This November, the Barbican celebrates the 80th birthday of Steve Reich with a weekend of concerts and talks, and an installation by video artist and filmographer Tal Rosner, who speaks here about the influence of the celebrated composer on his work.
‘I first came across Steve Reich in the early 2000s. Getting familiar with an increasing roster of contemporary music at the time, I was genuinely dazzled by his work, immediately feeling a strong affiliation, both personally and artistically. Repetition and variations, minimalism and form are themes that have been extensively explored in the worlds of graphic design and moving image, which is one of the reasons I find his music so inspiring and ideal for a visual counterpart.
There are numerous testaments of musicians (both classical and non-classical), choreographers and directors who have explicitly shared Steve Reich’s contribution to their creative processes. I believe his music had a big influence on all art forms (and still will), and that his vision, in some magical way, almost pre-empted technological advances and collaborations in all of those fields. Having been a techno-music fan for many years, I believe that much of the pattern-work made in the 1990s (and extremely influential on me in my teenage years) had been influenced by exposure to his early work – and becoming familiar with his music in my twenties felt very much like a thread being knotted, a journey completed, as well as the start of something new.
Tehillim has always been my most cherished piece by Reich … creating a video response to it feels like a great honour as well as a creative departure
For me, Reich is a master of both form and emotion, able to distil meaning with the simplest of means – simplicity so awesome, so spiritually powerful, one can only admire and marvel in it.
Tehillim has always been my most cherished piece and the first one of his I ever heard. Creating a video response to it feels like a great honour as well as a creative departure, as the most personal and intimate piece I have created to date. First and foremost, the piece is set to text in my mother’s tongue, Hebrew. By revisiting the syllables, letterforms and biblical texts, I’m able to dissect the process behind Reich’s masterful composition, as well as delve into the different meanings and grammatical structures, which are often highly visible in the original text. Secondly, as I continue to explore psychogeographic themes in my work, Tehillim incorporates architectural abstractions of Tel Aviv suburbia (where I grew up), side by side with London’s Hackney, where I found a new home nearly fourteen years ago.
My principal aim is to give Tehillim a new interpretation, exactly in the same way as a choreographer would do, by visually exploring its depth – both conceptual and rhythmical – as well as its text, the vocal and instrumental writing and the variety of counterpoints and canonic formations. The Psalms connotations also play a part, structural and metaphysical alike. The video will give viewers access to the inner world of Tehillim, as seen through the lens of a visual artist, and is meant as a personal interpretation.
When I listen to Tehillim, able to experience both language and pulse, I feel like I can reach a meditative state where sound and meaning both flow through my mind. In the installation I wish to communicate this very feeling, through an ultimately personal lens.
Experimental tests are the building blocks of my creation––and are steered by my personal reaction to the music.
When creating a video in response to an existing piece of music I usually start by listening to it over and over again (hundreds of times, if not more), until I feel that it got under my skin. I then continue to structure-analysis and planning of my visualisation process: whether the section will be primarily graphic or photographic; do I want to repeat a theme, or create a set of variations; where are the big moments, moments of repose; and so on. Following this process, I start collecting materials, be they photographs, footage or graphic elements––into test or experiments, which are later extended and interwoven into one another. I’m interested in exploring digital repetition that leads to abstraction, and finding immense beauty in the simplest of elements. These experimental tests are the building blocks of my creation––and are steered by my personal reaction to the music. However, in the case of Tehillim, which is a piece I was already extremely familiar with––and have a huge amount of respect and admiration for––I believe this process had begun in my mind almost a decade ago.
The installation itself will utilise a two-channel video installation method allowing a visitor to watch two screens, side-by-side, like a giant digital open book. Complementing each other and ever-changing throughout the piece––the separate channels will inspire ways to dive into the musical world, and the logic behind it, surrounded by shapes and colours, patterns and pulses.
The visual world of Tehillim is comprised of an ocean of time/verse contradictions as well as harmony, where the meaningful becomes decorative and vice versa, where codes are found in poetry and memories are colourblind. Utilising my bilingual skills I’m able to change the direction of writing, of putting marks onto the screen, mediate over using complex grids, ever shifting between the analytical and the interpretive.
As the abstraction progresses, the mandalic void deepens, discovering new patterns with speech fragments, of places, of belonging. Enhancing the hypnotic power in aural repetition and vocal canons, the video presents a constant process of discovery––in the interplay of positive and negative spaces, percussive and stringlike. While each movement is be signified by its very own microcosm of graphic rhythms and typographic explorations, the logic, or form, is not there to trump the emotional, but rather, as always, serve it in its presentation.’
Tehillim (Psalms) An Installation by Tal Rosner. Music by Steve Reich will be on display on 5–6 November.