David Lang's "darker": A Reflection / by Liquid Music

by Lisa Perry, D.M.A The University of Minnesota - Twin Cities


Still image from  darker . Art by Suzanne Bocanegra

Still image from darker. Art by Suzanne Bocanegra

In early December, the SPCO’s Liquid Music and the Walker Art Center presented David Lang’s immersive musical experience, darker, at the Ordway Concert Hall. Accompanying Lang for the performance were visual artist Suzanne Bocanegra and video processing artist Jeff Larson, who created a live liquid light show that was projected in conjunction with the composition. The continuous hour-long work featured twelve musicians from The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Mischa Santora. 

As part of his visit, Lang recorded a "Music in the Making" podcast co-produced by the SPCO, American Composers Forum and Minnesota Public Radio (to be released this spring). In attendance were musicians from the SPCO along with a devoted crowd of new music enthusiasts and Liquid Music supporters. With host Steve Seel of Classical MPR, Lang discussed several of his works (including darker and Crowd Out for 1000 voices) and detailed his creative process. 

darker, Lang explained during the podcast interview, is a piece dedicated to the memory of a friend who had recently passed away. His intention was not to convey a specific emotion, but rather to create a musical and visual landscape that could allow audience members to focus on their own emotions and experiences as the work unfolds. Contrasting many pieces that encompass a broad range of feelings, emotions, and gestures, Lang intentionally created a work that remains largely static, only changing by subtly altering the music through slight variances in harmonic colors, orchestration and dynamics. In an interview with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Lang stated: 

I just noticed that classical music did not have the same emotional range as my life, and I wondered what it would be like to make a piece of music that worked that way. A piece of music that actually felt to me like my life – which is a lot of activity, a lot of intense concentration, and not getting too far. […] There are a lot of things going on and everyone has a lot to do, but it doesn’t change very much, because our days are pretty much like every other day. And so what I thought was: What if I made a piece that got a little bit darker – not a lot darker, it doesn’t get miserable or depressing, it doesn’t range you from high to low, it just says: What if we spend a lot of energy doing something and it feels like we are staying in place, and then by the end of the piece we realize we are somewhere that is a little more complicated than where we started. That seemed like a piece of music that was more like my life.
Mischa Santora and members of the SPCO perform  darker

Mischa Santora and members of the SPCO perform darker

Highlighting the subtle changes in the music during the performance at the Ordway Concert Hall was the live liquid light show by Bocanegra and Larson. Using colorful oils, powder and natural materials (such as branches and dried leaves), Bocanegra created live art that was projected onto a screen behind the musicians. The constantly evolving visual illustrated the prolonged and subtle transition from light to dark, while enhancing the atmosphere of the overall work. 

Together, the visuals and music created a highly unique and powerful immersive experience for those fortunate enough to be in attendance.

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