by Suzi Steffen
Combine digital mapping, a projector so loud it has to be far away from the audience and the stage, a story that so fascinated Europe it’s been told through literature and music numerous times, and the devil, and you might just get the Eugene Symphony‘s April concert, Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust.
Aside from being the penultimate concert under the direction of Maestro Danail Rachev, the concert features a new collaboration of Eugene’s Harmonic Lab with the Symphony and the Hult Center. During the more than two-hour run time of the show, which includes the Eugene Symphony Chorus and soloists along with the orchestra, the hall will be lit up in part for about 25-30 minutes.
This all came about because of other collaborations that lit the Hult Center for the Performing Arts – most often in the Hult Center Lobby, where Harmonic Lab was part of subUrban Projections for several years, including a year where it mapped the underside of the stairs and made that blank space look beautiful.
John Park, the Harmonic Lab digital artist who’s done the work for this Faust, says that the Symphony contacted him more than a year and a half ago to talk about the project. They “threw out big ideas, and they went for it,” Park says. “Going for it” meant applying for a large grant from the Oregon Community Foundation – which they received.
Park says, “Then it was like, ‘What does this collaboration look like? Do we incorporate dance and visual projection?”
He laughs. Everyone did want dance to be involved, but the orchestra shell, musicians and chorus took up the entire stage, so this turned into a more purely visual collaboration with the Symphony. The next problem: A projector large and bright enough to work in the Silva Concert Hall would be, and indeed is, very loud. “It’s loud because it’s bright, ” Park says, so it’s located in the upper balcony, far from most of the audience.
The primary job, Park says, was not just projecting light, but “mapping out and blocking light in certain places. It’s a careful process of creating black areas where you want light to not go. Then you can custom make the imagery in the space you do want to hit.”
Berlioz was really known for being willing to try something big and experimental.
Park, along with Symphony General Manager Lindsay Pearson and Executive Director Scott Freck, have spent countless meetings and a lot of email time plotting out just when and where the light could go. During board meetings, Park says, he heard from musicians and some other board members that they were concerned about the light. Would musicians be distracted from their jobs? Would the lights hit the musicians while they were playing?
The answers are that the light isn’t really for the musicians, and it certainly isn’t projected on them – instead, they’ll barely be able to see anything but a little bit from way across the proscenium if they happen to be on the opposite corner of the stage.
As for what the lighting is like, “the storyline [of Faust] has some really poignant moments,” Park says. So the lighting is “allusive, going into a dream state. … We can talk about that in an evocative way without telling the story verbatim.”
Park says that while younger folks who have been to a lot of large-scale music festivals won’t be surprised by projection mapping, by this kind of interaction with the architecture and the music. Some of the digital arts students he knows (he teaches in the UO’s program) seem to be using this project as a point of entry into classical music. On the other side, Park says, “there are a lot of people who are a more established audience with the Symphony, and they might have seen hundreds of performances, but I don’t think they’ve seen something like this before.”
Park likes that, though. “Berlioz was really known for being willing to try something big and experimental, so here we are.”
For more on the process, listen to John Park’s interview with Scott Freck via Soundcloud:
The Eugene Symphony’s Damnation of Faust
8 pm Thursday, April 13
The Hult Center for the Performing Arts