by David Barmby
A take-no-prisoners ghost-train ride into horrors within.
'A cadaver wrapped in black plastic twitches in the corner like a snake with its head cut off. Ticking erratically, this animated corpse offers a counterpoint to the digital clocks at opposite ends of the space. Facing each other, these clocks mark time passed and time to come.'
Stretching the boundaries of what might be considered opera (there is little singing, theatre or text) Another Other (part experimental opera, expanded cinema, sound art and installation) is a multi-media tour de force rhetorically based on the black and white film, Persona (1966) directed by Ingmar Bergman.
In Bergman’s essay The Snakeskin he describes Art as equivalent to a snakeskin full of ants ‘the snake itself is long since dead, eaten out from within, deprived of its poison: but the skin moves, filled with busy life’. On our way into the theatre we pass the cadaver wrapped in garbage bags and discarded into a corner, with the ‘pluck-plock’ sound of erratically ticking clocks engulfing us. Was this the discarded remains of Western Art we were passing? It foreshadows what is to come in this exceptional creative achievement by Chamber Made Opera, a take-no-prisoners ghost-train ride into horrors within.
The 79-minute Another Other (though it was 90 minutes on opening night) questions the relevance of art forms, ‘authenticity’, our identities and genders. In the vast Meat Market space, the work uses fours screens and 12 microphones with centrally located performers facing each other behind computers and other technology, screened by two ceiling-to-floor gauze screens onto which images are projected. Beyond the centre, the audience sits in two banks of raked seating facing one other. Further screens are to the side and behind each half of the audience.
The program note dscribes the work as “deeply collaborative” with “everything discussed in depth, each scene and our understanding of it”. There is no composer, librettist nor director; rather four voices around a table interacting with one another in a controlled chaos.
So how did it go? Firstly, the lay-out of the project worked very well. To sit looking through two transparent screens of projected image to a further screen and the audience beyond, and to hear multifarious sonic contributions from the artists before us provided a wonderfully rich tapestry of abstraction to behold. Anderson’s improvisations using digitally processed garklein recorders, Veltheim violin contributions (including an excerpt of Bach’s Chaconne from Partita No 2 in startling counterpoint with screened soap opera) and Masselli’s 16mm film contributions were all highly engaging, but it was Pateras’s exquisitely refined and precise sound world of texture and sonority, using a synthesiser and reel-to-reel tape recorder manipulating his own sounds, pre-recorded sounds and those of others, which proved to be the most rewarding aspect of the work. Overall, sitting through 90 minutes of episodic abstract soundscape and film without apparent structure or narrative was not a simple task; I felt that the work might be tightened and it was my instinctive need to have a clearer understanding of form, that I know the work was avoiding, which proved frustrating. In sum: a first-rate undertaking and a highly successful model for future collaboration.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Presented by Chamber Made Opera
Thursday, 18 February to Sunday, 21 February at 8pm Meat Market, North Melbourne
Created and performed by:
Natasha Anderson, composer and installation artist
Sabina Maselli, film maker and visual artist
Anthony Pateras, pianist and electro-acoustic musician
Erkki Veltheim, violinist and interdisciplinary artist
Byron Scullin, Production Management/Audio
Jenny Hector, Lighting Design
Marco Cher-Gibard, Technical Supervision
Another Other was commissioned by Chamber Made Opera with support from the Australia Council for the Arts, Creative Victoria, Sue Kirkham and Charles Davidson.
First published on Friday 19 February, 2016
What the stars mean?
David Barmby is former head of artistic planning of Musica Viva Australia, artistic administrator of Bach 2000 (Melbourne Festival), the Australian National Academy of Music and Melbourne Recital Centre.
Review: Another Other (Chamber Made Opera)
by Maxim Boon
February 19, 2016
★★½☆☆ This ode to Bergman's masterwork, Persona, is technically virtuosic but ultimately impenetrable.
