Avant and the Museum of Science and History (MOSH) are hosting an audio visual concert at the Bryan-Gooding Planetarium this weekend, featuring new visual pieces by three local artists and performances by the New York-based jazz trio Rashanim and guest musician Jamie Saft, also from New York.
Jacksonville-based artists Kedgar Volta (founder and creative director of Castaño Group), Joseph Provenza (graphic designer at Castaño Group) and Willie Evans, Jr. (a Jacksonville-based musician and visual artist) have created custom graphics and animations for the performance that will utilize the planetarium’s visual systems, including the 360 dome projector. They’ve created 12 visual works to accompany each of the pieces being performed by Rashanim and Jamie Saft on Saturday and Sunday.
The collaboration between the Jacksonville-based visual artists and the New York-based musicians was the brainchild of Keith Marks, founder of Avant, a Jacksonville-based nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing original, unique and experimental musical experiences to Northeast Florida.
Volta sits on the Avant board, where he works alongside Marks on projects like this.
“So we discuss, every year, what the plan for the year is going to be,” said Volta. “And early on in the year we discussed the possibility of bringing Rashanim to town and the possibility of doing it at MOSH came somewhere along the way. Since it’s going to happen there, it would be a waste of resources not to use the planetarium. So that’s kind of how it came to be, the idea of creating a show putting an emphasis on both the music and the experience that will be surrounding the visitors or the viewers.”
According to Jon Madof, guitarist and bandleader for Rashanim, the jazz trio had been on Marks’ radar for years. Marks, who was a fan of Rashanim and other acts on John Zorn’s record label Tzadik, reached out to Madof three or four years ago and the pair met up while Marks was in New York a few years ago. There, Madof connected Marks with musicians in the city. Since then, Marks has brought several of those artists down to Jacksonville. But this will be the first time Rashanim plays in the River City.
“We thought of different ways we could make a Rashanim concert happen and kind of settled on this in collaborating with Kedgar and other artists who are working on this in the visual space,” said Madof. “And, you know, he told me about doing it in the planetarium, which I’ve never done before, with a very heavy visual component. After much discussion and several meetings we kind of came to this.”
The musicians and visual artists haven’t met yet, and Madof says the musicians haven’t even seen any of the work being prepared for this weekend’s performance. But they have been communicating about the collaboration.
“Initially I had said, ‘well can you guys, like, manipulate it [the visuals] at all while we’re playing?’ Because a big component of what we do is improvised - so the songs have a structure, but we’re really improvising,” Madof said. “Especially with Jamie on the keyboards and all the stuff that he does that will, you know, really affect the music. And they said they can’t at all, so it all has to kind of be preloaded into the projection system. But we did agree that it would be cool to have a piece that’s completely improvised using the visual elements as a cue. So I think we’re going to do that and just kind of see what happens. But I think even within the music that we’re playing, it’s going to have an effect - the lighting and the projections and the room. It’ll vary depending on what we’re doing.”
Eddie Whisler, the Director of the Bryan-Gooding Planetarium, acknowledged the planetarium’s current set up doesn’t allow for any sort of live visual performance through the projection system, limiting what Volta, Provenza and Evans can do this weekend. But that may change in the near future.
“We have laser systems and then we have the planetarium projection systems themselves, then we have our audio systems,” he said. “We’re currently on track for, hopefully by the summer or maybe even by next winter, having a fully revamped laser system. And that would make it much easier to do live type stuff. So what it is that they’ve created, for visual images, will be played live but previously recorded and created by those guys over at Castano.”
In total, Rashanim and Saft will be playing 12 pieces, including the one Madof said will be improvised on the spot.
Two or three of those pieces are very new and have only been played in rehearsals and maybe at a handful of performances, according to Madof. The rest are reworkings of songs that have been on Rashanim’s records, many of them from the album The Gathering.
Knowing that there would be no live performance element on their end, due to the planetarium’s current restrictions, the artists decided to immerse themselves in Rashanim and their music to make the visual elements of the performance as relevant to the audio elements as possible.
“When we were doing the research on the musicians, not just the music but everything that surrounds them, we found the art covers for the albums that they have put out,” Volta said. “The three of us, the three artists, Willie Evans Jr., Joseph Provenza and myself, when we were doing the research we found the album covers of the musicians and we immediately were drawn to it. They use geometric patterns. It almost feels like math, trigonometry things going on. So we were inspired by that and we decided that was going to be our starting point for the visuals. So what the audience is going to be seeing will be definitely influenced by that geometric structure of the albums, but in a way that adds dimension to the space. So they may feel that the ceiling is flat at some point, although a dome is half a sphere. Or they may feel that they are falling within a universe scale type of projection. So they will definitely move between things that are geometric and that move in the 2D arena, to things that are geometric but move in a 3D wide open space.”
Volta said he, Provenza and Evans all have very distinct styles.
“So one of our challenges has been to unify the visuals so the audience feels that they are in a show, in a cohesive show,” he said. “Willie has been a musician for his entire life. He has experience working and dealing with imagery that goes along with music. Joseph Provenza is a recent graduate from Flagler, and not just in graphic design, but also he’s a fine artist and a painter. So his style is more drawn to hand-made things, hand-drawn elements. While everything that I do is purely digital and based in programming. So we have worked together collaboratively to make something that feels unique and cohesive.”
Volta hopes this collaboration will be a success and help open the door for similar performances at the planetarium in the future.
“We’re super excited to have this overlap of musicianship and computer generated and other kinds of video images, utilizing all the different systems of our planetarium,” Whisler said, adding, “Having all that kind of stuff come together in order to have something that’s going to be super interesting for audiences to be a part of.”
“It might be worth noting that there’s going to be a cash bar,” Whisler added. “That’s always interesting to people. And just what you want to have before being dizzied by our immersive visuals, for sure.”
For tickets, go to AvantCurious.org.
Editor’s Note: Keith Marks hosts Avant Radio Thursday night’s at 11 on 89.9 WJCT-FM.