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes

Photo courtesy of Richard Termine for The New York Times
Emily Manzo performing John Cage’s “Sonatas and Interludes” (1948) for prepared piano with live visual accompaniment on video screens. The Stone, New York City, July 2006.

In approaching the challenge of providing images to accompany such subtle and complex music, we found ourselves exploring these concepts of rasa, or fixed emotional states, as Cage did. These ideas of emotional permanency provided us with an opportunity to bring many elements together, all of which for us have resonance here; the fixed energy levels of electrons, the flicking of a switch, the still image, emotional and artificial intelligence, the specific functionality of technology. And coupled with these ideas of the static, ideas of growth and change, the move towards tranquility.

Music Review
John Cage Wrote an Earful, and It’s Served With an Eyeful


By STEVE SMITH
Published: August 1, 2006. The New York Times.

Practically any concert of John Cage’s music involves some degree of chance: indeterminacy was at the heart of the composer’s philosophy. Still, some performances are more unpredictable than others. In the recital presented Sunday by the pianist Emily Manzo at the Stone, a tiny performing arts space on the Lower East Side, the uncertainty had less to do with the music than with the two video screens that surrounded her.

The “Sonatas and Interludes” for prepared piano, composed in 1948, is one of Cage’s signature creations: a set of 16 brief pieces punctuated by four slightly longer ones, performed on a piano with metal bolts, rubber erasers and other implements wedged into its strings. Ms. Manzo’s attention to detail was exceptional; clearly, she had the composer’s notes under her fingers and his particular timbres committed to memory. She found a natural shape and flow for each movement, digging beneath its clangorous surface to reveal a playful dance or tender lullaby.


Flanking Ms. Manzo, the video artists David Phillips and Paul Rowley used tiny two-octave keyboards to manipulate digital images on laptop computers, projecting the results on two screens facing the pianist and audience. Both artists independently wielded a shared visual vocabulary; on one screen, a particular image might hold steady, while on the other the same pattern might be shifting, dancing or shattering into dozens of fragments.


Apart from the liquid blobs that splashed in time with Ms. Manzo’s opening notes, Mr. Phillips and Mr. Rowley rarely tried to illustrate Cage’s notes literally. Instead, they projected images of clocks and carousels, electronic schematics and the occasional grainy home-movie snippet to suggest qualities of restlessness, energy, impermanence and tranquillity found in Cage’s music. Occasionally, the video was a colorful distraction; at its best moments, it functioned as a sort of Kirlian photography, rendering visible the music’s characteristic aura.


The intersection of sound and vision became especially effective in the program’s final stretch. In the Sonata XIV, balls of light flitted about like insects skimming the surface of a pond, just as untreated notes similarly rang out over a steady ripple of prepared tones. Midway through the movement, Mr. Rowley’s system failed. Mr. Phillips continued to the end of the next section, then dimmed his projector as well. Whether by design or sheer chance, Ms. Manzo ended the performance alone, her gentle notes ringing at length in the dark..