Meat Market, Melbourne
February 19, 2016
There is an inherent conflict in art responding to art; it begs the question, how does the homage react to its source material in a way that is both respectful and yet communicative of a distinct creative voice? Where is the personal authenticity of the artist if they are reimagining someone else's vision? Devising something that can exist in isolation and yet also contributes to the legend of its inspiration is a complex equation to solve, and while Chamber Made Opera's Another Other makes a valiant attempt at decoding Ingmar Bergman's densely layered 1966 masterpiece, Persona, the result is ultimately impenetrable.
Flanking a central hub of mixing desks and laptops, two banks of seats, set opposite each other, are separated by a series of sheer fabric panels. With the four instigators of the piece - Natasha Anderson, Sabina Maselli, Anthony Pateras and Erkki Veltheim - sat between the two hemispheres of this performance space, we are offered a complex geometry of spatially controlled soundscapes and projected images. There are two digital clocks either side of the performers, one counting down, the other marking the passing of time, and on the outer edges of the room, a series of spotlights occasionally dazzle the audience with bursts of blinding light. It's a dizzyingly complex arrangement, easily capable of sensory overload, and largely, that's exactly what it delivers.
Distilled to its most experiential components, everything but the vaguest semblance of Bergman's narrative is discarded. In its place, we are offered a more disjointed pallet of inscrutable references that combine to create a series of episodes mixing film, real-time manipulation of live performance and electronic soundscapes. There is a faint, skeletal presence of Persona's structure, but only as a subliminal afterthought.
Gesturally, there are clearly discernible artefacts from Bergman's tense modernist drama. The lack of spoken dialogue mirrors Bergman's mute protagonist, Elisabet. Then there's the use of found sounds like the whirring clatter of a film projector or the pointillism of dripping water, the use of provocative iconographies, such as Malcolm Browne's famous image of a self-immolating Tibetan monk, and the pointed exposure of the mechanics of the production akin to Bergman's jarring film reel. At one point, a short excerpt of the Chaconne from Bach's Partita No 2 makes an explicit nod to the use of Bach's E Major Violin Concerto in Persona. It's a rich array of ingredients, but somehow they fail to form a cohesive whole.
Another Other achieves from a technical perspective is incredibly impressive. All of its constituent components are coordinated seamlessly, and there is a level of sophistication at work in the realisation of the projections and sound design which is particularly virtuosic. With so much in its arsenal, there could have been a little more restraint in the execution. Almost every part of the elaborate production design is revealed in the first 15 minutes of the show, leaving very little room to increase the intensity or surprise later in the piece.
There is a creative élan at play that speaks to the obviously rewarding collaboration between the four artists who have created this show, as well as the palpable reverence they share for Bergman's film. However, what this production mistranslates is the finesse and narrative subtlety of Persona. Many of the statements this show makes are gratuitously confronting without having any perceptible logic or dramatic momentum to support it, and there is a noticeable dearth of more nuanced moments to offer some counterpoint.
There is also an intellectual elitism present that is perhaps too exclusive. In its attempts to out-compete the cerebral intensity of Persona, Another Other muscles out any of the theatrical potential that would have allowed a more rewarding connection for the audience. I'm not suggesting that eschewing a figurative, traditionally crafted narrative arc is a critical issue, but there is an unignorable implication that a thorough and academic appreciation of the subtexts in Bergman's film is needed to understand what this production is trying to say. I applaud how creatively boisterous this ambitious show is, but in its myopic excitement, Another Other has closed its borders to all but the most informed audience.
**Chamber Made Opera present Another Other at the Meat Market, North Melbourne, until February 21.
Klare Lanson, Chamber Made Opera, Another Other
Klare Lanson is a Castlemaine-based writer, poet, performance maker and sound artist. Her project #wanderingcloud (RT118, p41) is to premiere at the upcoming Castlemaine State Festival (http://castlemainefestival.com.au/2015/event/wanderingcloud/).
