Korot and Reich bring avant-garde video art to Hop

by Heather Kofke-Egger | 4/13/00 5:00am

A snare drum plays along with headlines as they appear on the screen and the music pulses rhythmically with soldiers marching.

By combining video and music, Montgomery Fellows Steve Reich and Beryl Korot have woven together a modern opera that explores the role of technology in the twentieth century.

Act I of the opera "Hindenburg," which is part of the greater piece Three Tales, will be performed tonight in Spaulding Auditorium. Steve Reich and his ensemble will also perform two of his musical compositions, "Different Trains" and "Drumming, Parts I & II."

Reich is recognized internationally as one of the world's foremost living composers, and Korot is an acclaimed video artist. Together, the husband-and-wife team has produced another video opera, "The Cave," which looks at Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem along with Americans in the U.S. and their relationships with the religious figures of Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael.

The work, which was performed at Dartmouth last week, mixed video interviews with music.

"Hindenburg" takes a similar approach, using archived video footage, interviews, newspaper headlines and radio voices to reconstruct the story surrounding not only the infamous zeppelin but also the last president of the Weimar Republic by the same name.

"Hindenburg" is part of the unfinished video opera "Three Tales." Act II is "Bikini," which looks at the testing of the atom bomb on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Act II I is called "Dolly" and will explore the use of new technology, such as cloning and genetic engineering at the end of the 20th century and the present day.

Korot has pieced together stunning images from video footage, building complex images on a single screen. This is a departure from her recent work that has used multi-channel video present on many screens.

Unlike "The Cave," in which the melodies were built around the sounds of people's voices, "Hindenburg" fits the samples to the music.

"In Hindenburg, I turned it upside down. The music came first," Reich said.

He then used current technology to change the speed of the voice samples without changing their pitch.

The interviews feature Dartmouth German professor Michael Ermarth and Dartmouth honorary degree recipient and Norwich resident Freia von Moltke, who was a Nazi resistor in World War II.

Korot and Reich work independently of one another, meeting periodically to discuss the work. Reich always composes the music first, and then Korot matches her video to the score.

The results are so seamless that the two aspects -- musical and visual -- are hard to imagine without each other.

Although the piece could be performed using a recorded soundtrack, tonight's performance will feature live musicians playing and singing the music.

"I am committed to live performance," Reich said.

This is one of the ways Beryl and Korot confront the inherent paradox in their work -- using the newest technology to create a video opera critique of technology.

Korot said that she acknowledges the tension created by finding a balance between using technology for creative expression and technology dehumanizing creative work.

For her, she said, learning to weave on a loom -- a very old technology -- has taught her new ways of seeing and applying the new technologies she works with to weaving narratives and telling tales.

"Different Trains," one of the other pieces that will be performed tonight, was Reich's first to incorporate the sampling keyboard into his music.

Reich said some of his early work for tape turned him away from modern technology.

"I thought if it can only be done on tape and not by people than it is a gimmick," Reich said.

However, new developments have let him add a new dimension to his work. The sampling keyboard allows him to incorporate sounds from the natural world and everyday life into his pieces.

"Drumming, Parts I & II," the third piece which will be performed, is a percussion piece that incorporates African rhythms. The ensemble Reich put together will perform all the music. Some of the musicians have been working with Reich for over 20 years.

Reich and Korot are visiting Dartmouth as Montgomery Fellows in residence for two weeks. During that time they have visited music, film and studio arts classes and hosted dinners with students.

"Hindenburg" will be presented tonight at 8:00 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium .