Reis Demuth Wiltgen with Emile V. Schlesser — Synaesthesia
( SHUFFLE LX —Opderschmelz, Dudelange, Luxembourg. 26 November 2022. Live review by AJ Dehany)
“I can see colours dancing in my head. I tried to capture that and put it on the screen,” explained multimedia artist Emile V. Schlesser (b.1986) at a special presentation of Synaesthesia, his immersive multimedia collaboration with Luxembourg post-rock jazz piano trio Reis Demuth Wiltgen. Synaesthesia is an hour-long suite of original music by the trio performed with live visuals by Schlesser with signals from the bass, piano and drums, “so they can paint with their instrument like a painter!”
Synaesthesia is a condition or set of conditions most commonly thought of in its “projective” form as a cognitive trigger: put simply, when you hear a particular sound, you see a colour. In music, Alexander Scriabin and Oliver Messiaen used synaesthesiac associations to create their compositions, and many musicians have reported varying degrees of music → colour synaesthesia from Aphex Twin and Thom Yorke to Billy Joel and Pharell Williams, not to mention the continuing case of the mixed up mind of disgraced rapper Kanye West.
Developed over three years and performed over three performances over three days at the Opderschmelz centre in Dudelange on the Luxembourg-French border, the immersive experience of Synaesthesia took place in “360 degrees”— sort of. The group of Marc Demuth bass, Michel Reis piano, and Paul Wiltgen drums, performs behind a screen onto which the main focus of the graphics is projected, extending around the side walls of the audience space, with a mirrored wall behind. You’re in the round, but of course the band commands our attention in front of you. We’re encouraged to move around, but no-one does. It definitely feels like a concert rather than an installation.
Musical artists performing with visuals is nothing new now, whether its Jean Michel Jarre’s spectacular public events in Paris or a DVD of Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain projected over a metal band at the Purple Turtle in London—but there is an art form in unifying the visual and sonic elements, and this is necessarily enabled by technology. To trigger visual events from a sound in real time without latency is essential, and requires some hefty processing power. To develop the Synaesthesia show, I heard a figure of EUR80k quoted. It is technically and logistically hugely impressive.
The music is translated into synchronised and sympathetic colour, shape and movement in a range of colourful graphics from geometric to organic forms, all degenerated live on the spot. Lines and star fields, explosions, washes of colour, grids and cellular aspirations, respirations, saturations, exhalation, vagitus. Explosions, sparks, smoking, flaming, beating, twisting and crossing, unfolding, cellular imagery white lines on deepest blue splashing and oozing/seeping, with a cosmic wonder at the potential to immerse yourself in a vast otherness. There’s a point when the phosphorescent microorganisms of the deep ocean and the interstellar vast lightship of the deep cosmos are indistinguishable—brittle stars are echinoderms that crawl across the sea floor.
Synesthesia is not site-specific. I thought it would be fantastic if it could be brought to other immersive venues of all kinds. A few years ago Simple Things put together a series of Planetarium Sessions in Bristol Planetarium, and there’s the IMAX treatment too—many cinemas are now set up for immersive multimedia. With the closure of rehearsal spaces and the dominance of urban music and laptop artists with multidisciplinary interests, all music in all genres is becoming more synaesthesiac, so to speak.
The music is strong, but if I’m honest the experience feels like a sequence rather than a suite. The individual pieces might be performed in any order. There isn’t a great sense of, for want of a better term, a ‘narrative’ to engage the emotions more and bring development and a sense of despair and resolution. Among familiar piano trios. The music bears crude comparison to Phronesis (but less technical), or to E.S.T. (but less iconic). They most made me think of UK trio GoGo Penguin, sharing that flavour and euphoria of dance music and that block-chord left hand and melodic right hand trope, and borrowing those stops in the beat inspired by CDs skipping.
Synaesesthesia should earn Reis Demuth Wiltgen some due respect and new adherents. Joshua Redman is already a fan and he performs their compositions. The group has a new record planned with him and Vince Mendoza, following recent performances with them and an orchestra. It can be hard for groups from small places to break out, even from places like Luxembourg that put their money where their mouth is regarding soft power cultural punch. It’d be great if they could tour some planetariums…
AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk. This project was financed, developed and launched in the framework of the European Capital of Culture Esch2022