Frederick Abrams

The Underground Cathedral

Group / TV

Group performances: WRO Media Festival/TV Wroclaw Audio Art Festival/Warsaw

It was in the Western city of Wroclaw where I first presented the live performance of The Underground Cathedral, for a multimedia festival which was gaining international stature. Wroclaw, like much of Eastern Europe, has a heritage of developing highly talented classical musicians and for me this opportunity alone posed a challenge beyond anything imagined.

Having assembled a group of nine musicians, three of them a progressive
rock trio and the rest classically trained students from the local music academy, I posed a situation which would confront the musicians, myself the tenth, with a number of creative problems which none of us had been previously trained for. As the music which I had composed represents a spectrum from the most strictly arranged rhythms and melodies to recording while playing a keyboard with my hands behind my back, how these disparate pieces became transformed into live performances became the crux of the experiment.

Further, there were other external parameters which live performers rarely must respond to. The challenge was to play in unison to projected video which had been edited scene-by-scene in precise rhythm to the recorded compositions which were to be interpreted on stage. Thus, both starting and ending points had to be exact. What made this even more complicated is that I did not compose using a metronome nor were the finished MIDI (electronic recorded) compositions quantized (a commonly used method in electronic recording which automatically aligns all recorded notes to a consistent beat).

On top of this, some of the musical parts remained recorded along with the sampled sounds of life in the underground, which as well were more often than not placed within exact positions of the recorded rhythms and melodies.

Hence, our chore was to learn to play in tandem with the rhythmically edited video scenes, recorded sounds and recorded musical instruments, yet to a sometimes inconsistent and unpredictably changing tempo. Such an improvised tempo also proved a daunting task to make functional musical scores, most which were laboriously constructed between myself and someone living in Anchorage, Alaska, all of the MIDI files and notation transferred back and forth, sometimes in parts representing instrument by instrument, via email.

With each composition a different combination of instruments and musicians was chosen. In more than one no scores were used and in two the performances were completely improvised. In two instances the musicians onstage played interactively with performers captured in metro undergrounds on video.

Thus, the first of these multimedia concerts was presented by the WRO Media Festival in Wroclaw and the second occurred at The Audio Art Festival at the Center for Contemporary Art in Warsaw. This festival is annually organized in collaboration with the Polish
Chapter for the International Society of Contemporary Music.
The recorded underground sounds as well as ambient electronic musical sounds were heard in surround sound speaker configurations at the four corners of the audience in order to evoke the experience of actually being in the underground while observing the musicians onstage and background video projection.

Previous Part Next Part