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Cornelius Dufallo, Maya Beiser, Carmen Kordas, Erika Harrsch, Paola Prestini – Labyrinth: Installation Concertos – VisionIntoArt (VIA Records) [Distr. by Naxos] (CD + DVD), VIA003, CD: 55:62, DVD: 55:62, 56:29 [bonus material] (1.31:1 color) [4/14/15] ****:

BOTH DVD & CD:
(Paola Prestini – composer; Cornelius Dufallo – K-Bow violin, live electronics (part I); Carmen Kordas – visual artist (part I); Michael McQuilken – director; Magos Herrera – vocals (part I); Maya Beiser – Erika Harrsch-LED Cello (part II); Meric Adriansen – visuals (part II); Erika Harrsch – visual artist, filmmaker (part II))

When most folks think of a labyrinth, they probably remember the one in Greek mythology with the Minotaur. But the term can mean many things to people. To composer Paola Prestini the labyrinth represents a path which takes listeners “on a journey through different life experiences, creating an aural and visual map of the different countries and cultures that have inspired her.” That’s the general theme to Prestini’s Labyrinth: Installation Concertos. The two-part audio and video project showcases “the labyrinth of man and a woman’s journey through life told through advanced technology and a breathtaking visual realm.” Prestini’s two-fold work premiered in early 2014 at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It was subsequently recorded for this release. Labyrinth: Installation Concertos can be purchased either as CD + DVD, or single CD. This review refers to the CD + DVD package. The two linked concertos utilize violinist Cornelius Dufallo (who is individually featured on the 28-minute “Part I: House of Solitude”) and cellist Maya Beiser (who is the sole performer for the 26-minute “Part II: Room No. 35”). Both presentations incorporate sound, lighting design and projected visuals. Dufallo uses the K-Bow (a sensor bow which can wirelessly transmit detailed real-time information to a computer) while Beiser employs the unique Erika Harrsch-LED Cello, which depicts visual information on the cello.

Labyrinth: Installation Concertos fits more or less into the experimental classical idiom. This is contemporary string material which combines processed or digitized strings, found sounds, overlapping or looped segments, and sonorous moments crisscrossed with pop, classical and explorative music elements. The DVD focuses on filmed portions which contain photography, illustrations, animation, digitally-enhanced pictures, modified video and other graphic work. There are three ways to explore Labyrinth: Installation Concertos. One way is to hear the hour-long CD (which can be streamed online as well), which has beautiful sound and finely-done mixing and engineering which make use of several facets of the stereo channels to wonderful effect. But the CD does not have the DVD’s equally intriguing video/film aspects. On the DVD, there are two ways to view the production. You can watch the two parts which were edited for home use (55 minutes of optical graphics with the music as soundtrack) or the bonus DVD tracks of the 56-minute Krannert Center concert, which exhibits Dufallo and Beiser on stage with the impressive implementation of visuals as witnessed by an audience.

The main presentation of “Part One, House of Solitude” is devoted to video artist Carmen Kordas’ multi-layered imagery, while Dufallo’s performance acts as a soundtrack. However, in the DVD’s bonus area, “Part One, House of Solitude” transpires in an installation-like live setting. The full, live video for “House of Solitude” can also be viewed online. Kordas’ artistic video is projected on three scrim walls. Kordas also built a three-dimensional hologram (a labyrinth of man’s mind which is characterized by a solitary house), which symbolizes Dufallo’s thoughts including solitude, intense communication and connectivity, and a philosophical search for self. Images of human, alien and hybrid bodies materialize, fade in and fade out. The dream-like imagery steadily dissolves into nature-inclined properties and everything contorts, expands, coalesces and ages. “House of Solitude” concludes with a man departing down an unknown road. Prestini’s composition is correspondingly penetrating. Dufallo applies dissonance, ambient components, neo-classical chords, and unusual percussive constituents—the hiss of a laundry appliance, beats from an electrocardiography (or EKG) machine—plus distorted human voices. In step with the title, there are quiet, introverted fragments which are juxtaposed against louder, extroverted flashes. One caveat: the live version of “Part One, House of Solitude” is not pristine and has background noise/hum from the speakers. But for the overall frisson of this event, the bonus concert footage is the best way to watch this.

“House of Solitude” has an illusory, hallucinatory quality. “Part Two, Room No. 35” is less esoteric and more erotic. The nearly-sculptural multimedia creation was inspired by Anaïs Nin’s 1936 surrealist novella “The House of Incest.” “Room No. 35” concentrates on a woman’s point of view, as she tries to escape a hotel room, in which the recesses of her mind have taken her. “Room No. 35” charts the labyrinth of the woman’s heart and attempts to amalgamate the human spirit’s inclinations. During the short film, the woman eventually gets the courage to leave the room. On the live version (found in the DVD’s bonus area and which can also be seen online), Beiser manipulates the Erika Harrsch-LED Cello to intensify, alter, deconstruct and re-envision imagery through live interaction. Harrsch’s video has underlying sexual content with erotic imagery, nudity, and sexual and physical contact involving two women. This is done artistically and not explicitly, but some may find such visual imagery disconcerting or provocative. This sensual imagery is interposed with contrasting imagery of oceanic/undersea animation and cartoon-esque simulations of ribbons, butterflies and gaping eyeballs. Musically, Beiser uses looping or pre-recorded sound bits, to generate a mini-orchestra of celli, music boxes, electric guitars, percussion noises and electronics. The arrangement culminates in a tidal wave of frenzied music which abates at the end, echoing a calm sea.

The CD + DVD package is admirably fashioned. The material is housed in a 7-inch by 7-inch box. Nestled inside is a 19-inch by 13-inch, two-sided poster with Dufallo on one side and Beiser on the opposite side. The CD and DVD are stored in cardboard sleeves inside a fold-out digipak. Unfortunately, both discs are slightly difficult to extract from the sleeves, so fingerprint smudges are a necessity to remove them. The DVD menu is also somewhat lacking in perfection. If someone plays one of the bonus live tracks, one must return to the main menu, scroll down to the bonus button, and open the bonus menu again to play the second bonus track.

TrackList: Part I: House of Solitude; Part II: Room No. 35.

—Doug Simpson