The Memory of Le Sacre du Printemps

Realtime Visualisation of Igor Stravinskys four-handed piano version of “Le Sacre du Printemps”.

Piano: Maki Namekawa and Dennis Russell Davies

Realtime computergraphics develeoped and performed by MF.Redman

Sept. 2013 at Ars Electronica, Linz

Dec. 2013 at (le) poisson rouge, New York

The 100th anniversary of the premiere of Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) cannot possibly be discussed without recalling the huge scandal its debut provoked.

This piece conjures up an ancient heathen Russia that, even back then, was no more than a distant collective memory—so remote, in fact, that Stravinsky had to travel to a Center for Folk Art near Smolensk to conduct research in preparation for his “grand sacrifice.”


He worked on it at a time when the Industrial Revolution long since had the world in its clutches, in which men believed in the indestructibility of steel and the Titanic was sunk by an iceberg, in which Henry Ford was manufacturing Model T cars on an assembly line and making Detroit the boomtown of the modern age, in which Marinetti was dispatching his futuristic exhibitions and manifestos throughout Europe, and the mail was already being transported by airplane.

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And so, for us today, Le sacre is no longer a recollection of primitive heathens but rather of a time in which art was still brash and boisterous, could celebrate the joy of innovation and belief in modernity, and, by coquettishly flirting with the destruction of the old world, could get society hopped up into an utter frenzy—and all of this vigor yet unbroken by the trauma of the approaching world wars.

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What makes the piano version for four hands so interesting with regard to a visualization is the much more immediate presence of the rhythmic furor inherent in this piece—raw, and not the least bit toned down by the timbre of a large orchestra, a furor that also manifests itself in the superb acrobatics of four hands and 20 fingers ceaselessly racing across the keyboard, intermingling, approaching one another, often dangerously close, and sometimes flying within a hairsbreadth of the two pianists’ faces.

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The drama of this physical spectacle is the actual unsurpassable visual attraction, above all in the intimacy that the Deep Space venue creates between the audience and the musicians. This is the compelling leitmotif of the real-time visualizations captured by Actioncams (that we’re familiar with from films of performances by extreme athletes), displayed blazing across 300 m2 of projection surface, and powerfully enhanced by a dialog with historical images from the U.S. Library of Congress and digital graphics right out of a Bösendorfer computerized grand piano.

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video from the rehearsal for the premiere in the Deep Space of Ars Electronica, Sept 2013


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