When the coronavirus pandemic paused in-person events and online streaming became the main venue for arts performances, two professors in the UConn School of Fine Arts started thinking about a project that would showcase their students’ creative talents.
Anna Lindemann, assistant professor of motion design and animation in the Department of Digital Media & Design (DMD), and Angelina Gadeliya, assistant professor-in-residence of piano and coordinator of keyboard studies in the Department of Music, developed a semester-long collaboration for their piano and animation students.
“We wanted to bring together talents within the School of Fine Arts to create an exciting online program,” Lindemann says. “We asked ourselves how animation can bring music to life during a time when live performance isn’t possible, and how music can inspire new ways of developing and structuring animation.”
The result is a short, animated music program called “Along the Waves,” which will premiere online on Wednesday, April 21 at 6 p.m. The program honors the 75th anniversary of the work “Au Gré Des Ondes (Along the Waves),” composed by Henri Dutilleux. Comprised of six short character pieces for solo piano, the title of the work suggests both “ocean” and “radio” waves. The animated music program also features “Prelude No. 10 in E minor (WTC I)” by Johann Sebastian Bach, a work that Dutilleux pays homage to in the fifth movement of his own composition.
The program can be viewed here:
Dutilleux’s small body of published compositions won international praise and follows in the tradition of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy. Those who commissioned works from him include Mstislav Rostropovich, Isaac Stern, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Renée Fleming and Seiji Ozawa. He served as the head of music production for Radio France for nearly two decades, was a faculty member of leading music conservatories in Paris, and was twice composer in residence at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts.
“I think of music as very visual already,” says Gadeliya. “We’re trying to decode what the composer is trying to say; what is the mood and the character of each piece of the six short pieces? All of these sounds can inspire colors from each musician. The closer you get to the spirit of the composition as the interpreter, the easier it is for the visual artist to bring life to that music through animation.”
Seven pianists and seven animators collaborated in pairings to develop a music animation during the spring semester. Gadeliya worked individually with each musician as they learned and then recorded a movement from the program, and Lindemann guided animators in her Advanced Motion Media class.
“One of the things we prioritized was empowering each collaborative pair to develop their own visual interpretations of the music,” Lindemann says. “Each pair met independently to develop concepts for the animation before receiving guidance from Professor Gadeliya and me. We used the class as a way to workshop and critique the animations as they developed.”
Morgan Lee ’22 (SFA), a doctoral candidate in piano, collaborated with Jonathan Goodrich ’21 (SFA), a senior in the Motion Design and Animation concentration in DMD, to develop the animated music for the first movement of program, “I. Prélude en Berceuse.”
“We had conversations leading up to the animation as I was learning the music,” Lee says. “We had discussions talking about imagery and structure. I mapped out the major shifts in the music measure-by-measure as a way to guide the visual development. We also had to take into consideration that it’s more time intensive to develop a three-minute animation than it is for a trained musician to learn and record a three-minute musical piece. As Jonathan was finishing drafts and doing storyboard ideas I was giving my feedback as a musician.”
Goodrich says his early suggestion of using a ballet dancer as the core image in the animation changed as they continued their discussions and they began to consider a mirage-like quality for the animation.
“I made rough drafts of how those visuals would look,” he says. “We built on that with a surreal ballet-inspired sequence where the figure dances through changing shapes to match the color tones as the music changes from light and innocent to a more sinister feeling. We wanted to reflect that in the movement and the colors of the project. I decided to go in the direction of a more simplified visual style for the figure, like Matisse’s cut-paper figures.”
During the animation, the ballet figure transforms from a person to an angel to a centipede-like creature and then back to a dancer. Goodrich created the animation using Cinema 4D, a 3D animation software, along with Adobe Illustrator for illustration and Adobe After Effects, a motion graphics software.
In addition to “I. Prélude en Berceuse,” the music animations for “Along the Waves” include:
• “II. Claquettes (Tap-dancing),” Tristan Wong ’23 (SFA), piano; Quinn Erno ’22 (SFA), animation
• “III. Improvisation,” Emma Bocciarelli ’23 (SFA), piano; Mitchell Lisowski ’21 (SFA), animation
• “IV. Movement perpétual,” Oswald Tang ’24 (SFA), piano; Cassidy Keller ’21 (SFA), animation
• “V. Hommage à Bach,” Sofia DiNatale ’23 (SFA), piano; Gillian Partyka ’21 (SFA), animation
• “VI. Etude,” Niccolo Meniconi ’21 (SFA), piano; Davis Peng ’22 (SFA), animation
• Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Prelude No. 10 in E minor BWV 85” from The Well Tempered Clavier, Ilinka Manova ’22 (SFA), piano; Antonio Ariola ’21 (SFA), animation
The animated music program “Along the Waves,” featuring music by Dutilleux and Bach, can be seen online via Zoom on Wednesday, April 21 at 6 p.m. A discussion with the pianists and animators follows the program, which is free and open to the public. Advanced registration required.