Matthieu Hallé presents his new improvised film ©Brett Delmage, 2018
Matthieu Hallé presents his new film, May the Waves Rise From Its Floor, in an improvised performance in Ottawa with Linsey Wellman ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Matthieu Hallé and Linsey Wellman: May the Waves Rise From Its Floor
General Assembly
Friday, November 30, 2018 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Two different worlds collided Friday evening, in a rare aural-visual live improvisation.

On one side of the room, Linsey Wellman stood upright and played baritone saxophone. On the other side, filmmaker Matthieu Hallé sat on an equipment case on the floor, bent over his film projector, electronics, and two burning candles. And between them, projected on a large white wall, were the constantly-shifting images that Wellman was responding to in his playing, and which Hallé was manipulating in response to Wellman's performance.

For 45 minutes, the audience in General Assembly was immersed in a stream of images and sound, as Hallé presented his new piece, “May the Waves Rise From Its Floor”. It was a flowing and mostly calm stream of images and music, developing in smooth transitions between barely-there penumbral shapes and bright sunlit images, and back again. Sometimes it felt like one's hazy vision on waking up; other times like multiple layers peeking through clouds.

Wellman said afterwards that he placed himself so that he could be constantly looking at and reacting to the projected images. His sound was overall circling and muted and became deeper or lighter in accordance with what was being shown on the screen. But he was not just responding but initiating: he also added his own textures and sounds, such as clicking keys, thumping accents, indistinct harmonics, changes in his speed and loudness, and stopping abruptly and then starting again.

The effect of the two together was engrossing. The audience of more than 25 people, which filled the room, was silent and intent during the show, and applauded strongly at the end. Many stayed to talk with Wellman and ask Hallé about the work.

This was the second time the two had collaborated (the first was in March, 2017), and it also marked the culmination of three years of substantial development that Hallé had put into his technical setup and creating the different parts of the work.

While Hallé's complicated set-up did include a laptop – to size and then to send the images to a ceiling-mounted projector – it was as much analog as electronic. It began as a custom-converted 16mm film projector, to which he added electronic components that allow for the combination of film and video projection.

On the projector, he played a new 45-minute 16mm film he created using original footage of the Salish Sea (the coastal waterways between British Columbia and the state of Washington). He worked on the film as an artist in residence at LIFT and Pix Film in Toronto.

In performance, the film output was then illuminated and transformed by the light from two small candles, which sat on an flat shelf held away from the device by an extending arm. The combined images were then captured a lens-less digital camera, sent to the laptop, and projected in the wall.

Hallé could breath on the candles to make them waver, or block most of their light with his fingers, or focus their light with two crystals – one a flat ovoid, the other an irregular spheroid with multiple sharp points.

As a result, he could interactively alter the images at will, transforming and recreating them in conjunction with the music in an improvised performance. What also made the projected images interesting was the wall's rough surface and the palimpsest left on it from a previous show. The month before, another group had painted large black Japanese calligraphy on the wall; Hallé had covered it with white paint, but it still slightly peeped through.

It was a fascinating and innovative use of technology in the service of art. You can read more about it on Hallé's website.

Hallé will present this project twice more this month with different musical partners:

  • December 7 in Toronto at Pix Film Gallery with Eschaton (sax/trumpet/electronics/percussion)
  • December 8 in Montréal at Black House with Jennifer Thiessen (viola and viola d’amore)