Art: ‘Heartsong’ performance combines music, animation, video mixing, sculpture and text

Several months back, Emma Sterling and I were invited by Sophie Hyde of Closer Productions in Adelaide to join a project out of Flinders Medical Centre’s Arts in Health program. The project entitled Heartsong was inspired by the experiences and thoughts of patients and their carers on the Cardiac Care Unit. Fittingly, the resulting multimedia performance was to premiere in an adjoining space, and did so last week.

Heartsong poster & performance details
Heartsong poster & performance details

The project’s video design task was almost an open brief when we were first introduced, though other elements of the performance had been roughly hewn. A text had been assembled by the project’s producer, Cheryl Pickering, constructed from patient and staff testimonials. Accomplished musicians Richard Chew (keyboards) and Ian Dixon (flugelhorn) were involved, and successfully plotted an improvised musical course which supported the text with colour and emotion. A large scale sculpture of a human heart (approximately six feet tall) was constructed by Diwani Oak, and then lit by Emma Sterling and myself, using a combination of projected and LED rope lighting. Diwani also produced several screen-printed and hand-crafted hangings which also adorned the space, and provided a canvas for the thematically connected poetry of Ian Gibbins to feature on.

Heartsongs central sculpture by Diwani Oak (as installed at FMC)
Heartsong's central sculpture by Diwani Oak (as installed at FMC)

Emma Sterling’s and my greater commitment though was the production and presentation of video and animated content to harmonize with Heartsong’s other elements. We called upon many of the approaches we used to produce our first documentary film ‘A Shift in Perception‘ back in 2006 and set about crafting stop-motion animations, moving textural sequences, lifting public domain found footage from The Internet Archive, and preparing them all for live delivery.

When audience members enter the Heartsong space, they are first drawn to Diwani’s light sculpture, which sits as the work’s hearth. An animated rendition of it also rotates on video screens, while another projection presents a faithful recording of a medical heart monitor read-out. When the improvised music begins, pre-recorded voices recall the words of patients and nurses alike, and lead the audience through the patient’s journey- from symptoms and hospital admittance through care and recovery. In performance, my task is to react to the text and emotions presented by Richard and Ian with improvised video, which I layer, blend and loop for the duration of the performance using Arkaos GrandVJ and a Korg NanoKontrol MIDI controller. The piece is designed to have a meditative, gentle and nurturing quality about it, and audience responses thus far have suggested we’re striking that chord.

Heartsong is installed and performed at the RiAus
'Heartsong' is installed and performed at the RiAus

The first performances of the work are behind us now, with only one remaining performance of our debut season remaining. On Friday, December 11th at the Royal Institution of Australia from 6-9pm, the installation will be open, with the performance occurring around 7pm. The performance runs for approximately 25 minutes, and will be followed by a panel discussion with the involved artists plus another artist also currently exhibiting at the RiAus, George Poonkin Khut.

Dan Monceaux

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Theatre: Hitting the road with Slingsby’s ‘Wolf’

Emma Sterling and I have spent the past several weeks in an intense collaborative bubble, producing and performing (essentially VJing) video content for an innovative new theatrical performance for children. Directed by Andy Packer and performed by Ellen Steele, ‘Wolf’ is an original story by Andy Packer (written by Finegan Kruckemeyer) and developed by a collaborative team of specialists spanning many artistic disciplines. Full team credits are available at the Slingsby website. ‘Wolf’ explores the theme of fear and anxiety and their roles in our lives and Western folk story traditions. The performance is part physical theatre, part video diary and part new media performance, as the lone character Ruby slips into a dreamscape in which she is pursued and confronted by her fears and insecurities.

I’m writing this blog entry from just south of Tailem Bend, an early whistle-stop on the road to Mount Gambier, the place of the play’s original conception last year, and soon to be the place of its public premiere. As latecomers to the project, we had the task of devising the delivery method for three different screens of video content, and producing video sequences for several scenes, in a style harmonious to existing footage created by Sophie Hyde of Closer Productions. Requiring a combination of wrapping double-screen images, and rolling single screen content, the imagery is at times immersive and environmental, at others direct broadcasts from Ruby’s video diary and in more surreal moments, manifestations of pure imagination. The video system prototype before we became involved required three networked computers, syncronised, each driving a single projector.

Our first challenge was to devise a neater technical solution that would also provide us with the performance flexibility we need to allow us to respond spontaneously with video, augmenting the performer’s movement and the story’s progress. Since we were already committed users of Arkaos’ and Numark’s NuVJ package, we roadtested and ran with Arkaos’ GrandVJ for the ultimate solution. Using this concise and powerful program, we are now able to run all three screens from a single Acer Aspire 6930G laptop, which we bought with the spoils of the commission. The key factors in running the system smoothly are many, with tech specs an important part of the picture. The Vista laptop we run has a 1 Gb dedicated video card, 4Gb of RAM and a dual core 2.4 GHz processor. Feeding the software files with the best compression codecs and ratios is critical. For GrandVJ, I’ve followed the recommended workflow and use H264 for HDV dual-screen clips, and Quicktime PhotoJPEG for SD clips. Starting the compression at 80%, I wind it back on some of the longer HDV clips when they start to stagger on playback.


Theatre: Slingsby’s WOLF Premieres May 6 (TVC)

Another early task we were set was to deliver a TVC for broadcast in regional South Australia, advertising the show and its imminent tour. For this we re-edited the existing prologue, shot by Sophie Hyde, and inserted an animated sequence created by Luku. We’ve also distributed the TVC via TubeMogul, a terrific tool for re-distributing online video across multiple portal sites.

So we’re passing twisted gumtrees, expansive pastures and the occasional road-train, racing towards the official premiere on May 6th. After three showings with test audiences last week at the Odeon Theatre in Norwood. After Mount Gambier, we hit a string of country towns across SA, including Kadina, Keith, Bordertown, Port Augusta, Whyalla, Port Pirie, Roxby Downs, Ceduna and Port Lincoln. As always, Em and I are packing multiple cameras so we’ll be documenting the trip as well as the show as both unfold.

Dan Monceaux

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