The Sanctuary Project –
A Conversation with Composer Roger Reynolds
posted 28 November 2008
David Curry (DRC): Sanctuary has been performed and recorded in
two extraordinary venues: the atrium of I.M. Pei's National Gallery of
Art’s East Building for its world premiere in November 2007, and, more
recently, in the courtyard of Louis I. Kahn's Salk Institute (La Jolla,
California), in October 2008. How do you “top” those two venues in
future performances? Are other venues under consideration?
Roger Reynolds (RR): There are many issues involved in the desire to
mount a musical performance in a great architectural space. In
addition to the formidable logistical and financial resources required,
there is the more basic question of whether such architectural
monuments as I. M. Pei's National Gallery or the Salk Institute will
agree to allow the use of their facilities for such purposes.
It isn't quite the same, of course, as holding a wedding or a bar mitzvah
at a famous location, but it is clear that any remarkable space will have
to place serious conditions on their use. Strangely - it would seem -
there don't appear to have been many works created with an eye (and
an ear) towards adapting themselves to vast scale, incorporating or
responding to the "auras" of such public spaces, or considering the
possible advantages of spectator mobility.
So the opportunity to perform Sanctuary in these two extraordinary
spaces was quite special. While I am not sure how one could “top” them
as performance venues, for Sanctuary, we continue to explore other
architecturally significant venues.
One example that comes to mind is Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern in
London. We shall see what unfolds over time. Another, more remote,
involves a recent visit to Paris. I was speaking with Emmanuel Hondré,
the artistic director of the Cité de la musique there, and he
immediately said that Sanctuary should be done in the lobby of I. M.
Pei's "pyramid" entranceway to the Louvre. But of course it is one thing
to have such an idea, but quite another to interest an institution of that
sort in using its space, and thereby tilting its image in such a non-
There would seem the necessity, in most cases, for a long-term
seduction: find someone in a position of institutional authority and
begin a process of explaining one's intentions, and combating the
immediate resistance that is likely to arise. It seems that, in a majority
of the cases, those in a position to grant permission for non-standard
uses of a facility will understandably have more compelling reasons not
to do such a thing than to agree to it.
DRC: In late October 2008, a week along recording session of
Sanctuary occurred in a special studio environment at CALIT2 on
UCSD's campus. What was this recording effort intended to
accomplish? How is it expected to augment the existing captures of the
live performances (which included live audiences, etc.)?
RR: The so-called IPeR documentation came about as a result of the
necessity of my gathering together the cooperation and resources
necessary to make an unprecedentedly high-level “document” of the
In talking with various persons – even with the performing musicians
themselves – it became clear that the mental models of recording ideals
that existed for most people were very limited and traditional.
Generally, these ideals proceed from a the perspective of a listener
seated, immovably, and at a considerable distance from the performers.
What I wanted to achieve was what might be thought of as a "god's eye"
perspective: one would see and hear everything that the most engaged
and attentive listener/viewer might possibly wish to. This involves
seeing the details of the performers' hands and mallets as they
addressed their instruments, the instruments themselves, eye contact
between the players, and, in general, a constantly shifting and
musically "intelligent" observation of the process of the music making
as well as the resulting sound itself.
Percussionist Ross Karre was central here. He performed in the
National Gallery premiere last year and also at the Salk Institute. As a
result of his wide experience with video, Ross proposed to work out a
detailed shooting script that would involve three or more video cameras.
During April of 2008, I had, along with all the performers and technical
assistants, a two week residency in the Calit2 Theater. When the
quartet was doing run-throughs of its two movements, Ross set up
small cameras behind each member, looking over him out towards the
actions – from each perspective – of his collaborators at each moment.
Using this composite record, Ross devised a plan for the video shooting,
a plan that optimized all known considerations in order to realize an
ideal visual capture. Josef Kucera, of UCSD Music Department, devised
a 24-channel digital recoding strategy that included use of a Calrek
microphone that allows for “after-the-fact re-positioning” of the
recorded perspective. It is our plan that Ross will edit all this footage
together to produce an ideal DVD product. A question still unresolved
is whether the audio “perspective” will shift every time the visual one
does. We could do this if we choose to.
In short, this IPeR capture is a fundamentally different endeavor from
the important captures of the live performances.
