For Bunita Marcus

For Bunita Marcus is a solo piano work by composer Morton Feldman. Musician Marco Lenzi describes the work as: “The peaceful inertia of free-of-shock time, the slow decanting of the forms in approximately an hour and fifteen minutes of music make “For Bunita Marcus” a monument of mystical contemplation, of ecstatic rapture and deeply affected attention.” In 1998, when I was a graduate student at the CalArts School of Music’s Composition-New Media program, pianist Vicki Ray asked me to provide live video accompaniment for a performance of the work. At the time, we were inspired by John Cage’s 1950 Lecture on Something since the topic of the lecture was ostensibly the creative work of Morton Feldman. We pulled quotes and random snippets from the text and combined them with live processed images of Vicki’s hands on the piano keyboard.

In 1998, using a computer for the live manipulation of video was not as easy and ubiquitous as it is in 2017! Digital video cameras were very expensive and clunky. There were no high definition iPhone video recorders in everyone’s pocket. Computer-based video editing required dedicated video cards, extra storage space, and the fastest, most expensive tower computer available to achieve NTSC, 640 X 480 video. However, the cat was out of the bag and as computer processing power increased at a rapid pace in the 1990s the development and feasibility of real time digital video manipulation for live performance also took flight. In 1996, Steina Vasulka, a well known video artist and violinist, along with a programmer named Tom Demeyer created a new program at STEIM (Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music) in Amsterdam called Image/ine. Image/ine was one of the first (if not the first) program that allowed artists to manipulate pre-recorded video or live video inputs in realtime using MIDI or keyboard controls. By 2017 standards the video looked pixelated, the frame rates were suspect, and colors were not as bright but all of the processing was realtime which was exciting! I was an early adopter of Image/ine and even helped run an online users group for the program and for experimental video artists in general. I used Image/ine and Max/MSP for our first performances of For Bunita Marcus in 1998. We performed the piece a few times but the live video setup was cumbersome and we both moved on to other projects.

Photos from the 1998 performance

Fast forward eighteen years to the summer of 2016 when Vicki invited me to revisit and update our audio-visual collaboration for a performance of For Bunita Marcus at Boston Court in Pasadena. The technical requirements for the performance compared to 1998 were streamlined to say the least! I used one small HD video camera, a microphone, and a laptop for live video processing. Unfortunately, STEIM’s Image/ine program did not survive Apple’s transition from OS 9 to OS X in the early 2000s so I used a program called Jitter instead. Vicki and I decided not to use Cage’s text in any of the video and instead went for visual themes centered on the ideas of unlimited spaciousness, the meaning of duration, and how our minds process repetition in a 75 minute galaxy of sound.

Here is a review of our Boston Court performance.

Photos from the 2016 performance