As part of the Around Britten tour, production company Yeast Culture has created a series of visuals to accompany Britten’s Third Suite for Cello. Matthew Barley has worked with Yeast Culture once before on the Virtual Cellist project at Kings Place in London, finding them to be a wonderful collaborative partner, sensitive to music, and full of ideas.
Matthew says: “Over 20 years of playing Britten I have often found myself giving spoken introductions to the works, helping an unfamiliar audience make sense of a new work that appears complex at first hearing. For this tour I wanted to do something different, and had the idea of a visual accompaniment that would act as a visual programme note, illuminating some of the aspects of the form of the piece, as well as being a work of art in its own right. The suite is a series of nine variations, using four themes that all come at the end of the piece, so, for instance, one of the themes is a Russian folk song called Autumn, and the first time a varied phrase of this occurs in the piece is in the Marcia, the second movement. So at this point in the Marcia there will be a flurry of autumnal leaves on screen that will be recalled when the full theme is finally heard, and throughout the piece recognition of visual colour and image themes (that human perception picks up much quicker than aural themes) will help the audience navigate the splendour of a great work of art.”
Matthew and Yeast Culture worked hard to keep the visuals simple, so as not to detract from the music. The intention is to create something that would set the emotional scene for the music (sometime of music), and enrich the whole audience experience.
Speaking about the technical challenges the project posed, Matthew says: “a film is fixed length, and a live performance of music is not, so we were faced with the question of how to sync the two. The solution we came up with was to chop the visuals up into around 60 sections, each one triggered by me at the correct moment on stage with a foot pedal.”
This is the first time Yeast Culture have developed a show where they have nothing to do during the performance, leaving the intrepid Matthew to mix the images live on stage whilst playing the cello. Talking about how they created the animation, which is created entirely from oil paint, Yeast Culture said: “The oil paint has its own very particular properties which often result in unpredictable and exciting results when used in animation. We felt this was a more poetic way of exploring the music rather than the more common computer generated animation style… A truly magical piece of music to be asked to visualise and one we felt very lucky to be involved in.”