Rara Avis

Rara Avis for piano, computer and video mixer

commissioned by the Ammerman Center for the Arts and Technology at Connecticut College

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Chapman Welch, composer

Maria del Carmen Montoya, video

Rara Avis is an interactive work for piano performance and computer generated audio and imagery. The piece’s musical component is based on the work “The Greatest of These is Love,” by composer, organist, and Connecticut college alumnus Roberta Bitgood. The musical composition explores the architecture of the hymn by using custom software written in Max/MSP to interpret harmonic cues taken from the live performance of a pianist.

Rara Avis is divided into three main sections. Transitions between the sections are achieved by combining elements from the previous section with newly introduced materials from the next section. The first and last sections are based on pitches derived from the opening of the Bitgood work. Interval expansion, sudden changes of register and the computer’s elongation of the piano harmonies create the harmonic and gestural world of these sections.

The visual treatment for Rara Avis consists of digital animations modelled on well-documented but sometimes controversial visual phenomena. In a crafted departure from typical clinical imagery the illusions themselves are restyled and presented as video projections. During performance each movement of Rara Avis is paired with a particular illusion. While the order of appearance cannot be known in advance, audience members might observe circular chromatic mach bands (composition in red and black), negative retinal afterimage (composition in black and blue) and dynamic simultaneous contrast (composition in gray). Yet, due to the idiosyncrasies of individual visual pathways not everyone may observe every illusion and some audience members may observe the same illusion differently than others.