Another Other, Chamber Made Opera, photo Christie Stott and Josh Burns
Chamber Made Opera's Another Other, produced in collaboration with Punctum and New Music Network, is a new work created and performed by Erkki Veltheim, Sabina Maselli, Natasha Anderson and Anthony Pateras, a stunning audiovisual renewal of filmmaker Ingmar Bergman's legacy.
In “The Snakeskin,” an essay written in 1965, Bergman sees art as hunger, pessimistically describing it as a dead snakeskin full of ants, eaten from the inside but still moving with systematic, uneasy activity. A year later Bergman released his seminal film Persona, in which he explored the validity of art, authenticity and the transformative aspects of self.
Another Other probes these themes with expertise and loyalty, a contemporary exploration of our digital age, which enables various online selves, our gaming skins and the smiling veneer of busy loneliness that they project.
Entering the ICU performance space—aptly a dark hospital basement—we see an indistinct black plastic sculptural object, inside which is something sonic and kinetic, rhythmic in its disconnection and obscurity. We are seated on opposing banks, projection screens a mask between audience and performers. The performers' stillness emphasises their geometric positioning. Vocal sighs initiate the score, evoking Persona character Elisabet's feelings of shock as she spirals into silence. Two clocks loom above the performers, activated simultaneously. One counts down, alluding to anticipation, while the other counts upwards, indicating time yet to come. There is continual, circular referencing of the film, repurposed and displaced.
A phone rings. Echoing footsteps walk slowly to one side of the audience. The lights shift; we are spotlit. Alongside the performers we become Bergman's ants in the flaking remnant of snakeskin that here is theatre.
Five video projections come into play throughout in front of the audience and on the walls behind. A 16mm projector stands alone, an antiquated sculptural object; it could be a ready-made. Sabina Maselli handles live visual mixing with ease, driving imagery at different speeds, generating abstraction and re-imagining old film footage. Saturated and hallucinogenic, a mixture of processed and real, it's all a blur.
The acoustic score is both measured and random. Natasha Anderson shifts air through the wooden flaps of an elongated Bavarian recorder, often using the mouthpiece for extended voice work. She plays it as a multipurpose object, hitting, spitting and blowing, her action fractured and magnificent.
Another Other, Chamber Made Opera, photo Christie Stott and Josh Burns
Loops of sound rise and suddenly there are simultaneous projections. A discordant violin twists and turns as a facial close-up is revealed. Colour saturated images shift to black and white and slowly the film disintegrates before our very eyes as it did in Persona (1966). It peels away from the edges, revealing soft white insides. I'm aware of the other half of the audience peering through.
Erkki Veltheim plays remarkable violin, oscillating between exquisitely slow tonal bowing and high-pitched dissonance. He also plays out the most overt reference to the film—the retelling of the sunbaking scene as a spoken word piece. While it doesn't sit well within the entirety of the work, there is an interesting gender switch as he tells the female story of voyeurism, of sexual experimentation of youth and the violent impact that the experience has on the woman's identity. The female vocals become a choral undertone and combine with the imagery to intensify the sense of psychosis.
Anthony Pateras is an astonishing improviser. For Another Other he plays electronics and reel-to-reel tape, altering time and voice. Pre-recorded sound and intense processing generates severity in the score. Pateras is masterful and foreboding as always, an embodiment of storm. The resonating bass takes over, travelling through the body with a harshness that relates to the slapping sounds of the recorder.
The lighting of the audience shifts, creating a new perspective. The clocks now tell the same time, becoming a place of sonic and visual rest. There is silence and then a minimalist sound work begins. It has an oceanic quality, perhaps recalling the beach scenes in Persona.
Images of droplets form and Sabina Maselli stands to operate the projector, turning the cogs by hand, forwards and back, place-making in time.
Another Other is a riveting and fragmented series of micro movements, collectively composed to merge filmic and musical elements just as characters' identities merge in Bergman's film. This hyper-expanded cinematic experience shows our mental life to be a complicated mesh of meaning, open to interpretation.
