Jacob Green has a touch of the synaesthesia. He is a music maker with a visual mind, and light and color bleeds into melody and timbre whenever he sets out to create.
Green is a local musician and composer, a member of experimental ensembles Brekekekexkoaxkoax and Austin New Music Co-op, and a tender of records at End of an Ear. Sunday night, July 27, at the Salvage Vanguard Theater, the Church of the Friendly Ghost presented a program of improvised projections and sound according to Green’s creative direction and vision. Weeks of planning and months of inspiration preceded the event, resulting in a show that engaged all the senses with its innovative set, lighting, mood, movement, and sound.
Eight participators — Jacob Green, Josh Ronsen, Travis Weller, Brent Fariss, Greg Headley, Drea Mastramateo, William Sabiston, and Jon Almaraz - collaborated to create a piece of improvised projections and music. Musicians with their instruments and light projectors draped with colored gels were placed at positions along the periphery against the black walls of the Salvage Vanguard Theater. With string bass, vocals, electronics, bells, and a custom zither, they played an alien soundscape appropriate to the deep greys and blacks of the large, barren room.
As the house lights were extinguished completely, streamers of tissue paper and reflective acrylic diamonds caught the projected colors and cast shadows upon each other. Audience members leaving their seat to roam the space became ghostly figures, now silhouetted in black, now illuminated in pink - human canvases for the shifting projected lights.
I spoke to Jacob after the show about how this all came together.
So tell me the story again about how you came to think of this project?
Video projections have become pretty common at concerts around town. My problem with video is that it is not interactive. You have to create it beforehand, and it can never be in response to the changing music. The video projections have already been problematic, because you have improvised music against this static video, and they don’t always interact well.
Also it makes it so I can’t concentrate on the music. It seems like what happens is that the eyes dominate, and you pay attention to the visuals more than the music - even if the music is better. It becomes a distraction rather than a complement.
So you’re a very visual thinker?
Well, that’s the other inspiration behind this. I don’t have full on synaesthesia, but when I’m working on my own music, and starting to fill in sounds, I’ll start with an improv and fill in around it, and a lot of the tones that I choose and where I choose to place them very clearly have a color to me. For example, a Hammond organ has a specific color - light purple to me. It triggers something abstract and colorful. To me the best music always has some sort of color, even if it’s just the absence of color, like white light. It’s not a consistent, specific reaction that I have; it’s largely about context.
That’s why I wanted to call this piece Creative Geography. It’s a film term that’s a way of describing the juxtaposition of different visual elements. It’s basically setting the scene, like in Tarkovsky’s Stalker. That to me is the best example of beautiful use of creative geography, because he establishes a sinister landscape with very little elements (a tank graveyard), and it’s about a tracker who can lead them through the zone. But he shot this with nothing, no special effects; so the creative geography there is to establish this very different landscape with some things that you don’t necessarily associate with science fiction.
Blade Runner is also an example of great lighting. It doesn’t even make any sense half the time - there’s no motive for the great lighting. There are some scenes where they use watery lighting, and it seemingly comes from nowhere; there’s no rationale or source. It changes the landscape by adding a filter to the light, and it totally changes the mood.
Do you create visual art as well?
No, I don’t create visual art. I actually prefer movies to painting or other forms of visual art. A lot of people have told me, about the music that I make, that it sounds like it’s the soundtrack to something. Because I don’t tend towards melody, I tend towards texture, and that is analogous to something visual for me.
Have you been thinking about this project for awhile?
Yes, and I originally wanted to do it at Ceremony Hall, because it’s very alive in its acoustics - lots of reverb, stained glass in the windows, hard surfaces. The fact that we were going to do it at Salvage Vanguard really changed things.
Six of us met at Travis’ house to brainstorm. Originally I didn’t want any set - just these lights pointing down at different things and reflecting off of them. We couldn’t install anything complex, and I didn’t have access to professional lighting gear. So we did it on a shoestring budget with a few spotlights and projections.
We came up with the idea for the decorations out of a talk with Drea about breaking up mirrors and using them as reflective devices. Travis made the acrylic mobiles to mimic that concept. We also hung the fabric, which wasn’t actually tissue paper but muslin, though it was supposed to have the same effect. It was actually supposed to evoke coral reefs.
How do you think the show went?
William was going to be the projectionist of the first half, but he was too ill to perform, so that really changed the plans. I think there was a certain suspension of disbelief from the audience. It wasn’t as grand as I wanted it to be, but there was a lot of space at the Salvage Vanguard, which worked out to an advantage - people could spread out, there were interesting things to look at. I’d rather have an interesting failure than a boring success. It was originally my idea, but the collaborators brought a lot of things to it, which ended up being the most successful elements.
The reaction was great. It seemed like all the comments were about “what about that one moment where this happened? I was hoping there would be something from a different angle, and suddenly there it was!” It was a lot of art students that showed up. Sam always gives me interesting feedback; I think his remarks were that “the piece felt like watching a construction site.” *chuckle*