Ever since we’ve began working with DC composer Michael J. Evans, we have known him to push boundaries and innovate new ways of sharing messages and music. From our first release together, BLOOM, a collection of chamber works, to our last project, CIPHER, a spoken word and piano release of variations and translations, Evans has consistently evolved and impressed those around him.
About one year ago, Evans came with us to the Czech Republic to record what has become his next project, MISERY, a 40 minute long anti-concerto for bassoon and orchestra. MISERY is inspired by the Chekhov short story of the same name.
Rather than follow the traditional format of recording and releasing strictly audio, Evans commissioned a visual artist to set his recording to an animated story, creating a marriage of visual art, music, literature, education, and history. The result is a unique work of art that introduces a new way of presenting and sharing music:
Evans has always had a way with words (and music!) and sharing his interpretations on art and culture. We wanted to share a few words from Evans about this distinctive project:
“What is MISERY?
It’s a multimedia project. But, more than that, it’s a way in.
A way into what?New music for one thing. If you asked people on the street, how many would say they recently listened to “21stcentury classical” or new music? Probably very few, to none.
In reality they listen to it all the time: commercials, movies, video game, TV shows. The reality is that it is out there, being heard all the time. So why isn’t it more accepted? Why aren’t more people packing into new music concerts the same way they pack into a new art exhibit?
Some of it has to do with the way we think of and market our music. There’s an intimidation factor: people think they won’t like or understand it. My way into the standard repertoire of Bach, Beethoven etc. was through cartoons when I was younger. The way in for today’s audiences, are films, commercials, and TV shows, but they are unaware that they are already in.
We need to credit composers and performers more when our work is being used for something, and let people know that they are hearing new music. They need to know that this piece exists alone and was not composed specifically as background music for some program. And, if they enjoy it, they can get it.
Another set of issues are the vestiges of the last century for both composers and the audience. For composers to write something at all consonant or accessible meant you weren’t a “real” or “serious” composer.
Even if you “started out” as a serious composer, the greater the success and acceptance you gained by the mainstream, the more suspect your music became, and the more suspect you became as not being a “real” or “serious” artist. The idea being that if someone who didn’t have a PHD in music could get it, then it clearly wasn’t intellectual enough. That was a problem with the music establishment and a lot of critics and fortunately that is changing, though it still may take a while.
It’s not enough to have a concert in a bar or places other than a traditional concert hall, although it is one way to get the work out there. I think we need to present works in a way that we experience them with visuals etc. not always, but sometimes.
It’s also a way in to classic literature, mythology etc. Again, ask a kid to read Chekhov, Kate Chopin, or something else, and unless it is required, most kids won’t do it. Give them a graphic novel, or a DVD of the same story and you will have their interest. It’s the same for most adults too. We have become so accustomed to receiving our information in a multimedia setting that it just makes sense to do it.
Now, I know film adaptations of books can be terrible, and that is why they can be discouraged. In school, part of the lesson might be getting a person to read words, which a film adaptation would not address. The projects I’m experimenting with now address this issue. The text of the story appears in MISERY the same way a graphic novel would. It is not edited down, but is the actual text, so the person is reading the story while watching the story unfold.
Film adaptations can be poorly made due to an economic factor. So much is driven by the movie studios trying to turn out blockbusters and make a profit. It is the film establishment, as well, that is part of the problem. Capitalism and profit are another part of it: this idea we have that if something doesn’t make money it is not of value. Forget the cultural value, or the message: if it doesn’t sell it’s not valued, at least here in the US.
That being said, I do believe we are seeing the arts moving into a post-capitalist environment. What it will eventually look like will depend on lots of factors. There is experimentation with basic income in a few countries right now. If profit or making a living was not a motivating factor, and artists, including sound engineers, producers, etc., were all free to create and collaborate, without having to pay the expenses and worry about where their next meal was coming from, and, if those projects and collaborations were valued as contributing to the culture of the country and the world, then who knows what we might see and experience.
This multimedia project idea is a way in for composers too – a way in to film. There are so many composers now, and so many want to do film scores. That’s great. It depends on their motivation, however, as to whether or not the current system is going to actually be good, or work for them. I wonder if they realize that, barring a few notable exceptions, they are basically being hired to creating a product that matches the vision of some director. It is the director’s film, they choose a composer to continue that vision, and in many instances dictate the style of music.
The model I’ve created turns that paradigm on its head. The composer takes a story, and essentially becomes the director. The composer declares their independence and autonomy. More composers should be doing this. With this model, the composer is not subservient to a director or anyone. And the story unfolds differently. The end result is driven by the story and the music. The flow is different. Because it is, in essence, a “silent film”, (except even in those days the film was created first, and then music), the music and the story become the focal point. The visuals serve to enhance the story, but come after the music.”– Michael J. EvansMISERY will be available this Friday, February 12th. Evans will be celebrating the release with premiere showings of MISERY three times over the next week in Washington DC. Details for the performances are below:
February 13th – Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library 3:30 PM
February 16th – West End Interim Library 7:00 PM
February 18th – Busboys and Poets 6:30 PM