Like the ego, Another Other is impossible to unpack methodically; there's no narrative thread. This courageous and bold artwork feasts on the art of Persona before the clocks stop and finally there is silence inside the self.
Chamber Made Opera with Punctum and New Music Network, Another Other, creators, performers Erkki Veltheim, Sabina Maselli, Natasha Anderson, Anthony Pateras; Punctum's ICU, Castlemaine, 5, 7 Dec, 2014
RealTime issue #125 Feb-March 2015 pg. 41
A collaboration between RealTime Arts and Matthew Lorenzon.
February 21, 2016
Erkki Veltheim, Sabina Maselli, Natasha Anderson and Anthony Pateras in Another Other. Photo by Jeff Busby
Waiting in line at the North Melbourne Meat Market, I spot the corpse. A humanoid shape lies wrapped in black plastic bags. The sound of clocks (or are they shovels?) emanate from it. A program essay by Ben Byrne tells us it is the body of art. He quotes Ingmar Bergman (The Snakeskin, 1965) who claims that art is basically unimportant, deprived of its traditional social value. Like a snakeskin full of ants, art is convulsed with the efforts of millions of individual artists. Each artist, including Bergman himself, is elbowing the others "in selfish fellowship," in pursuit of their own insatiable curiosity. To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Bergman's film Persona, Natasha Anderson, Sabina Maselli, Anthony Pateras, and Erkki Veltheim have crawled inside the film's 79-minute skin.
The four artists sit facing each other beneath red digital clocks counting down the opera's duration. Pateras works his Revox B77: a machine with a loop of tape and multiple heads that can be manipulated live to produce a stunning array of sounds. Veltheim nurses his violin, which he processes through a laptop running MaxMSP. Natasha Anderson festoons her Paetzold contrabass recorder with an array of sensors and microphones. Sabina Maselli commands an arsenal of projectors and spotlights, including reels of custom-shot 16mm film.
Once inside the film's skin, the collaborators throw out its organs of character and plot. The artists instead motivate its mise-en-scène. Maselli's deeply-textured footage of hands, faces, and landscapes mirror Bergman's own sumptuous images. The close-miked sounds of violin, recorder, and water echo the conspicuous detail of 1960s foley. Spoken text references monologues in the film, notably Alma's story of a foursome on a beach. And so the ideas cycle: hands—faces—landscapes—text, interspersed with solo episodes for each performer, until the time runs out.
Comparing hands. Don't they know it's bad luck? Photo by Jeff Busby
After the third extended shot of intertwined hands, I wondered whether the artists were labouring under a category mistake. Texture and materiality were the bread and butter of contemporary arts throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but the structures of plot and character are surely now considered as much part of the artistic "surface" than image and sound. Thanks to the fashion of basing new music on old films, there are counterexamples. For instance, Alex Garsden's Messages to Erice I & II, which uses the familial relationships of the characters in Víctor Erice's 1973 film El Spíritu del Colmena to structure the algorithmic relationships of four amplified tam-tams.
By throwing out plot and character, the creators of Another Other struggle to address the original film's themes of identity, motherhood, art, and being. The film's iconic shot of Elisabet and Alma's juxtaposed faces is critical of traditional gender roles precisely because the characters struggle with those roles. The repeated superimposition of the artists' faces in Another Other is less critical than narcissistic.
While stating that art's traditional social function is dead, Bergman's essay affirms the personal significance of art, a belief that is reflected in Elisabet's first scene in Persona. Elisabet is an actress who stops speaking because she harbours a burning will to live authentically and shake off the role of motherhood. She laughs at a radio soap but seems affected by a piece of music. In Another Other no such distinction is made between inauthentic and personally authentic art. Veltheim plays the Chaconne from J.S. Bach's violin Partita no. 2 while the artists' faces are shown through a day-time soap vaseline lens. I will accept that universally authentic art is impossible, but I struggled to find even an affirmation of personally authentic art in Another Other. Unsure of the artists' belief in their own work, I failed to commit as an audience member.
