CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Several times during the conversation, the name Leopold was whispered. The three Austin Peay State University professors were referring to a fictional character played masterfully by Bugs Bunny in the 1949 Warner Brothers Looney Tunes cartoon “Long-Haired Hare.”
Barry Jones, APSU associate art professor, spoke in a quiet, reverential tone when mentioning the name. Kell Black, art professor, said it a bit more forcefully. But it was Dr. Gregory Wolynec, professor of music and conductor of the Gateway Chamber Orchestra, who almost shouted the name with gusto. He has a special fondness for the character since Bugs Bunny is in fact impersonating the famed British conductor Leopold Stokowski.
It might seem a bit odd to find these three artists on a Friday afternoon, engaged in a serious discussion about a 63-year-old cartoon. But Bugs Bunny’s “Leopold,” Jones said, might just make an appearance at a unique, hybrid performance by the Gateway Chamber Orchestra and the visual artist duo known as Black and Jones at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 1 in the APSU Music/Mass Communication Concert Hall.
That evening, the orchestra will perform the strange masterwork “Frankenstein!!” by German composer HK Gruber. The musicians will occupy the dark at the front of the stage, while Black and Jones project movie clips, live images and real-time drawings onto the massive back wall of the hall.
Wolynec came up with the idea for the orchestra to perform the Gruber work a year ago when he saw a video performance by Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
“The piece, Frankenstein!!, is for a chamber orchestra, and it’s based on German limericks translated to English,” he said. “German fairy tales tend to be a little more edgy.”
The extraordinary work references everything from Frankenstein to Superman to the 1960s James Bond film “Goldfinger.” When Wolynec rented the sheet music for this upcoming performance, it came with a box filled with unusual instruments such as car horns, plastic tubes, a jack-in-the box and tin kazoos.
“Almost the entire orchestra, at various times, puts down their conventional instruments and plays these,” he said. “When I saw a video of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra doing this piece, every member of the ensemble was having such a great time playing all these toys, I realized we have to do this.”
Wolynec mentioned the idea to Chris Burawa, director of the APSU Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts, and Burawa passed the idea on to Black and Jones. In recent years, the Center has sought to bring together different creative arts departments for spectacular genre-blending performances.
“So the notorious Black and Jones met with me and we discussed an approach that continues to evolve,” Wolynec said. “It essentially involves the live performance art that they do that is spontaneous interactions with video clips with each other.”
The two visual artists will be visible on stage, moving quickly back and forth between computer stations and mixing boards to create the images above.
“We like to refer to it more often as ‘Live Cinema,’” Jones said. “We’ll sample from existing clips of movies. We’ll be using software and hardware, making decision, mixing the video live.”
“Not only playing the video,” Black added, “but we’re also thinking of incorporating bits of shadow puppetry and drawing, so I can draw on a computer tablet and it will show up on screen.”
The Gruber composition is a dark piece, which combines elements of classical music, the German cabaret sounds of the 1920s and some pop influences of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Black and Jones said their images won’t necessarily follow the narrative of the music, but they will mimic the style and mood of the piece.
“It sounds like it was taken from Berlin in the 1920s, so that’s the look that we’re aiming for,” Black said. “So we’re taking lots of clips, silent clips from German cinema and also early American cinema.”
And possibly, when Wolynec takes the stage, the screen will show a cartoon rabbit greeted by calls for “Leopold!”
“I guarantee, this is going to be the coolest concert going on any where on the planet that evening,” Wolynec said.
Gruber’s “Frankenstein!!” is also only half of the evening’s concert. The second part of the performance will be dedicated to contemporary American composer John Adams’s Chamber Symphony.
“It was inspired by Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 9, but refracted through a lens of modern America,” Wolynec said. “This is the hardest piece we’ve ever done, and this is one of the most important pieces of the last 30 years. It’s probably the one thing that could stand up to the excitement of the first half of the program.”
For concert or ticket information, contact the APSU Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts at 221-7876.