Visual art from a musician’s perspective

Justin Jones

Mark Snyder, a multimedia artist from Fredricksburg, Virginia, gave a brief, understated concert in the Warch Cinema last Tuesday. His somber, Rothkoesque compositions, humbly introduced and explained, are exemplary of his mastership of minimalism and a keen understanding of electronic music. By combining recorded sound, processed live instruments, and abstract films Snyder immersed the theatre in his musical and visual languages.

Hosted by the Electronic Music Club, Snyder made his appearance at Lawrence as part of his tour of Michigan and Wisconsin. “[Snyder] e-mailed me about adding Lawrence as a stop on his tour and the EMC seemed to be a highly appropriate avenue to have him perform at Lawrence,” said Assistant Professor of Music and the EMC’s faculty advisor Asha Srinivisan.

Srinivisan had met Snyder at various electronic music festivals over the past few years and welcomed the opportunity to have him perform here at Lawrence.

Though Snyder’s music is nothing extraordinary in terms of its composition, the ease and organicism with which it seems to develop and the elegant relationship that gradually develops between it and the accompanying films, makes for a meditative, singular experience.

His use of pre-recorded sound is never obtrusive or abrasive, rather he textures his compositions in such a way that it is often difficult to differentiate between live and recorded sounds. Likewise, the effects he uses to manipulate his tuba and clarinet sound authentic, almost analog and fit nicely into the constantly evolving textures.

For instance, in his piece “Messy,” played on clarinet by Andrea Cheeseman, these processed sounds accumulate to create a convincing dramatic arc. Building from a short echo to glitchy synthesized sounds and voices and driving to a thrillingly disorganized crest of sound, this music foreshadowed much of the concert to come. The accompanying film also featured a kind of stream of consciousness accelerando towards its climax, which was seen again a number of times. The film was largely comprised of photographed artwork digitally fused together and manipulated resulting in a disorienting yet vivid journey.

This general structure was inhabited by most every piece Snyder performed. He gradually introduces an electronic palette, adds dissonant tension and rhythmic drive and then returns to more familiar territory. However, Snyder’s personal connection to each of these compositions as evidenced by his helpful, informal explanations added another layer of meaning to each number.

For instance, to explain his piece “Pornography,” Snyder delved into his early experiences as a father and his feelings as to America’s cultural stigma against breastfeeding and nudity. He then explained how these feelings gradually developed into a message or argument and then into the piece of art we saw. This made the entire composition more accessible, more human.

However, Snyder’s compositions are far from confessional. The film for “Pornography” is comprised entirely of opaque, hallucinatory images that elaborate upon the music and, in some ways, complicate it.

For instance, the video eventually devolves into an image of a pair of wings flapping that is manipulated until its almost unrecognizable. Much as the music’s motive is obscured and contorted as it nears its climax. It’s a remarkably evocative moment in context, but the connection between these sounds and images and Snyder’s intentions is somewhat abstruse.

In this way, the music begins to influence the audience’s perception of the film just as the film influences the music creating a mutual relationship that provides for numerous interpretative possibilities.

In general, however, Snyder’s music doesn’t seem aimed at inciting interpretation or even critical thought. Rather, he seems interested in creating moods and atmospheres full of questions and ambiguity with few, if any, hard stances being taken or suggested.

This fluid, effervescent quality is sometimes hard to achieve with electronic media and it’s more difficult still to make such fluidity as effortless as Snyder seems to, which is what grants his compositions their human warmth and clarity.