After fifty minutes I even started believing that art was dead. Thanks to the clocks high above the stage I could regret every minute left. The saddest thing was that I respect the work of each artist in their own right. But four good artists in a box does not an opera make. At the end of Another Other the artists imagine a different ending to the film. The doctor says that Elisabet's silence was just another role that she sloughed off in the end, not a real existential crisis. She was perhaps also depressed and infantile. The doctor concludes "But perhaps you have to be infantile to be an artist in an age such as this." I laughed. It made me particularly glad I trusted them with an hour and a half of my life.
Published: February 19, 2016 - 8:13PM
Chamber Made Opera, Meat Market
Until February 21
It has been 50 years since the release of Persona, Ingmar Bergman's movie about a famous actress who decides to stop speaking and the nurse who cares for her, about the breakdown and melding of identity, the conflict between inner and outer self and how personality is always a performance.
In recent years we have seen Fraught Outfit's lauded staging of the screenplay and now comes Chamber Made Opera's multimedia performance piece, which excises almost all the words, narrative and characters, leaving behind an absorbing, thoughtful, and crisply performed fantasia on the film's aural and visual textures. Even if the piece's aesthetic is one of interruption and repetition and disjunction, the structure of the film is still discernible, but the sensuousness of the experience is what is most valuable.
The performers – Natasha Anderson, Sabina Maselli, Anthony Pateras and Erkki Veltheim – sit between two banks of seats, separated from the audience by semi-transparent screens: there are also screens behind the seats and to one side. On the screens, superimposed and reversed, pass images of rocky landscapes, intertwined hands, close-ups of lips: the iconic double portraits of Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann are recreated, the film's invocation of atrocity – the self-immolating monk – reproduced directly and also updated with the famous falling man of 9/11.
Bergman exposed the apparatus, showing us the camera, the film itself catching on fire, the arc lights in the projector; and conspicuous on stage is a projector-like something from a 1970s school. The noise it makes forms part of a soundscape that elsewhere riffs off the film's jagged music and island setting: glassy percussive sounds, a slashing violin, dripping and bubbling water, bells and a fog horn.
Language barely enters into it: nurse Alma's graphic sex monologue, about a beach orgy with a couple of teenage boys, becomes an even more explicit, Tsiolkas-like episode from contemporary suburban life; and in conclusion a performer reads the speech made by the psychiatrist at the end of the movie: "One must be infantile to be an artist in our age." If true, Another Other disguises it very well.
In an age of multiple identities, a new work draws on Ingmar Bergman to question ideas about who we are, writes Andrew Stephens.
by Andrew Stephens
In an essay he wrote almost 50 years ago, Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman compared art to a discarded snakeskin full of marauding ants – the empty shell of a dead and once-dangerous creature animated by busy scavengers. This was the man who made Persona (1966), the entrancing and intense classic beloved by art-cinema enthusiasts – a film that questioned the very idea of us having fixed personalities or egos.
In a basement performance space in an old country hospital, a quartet of Chamber Made Opera performers have been immersing themselves in both the film and the essay, The Snakeskin, making their own creative, challenging response to them. In effect, what they are sewing together is like another sort of snakeskin layered over the top of Bergman's work.
Classic: Erkki Veltheim, Sabina Maselli, Anthony Pateras and Natasha Anderson work on Another Other. Photo: Jim Aldersey
Called Another Other, it is neither homage nor pastiche, but an entirely new work that grapples with Bergman's ideas, relating them to 21st century life. With our own identities fragmented and reconstituted multiple times each day through online identities, avatars and the various "selves" we create, the question arises: Who are we?
Erkki Veltheim is a Finnish-born musician and composer whose Scandinavian heritage has made him especially enthusiastic about Bergman's life and work. Veltheim, along with visual artist Sabina Maselli, and Berlin-based musicians Natasha Anderson and Anthony Pateras, have been developing Another Other in the old hospital basement in Castlemaine at an arts space called Punctum. The way audiences will inhabit the unusual space means they might feel as if they are the ants in the snakeskin.
