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Eighth Blackbird: Hand Eye

Eighth Blackbird: Hand Eye video still

Hand Eye connects the expressive powers of two dynamic groups in one vibrant project. The six members of new music group eighth blackbird are paired with Sleeping Giant, a collective of six remarkable composers. Each composer wrote a different section of the piece, composing it in reference to a different visual artwork, and each section of the piece highlights one musician of eighth blackbird. The entire evening is saturated in projections by CandyStations, who has designed and performed live concert visuals for Sufjan Stevens, Bright Eyes, St. Vincent, Wilco, Calexico, ETHEL, and others.

Matthew Duvall: Our collaborators in this project called Hand Eye is a group of composers called Sleeping Giant. There are six composers who work together, we went back and forth on ideas. The composers sometimes would send us excerpts of things to try out. We would play a phrase or record something on an instrument, maybe tune something in an unusual way it could be ten seconds of a video and we would return that and then they would have more information and they would go back to the drawing board and write new things.

I don’t think it’s realistic that you can erase yourself from the experience if you’re physically on stage. I appreciate receiving the information of that score, but I miss the person in it, if the performer is not bringing themselves to the experience in a really full way.

And so, we’ve not only embraced the live performance, the “us” that is in the performance, but we’ve done what we can over time to prioritize and amplify that. That’s led to us trying all kinds of things on stage that are not always usual in live performance and definitely not usual in live classical performance.

  • Matthew Ozawa: I think what's incredible about eighth blackbird
  • is that they actually are about that collective. They are about “how do you create art with one another in a very open and safe dialogue.” Because the art of collaboration actually is unbelievably difficult. Usually people start to win out, and there’s always different power dynamics. But what’s incredible about this group is they’ve been together for such a very long time, that they know the ins and outs of each other, and they meet each other all in the same place and wavelength, which then as an artist walking into that, we are new layers into that collaboration.

    It really helps to have somebody out in the house helping you know what’s happening, because when you’re on the stage you really can’t see the whole picture. And so, for a production like this we really do like to bring in an artistic team. They’re very open to our thoughts and our suggestions and our visual lenses, because, just like them as artists creating music, we are also musicians in many respects.

    The tempi of light, the movement, the spatial relationships, how quickly people move through space, or how quickly things are happening in the video in combination with their music—is an added layer that creates another piece onto the compositions.

    MD: We wanted to add to the six pieces written by the Sleeping Giant composers. The contribution being made by our projectionist, Deborah Johnson. She's designed a geometric six-paneled screen. She's creating a visual reaction to the work that is no differently, artistically inspired than the six compositions are themselves.

    MO: Their hunger for sharing in that collaboration is really an intricate balance, because everybody has an artistic say, not only on what they're doing but what the overall picture is. They're a Grammy Award–winning ensemble.

    MD: From our perspective, we prefer that everyone is involved in all aspects during the collaborative and the creative process. And that was much more the case in this situation to a very satisfying degree.

    MO: Great artists are able to throw stuff away and keep bringing in new elements and having it fold in and over itself. It's almost like origami. You make an improper fold, it's going to be all kinds of funky. It requires lots of folding and unfolding to finally make the shape. And that's what they do. They are able to fold one way and then look at that. Is that going to end up creating the object that we want? They can unfold and refold it in a different form that eventually is going to reach the crux of the artistic moment and pinnacle of the experience.