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Bach Six Solos: Extreme Slow Motion

When Gil Shaham and I met in 2013 to consider crafting films for an evening of Bach Six Solos, I was humbled by the task and excited by the challenge. Shortly after this, I found myself in the home of a collector who had two of my own works in video on her wall: side-by-side, single close-ups of her boys, five and seven. Using a high-speed camera, I had slowed these portraits to such a degree that, at first glance, they don’t seem to be moving (a viewer might find themselves somewhat surprised to see an occasional blink forming slowly in time). Gazing upon them, I realized that the music playing over the sound system, Bach’s unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 5 in C Minor, seemed to be engaging in a subtle kind of dialogue with the boys’ faces as they moved through a rich texture of micro-stages in between recognizable or discrete actions or emotional states. At times, it even seemed as though the stages themselves had been prompted by a musical event. In the days following, I invited Gil over to my home to watch these and other similar videos alongside sections of Bach’s solo violin works. We both agreed there was a certain pleasure in the pairing, but more important, the process seemed to encourage and afford deeper listening as well as seeing. We decided to give it a go.

As a contemporary artist with a particular interest in motion pictures and time, I’ve been compelled to consider how the addition of extreme slow motion might be applied to moving images of the face, the body (and by extension, dance), obliquely narrative tableaus, and also still life in ways that can both enhance and alter the meanings latent within them. As a visual strategy, extreme slowness creates a continuing sense of pause within the action—as if the growth and evolution of the slow-moving image is itself a further manifestation of the deep and consuming absorptive state that often arises while observing it.

It is clear that Bach devoted a significant portion of his life to composing dance music, and these three partitas are no small example of that. But if dance was my point of entry for the partitas (even looking into the dance forms for which Bach makes music, such as the bourrée, allemande, corrente, and gavotte), what eventually began to take shape was the cultivation of dance and movement of a broader type—one that could spark the kinesthetic imagination of each viewer while not fighting with the tempo of the music in live performance.

Another point of entry came from the now much discussed references that Bach built into each of the three successive partita-sonata couplings: the Christmas Story, the Passion, and Pentecost. While I didn’t want to manifest these references directly, I did use basic themes of birth, death, and rebirth as blueprints or inspirations for the creation of images.

—David Michalek

Bach Six Solos
Gil Shaham
Sunday, October 25 at 7 PM
Gil Shaham
David Michalek

Gil Shaham performs Bach’s monumental and spiritually profound works for solo violin, perhaps the most technically challenging music ever written for the instrument. The Baltimore Sun has written, “It’s hardly news that Shaham is an impeccable violinist, one capable of bringing out the mechanics and the majesty of Bach in equal measure.” Shaham’s performance is accompanied by newly commissioned films by David Michalek, an artist inspired by movement and gesture.