Bibi Andersson (left) and Liv Ullman explore questions of identity in Persona.
Audience members will face each other amid two banks of seating, with four video screens and a 16mm projection of footage in front of and behind them. There will be a kinetic-sonic sculpture nearby, and the musicians will play live and pre-recorded music that moves, in unusual ways, in the same rhythms and pacing as Persona.
"Most people who see it would be hard pressed to see the correlation to Persona," Veltheim says. "It is not an adaptation, interpretation or version, you cannot recognise it in relation to the film. We see it as a new work that we say cannibalises the linear structure of the original. We take the skin off the film, extract the content and fill it with our own content."
The four artists have been through every scene in the film and discussed it, finding it all enmeshed with the Snakeskin essay and its potent imagery. "All of us are fascinated by that film and by Bergman's work generally. For me he has always been a strong presence in Scandinavian culture, with his approach to a specific Lutheran existentialism and the bleakness and hardship of Scandinavian countries in nature."
Veltheim says Persona sits uncomfortably between modernism and post-modernism, using formal methods and structure but at the same time being a deconstructed work. The group were intrigued by why, 50 years after being made, Persona still feels like a rich source material that remains of great interest to viewers and theorists, many of whom consider it a 20th century masterpiece.
"There have been countless books and essays written about it," Veltheim says. "It speaks a lot about the 20th century … about art dealing with neuroses. To us, one of the [central] aspects of the film is that your ego and character, your innermost being, may not be an authentic thing, that maybe you can't explain the human individual as defined by an intrinsic personality or a soul."
The film includes a lot of mirroring, mask-wearing and strange merging of the two principal women characters (played by Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson). "There is this resonance of the idea that perhaps your personality is not fixed and even you do not know who you are."
Veltheim relates this to contemporary culture and the way we project ourselves in multiple ways through various platforms and media – where we feel compelled to construct a self or series of selves with distinct attributes. "Perhaps we have got to the point where we do not define ourselves as a central, solid ego or personality. It feels like a prescient thing for Bergman to have dealt with this in such a great way in Persona."
Bergman made the film during a period of great crisis and he is often quoted as saying that it saved his life. Before making it, he was director of the Swedish Royal Dramatic Theatre and his physical and mental health suddenly deteriorated: he suffered from double pneumonia and was hospitalised for nine weeks in 1965, during which time he wrote the screenplay.
We see it as a new work that we say cannibalises the linear structure of the original. We take the skin off the film, and extract the content and fill it with our own content.
Erkki Veltheim , musician and composer
"It was therapeutic for him," Veltheim says. "For us [Chamber Made] a lot of these things are important in our creativity – that art is never a simple thing, to make a beautiful thing with a readymade role in society. This film is important to us because it talks about those problems and accepts that art is a contingent thing, just as personality is a contingent thing and that neither of them has a readymade role. In both you need to tease out the significance or role they can play in life."
The Snakeskin essay, he says, is very revealing about Bergman's mindset at the time and has a sense of crisis about it. Bergman could not help but make art, but the essay was his bleak assessment of what art had become in modern society.
As Veltheim sees it, art-making – in all its forms, but especially in music and the visual arts – once had specific roles and were very significant in cultures before the separation of church and state. The price of art's freedom was that it became insignificant and was seen as an indulgence.
"Essentially what he is saying is the snake that art might have been, dangerous and with poison and possibly fatal, is being carved up from the inside and made safe and neutral by society. The potential danger and socially transformative quality of art has been lost in this age."
Veltheim says many artists who try to do something transformative might "still wear a cloak of danger or iconoclasm" but often there is nothing inside. "That is the mask. Persona is all about masks and about an actress who wears these different masks. But none are effective as socially transformative gestures."
For people who visit the basement of that old country hospital to experience Another Other, the imagined snakeskin of the performance arena might rattle – but it might also be full of life, wonderful and possibly transformative.
Another Other is at Punctum, Castlemaine, December 5 and 7.