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Events Wed Nov 13 2013

Black Violet Joins Animated Live Lit and Music

For a unique experience that joins graphic art and live music, look no further then Black Violet, a performance by Fifth House Ensemble this Sunday, November 17 at
Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave., 8:30pm.

Black Violet Act I: Leagues of Despair, follows the life of a black cat named Violet in 17th century London during the outbreak of the bubonic plague. The story is written, illustrated and animated by Ezra Claytan Daniels, known for his critically acclaimed graphic novel series The Changers, and a digital animated graphic novel Upgrade Soul, which was released on Opertoon. Daniels is also the creator of the Comic Art Battle, a live art event that pits artists against one another before a crowd.

Black Violet follows the protagonist through the streets of London as she looks for her owner while staving off capture; black cats were suspected plague carriers. The beautifully drawn artwork is complemented with musical accompaniment by Chicago's Fifth House Ensemble, a versatile and dynamic chamber music group. The score celebrates the works of Brahms, Walter Piston, and Jonathon Keren, among others.

I spoke with Daniels to learn more about Black Violet's partnership of music and art. He discussed collaborating with Fifth House and preparing his graphic art and text for the show.

How did this initial idea of scoring your animation come about?
The interesting thing about Black Violet is that the story came after the music. Fifth House Ensemble approached me with the idea of writing and illustrating a story to be projected as a slideshow alongside their performance. The music they were looking to program was sometimes hundreds of years old, so the challenge with Black Violet was writing a story set to pre-existing music. I worked very closely with then programmer Adam Marks to curate a program that both followed the narrative I wanted to tell, and adhered to the technical and aesthetic requirements of the ensemble.

How will this process you've worked out with Fifth House translate to a live performance?
The show is essentially a super-dense picture book-style slideshow timed to the live chamber performance. There's actually someone backstage, reading along with the sheet music, and advancing the slides in perfect time with the music, about one slide every 6 or so seconds. The marriage of music and story in Black Violet was incredibly intensive. I buried myself in the pieces for weeks, picking out and notating the subtlest emotional cues, then writing the narrative of each scene to hit every one of them. I started with a plot outline for the story I wanted to tell, but the tone and flow of each scene is entirely dictated by the music it was programmed with.

Coming for a graphic background already, this adds a new dimension to your work. How was your experience working on this collaborative performance?
Aside from the challenge of the work itself, the collaboration was remarkably smooth. Almost all my projects over the past several years have been collaborative, and I've learned that it's very easy working with people when the roles are clearly defined and don't overlap. I would never feel qualified to stop one of the ensemble members and tell them how to play their instrument, and they would probably feel the same about telling me how to block out a scene or something. Once we got the thing going, I think there was enough mutual respect throughout this project that we all felt really secure going off and doing our parts and then coming back at regular intervals to put the pieces together.

When it came time to 'put the pieces together', how did you rehearse the show?
Once I finished the work for the slideshows, I was pretty much done with my part. I would attend the rehearsals and take notes on art, timing, or text changes I wanted to make, and just generally smooth the thing out and make sure it all flowed well. But it was mostly the ensemble and the slideshow operator doing the real work at this point. Actually, that's one of the great things for me about a show like this, that all I have to do now is show up and bow at the end!

This is listed as Act 1, meaning there may be more to follow. Will we see more of the story and collaboration in the future?
Yeah, this is actually the first part of a three-concert series. The complete series has been performed all over the country since we finished it in 2010. Since then, Fifth House has collaborated on similar concerts with other artists, dancers, photographers, etc. They actually have a new series with the awesome Chicago-based comic artist Sarah Becan opening this spring. But if people want to see the other two acts of Black Violet, they'll just have to come out and let us know!

Black Violet Teaser 2 from Ezra Claytan Daniels on Vimeo.

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