When Jonathan Zalben ’03 got lost in the stacks his sophomore year he probably had no idea he was about to unearth the inspiration for his senior project — “Faces in the City,” a book of poems by James Kavanaugh.
Zalben, a music major, composed his own music and video clips to compliment Kavanaugh’s poetry. Although a little difficult to unpack, his project was new, ambitious and undoubtedly interesting.
Zalben writes music reviews for the Yale Daily News.
The multimedia installation in the Digital Media Center for the Arts was open to anyone all week long and will be open today between 2-4 p.m. On Wednesday there was a live concert performance of Zalben’s music and the audience was invited to observe and participate in the installation afterwards.
The are three elements in the installation. The first was Kavanaugh’s poetry, which audience members could read and record on a laptop, their voices then played back through speakers behind the curtains. Once recorded, the voices were stored and played back randomly, sometimes sounding nonsensical and at other times coherent. It was interesting to note the differences in delivery of the lines — some gave dramatic and emotive readings, while others repeated “faces in the city” in a low monotone.
At one end of the room there was a video screen, on which Peter Van Agtmael’s ’04 photos, Annie Simpson’s ART ’04 abstracted paintings, and Zalben’s own filming of New Haven melted into each other. Each approached New Haven from unique angles — some of which were hardly recognizable to Yale students, and others as familiar as Morse and Broadway. A computer program called Videodelic tracked movement in the room itself, blending real-time images of the viewer with pre-recorded footage, so you could occasionally see yourself on the screen.
Van Agtmael is a photo editor for the Yale Daily News.
In the background was Zalben’s classically-flavored electric organ music. The seats in the gallery were wired to a keyboard and computer, so that listeners could trigger sound files by people sitting down. During Wednesday’s performance, the music was well-executed by the small orchestra and four operatic singers.
Layering was prevalent: video images were superimposed on top of each other and flowed into each other; the lyrics were sliced up and distributed among the soprano, alto, tenor and bass; behind it all, the poetry played the whole time. With so much going on it was difficult to sufficiently digest all information being thrown at the audience.
The chaotic moments within the music and film were intended to represent those of the city, and would often break into moments of clarity — the main melody was slow and purposeful, a contemplative-if-not-uplifting composition. Some of the string music was harmonious and the echoing violin solo played in a low register was beautiful. The organ music was a lot more jarring and some of the tones were downright ominous.
The overall effect was a fairly somber mood, fitting in well with New Haven’s current abysmal climate. The dark atmosphere was not intended, but Zalben said he let the various elements determine the direction of the music. The draped material around the room lit in fluorescent green and pink added to the eeriness, which made for an absorbing analysis of New Haven.
While somewhat perplexing, this thoughtful project is intriguing.