Audience members donned 3D glasses before the show started. Minutes later, 3D images told a compelling story. This was not a screening of Avatar. Rather, it was a saxophone ensemble performance with trippy 3D imagery.
The Northwestern University Saxophone Ensemble made history Friday at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall when it performed with a videographer manipulating 3D video to accompany the music. For the last of the three pieces, two narrators from Northwestern’s speech and language pathology department read poetry to the rhythm of music.
This was the first time live music was accompanied by a 3D video, said Frederick Hemke, ensemble director.
“I think, as always, the saxophone ensemble is on the cutting edge of what’s going on in music,” he said.
The performance featured three pieces, two of which involved videographer Patrick Liddell. The former Northwestern graduate student created abstract 3D images for “Formes Couleurs” using a software program he designed. For the last piece, one that spanned almost 45 minutes, he layered pictures and played with the color contrast to tell the story of the poems and music.
Hemke and his ensemble made history in more than just one way. He was the first to transcribe “Façade: An Entertainment,” the longest piece, for saxophonists, and it made its world premiere at Northwestern. Additionally, the group’s performance of “Formes Couleurs” was the first in U.S. history.
According to Bienen senior Nessyah Buder, the ensemble’s artistic coordinator, NUSE has a history of putting together creative performances. Last spring, she turned the concert into a cabaret show. Before that, the group used slideshows of images that corresponded with the music. Her idea for this year’s show had to do with the condition called sound-color synesthesia, common among composers.
“Different sounds evoke different shapes and colors,” Buder said. “I would hope that people go away, first off, loving the music and hearing something that they had not heard before and be inspired. Second off, I would hope that people come away with an understanding of synesthesia.”
Prior to the concert, Liddell only had one chance to rehearse creating the video along with the saxophonists. He said he was not nervous, though, since he often learns about gigs just a few hours beforehand. Buder also gave him a lot of direction about what kind of images would work well with the music.
“What we’re trying to do is just accompany the music,” Liddell said. “It’s not a separate thing. It’s not trying to overplay the music at all.”
When Hemke first heard about the 3D idea, he was skeptical. Although he liked Buder’s idea, he did not see how creating the multi-sensory experience was possible in a way that would not detract from the music. Buder chose a type of 3D glasses and video that would enable viewers to look at the images in 2D if they preferred.
“My concern is that it doesn’t become an issue of everyone looking at it with 3D glasses at the visual experience and forgetting the listening experience,” he said.
Anthony Paggett, a master’s student conductor who directed a short piece entitled “Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila,” said he sees NUSE as a potential trendsetter.
“The medium of 3D art and visualization is something that’s really picking up with all the movies,” he said. “I hope other people follow what we do.”
Denise Wong, 49, likened the performance to Fantasia. She said she enjoyed the experience, but did not think that the style would catch on for mass audiences.
“You just have to open your mind and just lose yourself in it to enjoy it,” Wong said. “You have to be free in your thoughts.”
NUSE, a group in just its third year on campus, will be performing next year without Buder. Buder said she does not know if there will be a new artistic coordinator to take her place, but Hemke does not seem worried.
“I think we will continue to play a lot of our contemporary music and reach out to the audience in new ways.” Hemke said. “We will continue to reach out and present audiences with a little bit different perspective of what music is.”