DRC: You have described Sanctuary as a part of something larger – The
Sanctuary Project – suggesting that the work will evolve with the
performance space, the musicians, your own thinking, etc. Can you
highlight how you adapted the work to this CALIT2 recording session,
and how much the piece evolved from the première to the Salk
RR: In the Summer of 2003, I began to meet informally with Steven
Schick (who had proposed the idea of such an endeavor) as well as with
Miller Puckette, whose legendary technical prowess I hoped to tap in
what became The Sanctuary Project.
Miller said a number of interesting things when we talked, perhaps the
most striking of which was the following: he found the process by
which most technologically involved works reach completion to be very
sub-optimal. A looming deadline is particularly undesirable in a
situation where novel technologies or novel strategies are in play. He
advised that the best procedure would be to create an overall plan and
then realize – as possible with the skill and knowledge at hand –
practical instantiations of each component. His idea, as I understood it,
was to conceive an intent and then to realize it in a direct and
straightforward way, in a fashion that calls upon relatively well known
techniques (perhaps employed in novel ways). Then one would evaluate
the results and attempt process-by-process, component-by-component
to upgrade the quality of the result over time, as improved insight or
This is what I have tried to do. The first stage was what eventually
became the second movement – Oracle. The nature of this part of the
whole work was the most clear to me at the outset. [Strangely, it should
be noted, my colleague, Chinary Ung, composed a work entitled
"Oracle" several years before, and, as he later reminded me, asked my
advice about this title. As soon as he mentioned this, I remembered
that this was indeed the case. I had held this title in my mind and then
employed it without having recalled its origins consciously].
So the first step in creating the full Sanctuary was to write the second
movement. All of the computer processing, the lighting, the players'
attire, and so forth were only in a very provisional form at that time.
This fluid nature of the initial work has carried through its various
performances since, and I have made, and continue to make, changes
to the score and the specific strategies employed as the performance
circumstance suggests (or demands). This was particularly true for the
Salk Institute performance in the courtyard, where the space required
a number of “adjustments.” The outdoor circumstance, wind,
incidental noise, inclement/cold weather, very limited set-up and
rehearsal time, weather-proofing all the technical components (which
remained outside over night), and designing a dissemination concept
for the 12 independent channels of sound.
DRC: There has been a significant effort in documenting this project
from its inception, including a website and a focus on other ways of
capturing the project overall. How did this focus influence the CALIT2
session and the audio and video recording strategies?
RR: As indicated above, several factors have made documentation –
especially of innovative work – essential, perhaps more than ever
before. In the first place, there is the issue of transmitting the nature of
any non-standard work: its means, its dimensions, its goals. Then, even
were the ideas inherent in a project relatively clear, information
separated from actual experience may well be either inadequate or at
the least misleading. A multi-dimensional, immersive medium such as
DVDs provide can go a very long way in giving the “uninitiated” a strong
feel for the experience of new work.
Also, with the precipitous decline in newspaper coverage of classical
music, there is often no source from which an artist can quote, or a
potential presenter seek, presumably objective evaluation. In such an
environment, websites can serve to bring together in a convenient form
a “picture” of a work – it’s goals, means, look, and so on. One can read
descriptions of intent, read commentary from various sources, see
photos, listen to sound clips, all with the click of the mouse. As the use
of websites for promotional purposes grows, the elegance and
imagination with which a site is built and managed can be significant.
DRC: Will the live performances and the CALIT2 sessions become
available to the public?
RR: The performance of Sanctuary at the National Gallery of Art in
November of 2007 was documented as a DVD by Calit2’s Doug Ramsey
and Alex Mathews along with UCSD’s Department of Music recording
engineer, Josef Kucera. It is expected that this disc along with the
completed IPeR document will be released as a 2 DVD set in late
Summer of 2009 on Brian Brandt’s Mode label in New York.
The Fall, 2008, performance at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, was also
filmed and recorded, so it is hoped that both segments from this
performance and various related interviews can be added to the DVD
set for additional perspective. The completion of the IPeR disc will take
considerable time. The first step is to edit an ideal sound recording,
and the next is to find the appropriate takes from the video material
which can be synchronized with the audio master. Ross Karre will edit
the uploaded materials in accord with his very detailed shooting script.
There is an ongoing discussion regarding the ways in which a certain
level of interactivity might be included in this product: alternative
viewer angles, shifting auditory perspective correlated with changing
visual orientation, as well as the possibility of reordering segments of
the work’s materials in relation to varied aesthetics.
DRC: Roger, thank you....I am sure we will continue this conversation
soon. Best wishes on the IPeR recording edit and DVD to come!
# # # #
The Sanctuary Project
by Roger Reynolds