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for cello, interactive computer music, and interactive video

HOPPER CONFESSIONS: Room in Brooklyn from Butch Rovan on Vimeo.

music: Butch Rovan (click here for pdf score)
video: Butch Rovan, Katherine Bergeron

This multimedia work draws its inspiration from “Room in Brooklyn,” a poem by Anne Carson, published in her collection Men in the Off Hours (New York: Knopf, 2000). Carson’s poem is itself polyphonic, exposing two different voices that speak to the condition of passing time: a painting by Edward Hopper (the 1932 canvas “Room in Brooklyn”) and a passage from St. Augustine’s Confessions. Carson measures the nostalgia of Hopper’s Americana with a tiny thread of verse that hangs on Augustine’s temporal philosophy like a second melodic voice over a stolid cantus firmus.

But the minimalist verse suggests a unique nostalgia of its own. The voice of the poem is vaguely jazzy, although, like a Hopper painting, it never swings; the form is too empty to sustain that kind of movement. It is this very reticence that serves, paradoxically, to animate the painting, as if Carson were giving voice to the solitary figure who sits with her back turned from the viewer, re-enacting the time present that for her “is long,” and, for the spectator, “is no more,” to use Augustine’s terms.

The present work adds another voice to Carson’s polyphonic poem, through an acoustic and visual landscape that not only animates her animation, but explores, in its own way, the nostalgia Hopper embraced and Augustine bracketed. The video reproduces a sense of what we might call the painter’s own prurient attention to architectural detail, as vulnerable buildings, open windows, empty rooms, become sites of sexual arousal and longing. Mixing new and old images, photograph and canvas, still life and movement, the visuals offer a sort of double-take on Hopper’s interiors, as well as on the women who often occupied them: fantasizing, through modern digital media, an image of both viewer and viewed.

The musical score represents a similar fusion of perspectives. A series of discrete phrases, shifting between a skittish walking bass (nostalgic for the jazz age) and a mournful cantabile melody, is mediated by the electronic interaction. Two temporal orders are bridged through the sound and the function of this electronic voice, which both binds and separates what is now and what is no more. But in this interaction time present prevails, allowing the spectator/listener finally to hear and to feel the voice within the room, and, with it, what the poem has all along been trying to say.

(click here for pdf score)