Crescendo and contortion. Echo and engagement. Twists and turns. It’s all a part of a contemporary music-meets-art showcase where sounds have color, colors have sound and everything is alive with movement. And you, too, are part of the show.
It’s not your typical concert.
Whereas there’s oft a bifurcation between what’s classic and what’s avant-garde, local non-profit Ebb & Flow Arts remedies the dichotomy with delightful deft. Their abstract yet articulate events bring together some of the isle’s most skilled musicians, fine artists and modern dancers—plus special guest musicians from around the globe—to perform cutting-edge, multimedia concerts across the state (with three of the five shows in their “A Little More Summer Music, Please” series slated for the Valley Isle). It’s collaborative, captivating and best off all, complimentary.
“It’s all kind of mysterious in a way, but an interesting process,” says Keokea resident Robert Pollock, who founded the organization in 1999.
He’s talking about an uncommon “multimedia experiment”—its unique practice based on the prolific early 20th century writings of Russian art theorist Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky, who is considered one of the father’s of abstract art.
“We discovered the Kandinsky experiments while going over his writings several years ago,” says Pollock. “We learned that he described a process, but there’s no record of the results. So, we decided to try to replicate the process.”
Pollock says that Ebb & Flow has since conducted the experiment hundreds of times.
“Basically it involves musicians selecting one of several abstract images,” he says. “Then a musician—or in our case, more than one musician—improvises to that painting, taking visual cues from it. So instead of reading a musical score or improvising from a lead sheet, we’re improvising from colors and shapes. That’s the first translation across the media.”
Next, Pollock describes how dancers—who have not seen the images—“begin moving to the music.” When the piece is complete, the dancers then view all the images the musicians had to select from and determine which painting they believe they were dancing to. “That’s the second level of translation,” Pollock explains. “The process begins—and ends—with an image [and] what we’ve found is common ground between the media through motion.”
Pollock says that two out of three times, a dancer is readily able to “figure out which image she danced to.” The audience members—who like the dancers are not privy to the image in advance—are invited to be a part of the discovery process as the images are digitally projected onstage after the piece. Often the consensus is unanimous.
This is just one of several sections of Friday’s (June 24) program, and building upon the Kandinsky experiment is another improvisational, multimedia engagement called “stage composition” where three artists collaborate on a triptych (i.e. tri-paneled painting) to live improvisational music, interpreting amorphous sonance into color and form. To add structure, they go so far as to orchestrate their efforts to match the number of beats in a measure to the selection of colors in their palette.
Later, the audience is invited onstage to either play music or dance to it. The program also includes the premier of a piece titled “Vibiano,” composed by Pollock for vibraphone and piano and jazz selections by Maui Jazz Quartet.
“We’re delighted to continue our statewide exploration of the avant-garde in music and art,” says Pollock, who is also the director emeritus of the Composers Guild of New Jersey, and holds an M.F.A. in musical composition from Princeton. As a composer, his awards and commissions come from preeminent institutions like the Guggenheim Fellowship and National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) Grant Fellowship. As a concert pianist, his resume includes solo recitals from Moscow, Russia to Seoul, Korea to Tokyo, Japan; and he’s premiered more than 100 compositions by international composers and coordinated more than 300 concerts. In short, that means Pollock’s got chops like Chopin as he aims to share his and his fellows’ enthusiasm for ear-and eye candy with Mauians, keiki to kupuna.
The impetus of their programs is to keep quality, progressive music accessible to anyone and everyone, creating and producing work that’s “multicultural, multidisciplinary, educational, and inter-generational.” They aim to “break barriers” and bridge divides with the “understand(ing) that music is the universal language,” and do so by presenting classic pieces from the likes of Maurice Ravel, to world premiers of new compositions.
So how do they do it all and keep patrons’ cost to zip? Mad grant writing. Their programs are funded by generous awards from New York’s Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Honolulu’s Korean American Foundation, the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, Maui County Office of Economic Development, Hawaii Tourism Authority, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), among others, plus private contributions.
Highly involved in local schools, arts education is tantamount to their creative process. “Not only are we building an audience right now, but building an artist for years to come,” Pollack sys. “These kids are our future educators, and future musicians.”