Arts & Culture

Sights and sounds

If you’ve ever watched a music video, played a video game or purchased a film soundtrack, you’ve witnessed the powerful audiovisual bond between sight and sound.

“In our culture now we’re conditioned from day one to put music and visuals together,” said David Arrivée, director of the Cal Poly Symphony. “All you have to do is see Mickey Mouse in the sorcerer’s hat and you think (composer Paul) Dukas. You see Bugs Bunny with the scissors and you think (Gioachino) Rossini.”

On Sunday, the symphony teams up with San Luis Obispo photographer Sky Bergman, who chairs Cal Poly’s Department of Art and Design, to explore the connection between instrumentation and images.

“Music & Image” is the first in a series of collaborative concerts featuring Cal Poly arts groups.

“The original spark was BravoSLO 2011,” explained Arrivée, who was manning the Cal Poly music department booth during the annual Performing Arts Center showcase.

While chatting with Diana Stanton, director of Cal Poly’s Orchesis Dance Company, he realized that the symphony rarely took advantage of the dozens of talented teachers and students working in other disciplines.

He first suggested a collaboration between the Cal Poly Symphony and Orchesis, scheduled for next spring, then approached Bergman with idea of pairing her photographs and video footage with live symphonic music.

Bergman, a self-described “band geek” who played bassoon, clarinet and flute in high school, immediately agreed.

“I knew this was going to be a lot of work … but this is something I have a real passion for,” said Bergman, who remembers attending symphony concerts with her musician father. “It’s been a wonderful project for me because it’s got me back thinking in a musical way.”

Drawing inspiration from her travels around the globe, she selected a mix of still images, videos and time-lapse videos that would complement her soundtrack — Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” — without overpowering it.

Each set of visuals matches one of the 10 movements, which in turn were inspired by illustrations by the composer’s friend, Victor Hartmann.

For instance, the second movement “The Gnome” is paired with pictures of charmingly grotesque Italian door knockers. A series of time-lapse videos showing children and adults exploring the nighttime streets of Havana, Cuba, provide the perfect playful atmosphere for the third movement, “Tuileries (Dispute Between Children at Play”) and images of the ancient outpost of Petra in Jordan mirror the stony stateliness of the eighth movement, “The Catacombs (Roman Sepulcher).”

Arrivée described Bergman’s photos and footage, which compose the concert’s second half, as “absolutely gorgeous.”

The first half of Sunday’s concert kicks off with themes from a handful of popular video games — “Angry Birds,” “Battlefield 2,” Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” and “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune” — all presented without their customary visuals.

Arrivée selected the video game themes on their musical merit rather than their source.

Still, he added, many of his students have deep emotional connections with their favorite games.

“They hear ‘Super Mario Bros.’ and it brings back this total wealth of experience,’” he said.

Also featured on the program is “Trittico Botticelliano” by Italian composer Ottorino Respighi, featuring three movements inspired by the paintings of Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli. Cal Poly student Tyler Whipple added subtle animation to images of the three paintings referenced in the piece: “Spring,” “The Birth of Venus” and “Adoration of the Magi.”

According to Arrivée, Sunday’s concert paves the way for future collaborations between the Cal Poly Symphony and Cal Poly professors.

In March 2013, the Cal Poly Symphony joins Orchesis for “Music & Dance,” a dance/symphonic concert featuring original choreography by Stanton and assistant director Michelle Walter.

Stanton, the co-founder of Variable Velocity Performance Group, set her piece to “Danzón No. 2” by Mexican composer Arturo Márquez.

“It’s a good contrast for the orchestra because it’s very Latin, very dance-like, (and) at the same time, very angular,” Arrivée said, making it a good match for Stanton. “It’s got a lot of zip.”

Walter’s lyrical piece is set to a more traditional orchestral work, “The Moldau” by Czech composer Bedřich Smetana.

“Music & Word” in June 2013 will feature a performance by Josh Machamer, associate chair of Cal Poly’s Theatre and Dance Department.

On the program are two Russian works, Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” a classic children’s story about a young Russian boy and the woodland creatures he encounters, and Nikola Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherezade,” named after the narrator of “One Thousand and One Nights.”

Arrivée said he’s looking forward to future collaborations.

“I’ve always wanted to reinterpret very standard orchestral music with other arts,” he said.


"Music & Image"

3 p.m. Sunday

Cohan Center, Cal Poly

$12 to $14, $9 to $12 for seniors and students

756-4849 or