Earlier this year Toronto audiences attending the New Music Festival heard works by Nicole Lizée who was chosen as this season’s Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition. Luminato and Tapestry Opera is pleased to be offering another of Lizée ’s multimedia works June 16-18 at the Ernest Balmer Studio.
Lizée credits her father’s work in electronic repairs and his collecting of gadgets for sparking her interest in both multimedia works and with fascination with things that are broken, the way damaged film looks, the sounds of scratched records and the secret exploitable bugs in video games. She grew up watching classic films, listening to classical music on vinyl and watching the opera and film stars of the 50’s and 60’s. Her family would watch and re-watch films on tape until they would melt and glitch up and this caught her attention at a young age. “The Sound of Music I remember is not the one everyone else saw.”
At the age of eleven, Lizée made multiple recordings of her voice, using a series of boom boxes, replaying and layering the tracks for effect in a homemade montage. She recalls that “There would be hiss and warping, and the first track would recede into the background with an odd timbre.” Traces of these early experiments remain evident in her current creations.
When Lizée presented her Concerto for Turntables as her Master’s Thesis in Composition, some members of the panel did not think they could accept it as a turntable was not an instrument and there was no notation for turntable. But actually Lizée had invented a notation system for electronic glitch. The extent to which times and the acceptance of her work has changed is shown in the numbers of awards her compositions have received from her peers including the prestigious Jules Leger prize from the Canada Council for the Arts, arguably the top Canadian award for composition.
Many of her works use video as an instrument itself that the performer engages and the glitches themselves become instruments. Lizée reports that musicians working with electronic glitch instruments often find it challenging but come out at the other end of the process with renewed improvisational skills and a different attitude to allowing the random into their art.
On stage, Lizée uses both malfunctioning technologies such as reel to reel tape recorders and old synths, as well as “behaving ones” – usually performed on by others. The glitching devices are unpredictable, so she needs to perform with that in mind and often she has no idea what will happen with them. It requires keeping an open mind and working with whatever happens. Using such devices gives new colours such as hums and hisses. Why does she She notes that despite the glitches, the analogue machines will always offer her something to work with. They won’t shut off or fail to function – unlike digital devices. “I have never come across an analogue device that completely shuts down. It may go crazy and be unpredictable in a concert, and sometimes there will be a malfunctioning cable, but it will never shut down. It just keeps going.”
In Tables Turned, Lizée has merged the worlds of film, classical music, and brought her own artistic eye to the way that glitches can freeze or illuminate a moment in time allowing the audience to see the hidden in the moving image. Lizée contends that glitch adds sounds and emotional content that cannot be derived any other way, “it creates a forlorn and plaintive sound which gets into the ears and head of the player. People tell me how they’ve gone through shock, fear and sadness, and that’s because of the source material and the way it is dealt with. It is being torn apart, hacked and taken into a different direction than originally intended.” At her first meeting with soprano Carla Huhtanen, Lizée was delighted by Huhtanen’s resemblance to Tipi Lundgren the female lead in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller “The Birds”. Described as a “Feast for the Senses” Tables Turns is comprised of two stories with multimedia content, one focused on opera diva Maria Callas and one on various classic Film Noir scenes including, “The Birds”.