Kaijūscope

An animated narrative panorama with (no) monsters in it.
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Once it was human

Inspired by Akira Ifukube's film scores, Kaijuscope is a collaborative experiment involving music and narrative panorama.

Kaijū (怪獣) is Japanese for «strange beast». So, is Kaijūscope a tool to contemplate monsters? Yes, but not a traditional one. Far away from being complex optical machinery, Kaijuscope is a performance by eleven musicians headed by musician/composer Jayn Pettingill — with whom I share the concept idea of the project — and a visual artist (yes, me) who bring to life particular aspects of a film score accompanied and driven by a visual panorama.

The premiere of Kaijuscope took place in San Francisco and Berkeley on Sep 3-5, 2012. World tour coming soon. Or not.

Kaijūscope can be explained as a melting pot, both regarding music and visuals. Like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, a sonic beast has been fashioned from Akira Ifukube's film scores (best known for his work at famed Toho Studios and most notably for his «Godzilla» soundtrack work). Jayn combined, extended and developed melodic motifs and rhythmic gestures found in the scores and composed new material to join these musical ideas: these became launching points for a soloist or background textures to support the visual narrative unfolding before the audience. Important motivic statements are used to suggest a mood or as commentary, which are then explored via improvisation.
That's the jazz, baby.

 
 
 

And improvisation plays a key role not only in the music but also in developing and furthering a dialogue: Kaijūscope's mission is to develop and sustain a conversation about the interplay of music with visual language.

That's where I come in. 
For Kaijūscope I assembled newly created images juxtaposed with visual tropes, photographs found on the web, miniatures... Everything contributes in creating a visual narrative that was intended to be something else than a music video to joust with Jayn’s score. With Kaijūscope I borrowed my own idea of the narrative panorama and took it to a different level, introducing animation.
As scenes slowly shape themselves and then dissolve, so too does the music shift and reshape, as if in conversation with the panorama unfolding before the audience’s eyes.

 
 
diagram is always an effective set up for mind spaces, especially when it's too much for your tiny little (lazy?) brain. This was the first and only tool used to organize the interplay between music and visuals.
The official website of Kaijūscope is built around taglines which come from old monster movies. www.kaijuscope.com

The official website of Kaijūscope is built around taglines which come from old monster movies.
www.kaijuscope.com

 
 

From dusk till dawn

A living narrative panorama

 
 

The juxtaposition of image and thematic material provide a rich arena for an ensemble and visual artist to play “off” of. How an improviser chooses to intersect with those things can create chaos or resolution; suspense or relief. Kaijūscope uses pre-established boundaries, through my imagery and Jayn's arrangements, to explore and test collaborative parameters in film and music.

 
 
Big rehearsal in San Francisco before the premiere / Photo credits: Nicole Coleman
 
 

But what can an audience do in this explorative playground? «Enjoy it», someone would say. Fair, but not quite. When people are surrounded by 'explorers', I tend to think that their curiosity induces them to become explorers too. So let them be.
Whether an audience wants to experience music with a descriptive visual content, or the other way around (to experience visuals with a descriptive score), the challenge of Kaijūscope consisted in crafting a tale which could be an inviting ground for anyone's interpretation. 

Melodies have the power to evoke or summon strong feelings, moods or memories in an audience; through the visuals I decided to give the audience the power of choice. And to do that, I had to avoid traditional narrative techniques such as editing, dialogue, camera movements, because these are the tools that in the art of film are used to drag the viewer inside a predetermined narrative flow. So I went for the idea of a one-shot-narrative-panorama, animated, growing, evolving and cyclic. Being composed of lots of different subjects and being filmed from a distance in favor of a big picture, the panorama lets the audience choose what to watch, which personal narrative to follow.

From a more specific point of view, the visuals, as well as the music, are made up of 5 phases which define 5 different steps in the development of the storyline.

 
 
Transient
 

1. Wake up — It's dawn. Peace reigns. A morse code breaks the silence: the encrypted message is somehow alarming. Suddenly the presence of something (a monster?) is revealed. 
Nobody  knows why there's a giant footprint in the field and who/what caused it: but all is fine, so people don't care.

2. Equilibrium — After the initial mystery, Kaijūscope unveils an ostensible equilibrium (the balance of the Force, if you prefer) during which the world is building up. The footprint is forgotten.

3. Chaos — This is the phase in which everything starts to collapse: the world has reached its sustainable limit, while its inhabitants have lost any understanding of the environment they are part of. Here monsters (or their consequences) emerge again.

4. Resettling — The last inhabitants leave the world. Things vanish, the landscape reshapes.

5. Sleep — Dusk. The giant footprint is revealed again. It was always there, although everybody had forgotten about it. It will happen again. History is helpless.

 
Close ups of the panorama during construction phase and aftermath, with survivors leaving the planet.
Close ups of the panorama during construction phase and aftermath, with survivors leaving the planet.
 
 

the meaning of all this OR: who did you copy from?

Inspiration

 
 

As always, inescapable restrictions share in the decision making process. The biggest of all the restrictions was perhaps that, being part of a small and self-financed project, Kaijūscope wasn't able to feature copyrighted material such as clips or even still frames of the original Japanese movies quoted by the music.

So, beyond cinematic monsters, my main inspiration had to take root in another field. I found fertile land in Pieter Bruegel the Elder who, first of all, has been dead for almost 500 years. Secondly, he has a great name. And then he is an awesome (most likely unconscious) exponent of my idea of the narrative panorama. A plus is also that he must have been mad as a spoon.
I won't say anything else. Go browse his works, if you are not familiar with him, and take a look at the backstage gallery below.