Space for Head and Hands

Ron Hays’s twenty-minute tape Space for Head and Hands: an improvisation for prepared piano, voice, video switcher and synthesizer imagery uses the immediacy of both music and visuals being created together at the same time, presenting a “real-time” audio-visual performance. It was made in collaboration with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas (who performed on a prepared piano) and WGBH producer/director David Atwood (who ran the video switcher). Even though the video is headed by the credit “MUSIC—IMAGE,” this tape is not a preliminary development but an application of the results obtained during Hays’s direction of the “Music-Image Workshop” at the public television station WGBH in Boston (1972–1974). Space for Head and Hands is broadly structured into three primary “movements”’: the first two are clearly separated from the others, while the third, more complex section, is a series of seven distinct parts linked to appear continuous by short transitions that recapitulate earlier visuals. Each section presents specific improvisations where either the visuals or the music “lead.” In the first section of Space for Head and Hands, the visuals are organized around imagery of hands; this is followed by a second section where the hands interact with a field of color; in the third section, the head is the main focus of the compositions. Both Hays and Thomas improvise and respond to each other’s actions—visual and musical—creating a real-time interplay of their audio-visual performances apparent in the discrete sections of the tape. The dynamic interplay between live video feeds, the synthesizer’s processing, and the immediacy of the apparent interactions—most obvious when the hand’s actions seem to inflect the progression of the visuals—demonstrate an aesthetic of synaesthetic immediacy where the flow of abstract forms and the sequence of music converge as the performance.