Picture Start Films
Shamayim
a collaborative production by filmmaker Elliot Caplan and composer David Felder

Shamayim began with Felders work with Nicholas Isherwood on a piece for voice and electronic sounds and Caplans interest in a series of images having to do with nature. Shamayim uses Hebrew letters as the base structure for the music, while Caplan uses the numeric values of these letters as inspiration for the images. In some cases, Caplan attempted to be as close to the sound as possible in creating the images and in others Felder would compose based on the images.

Bass voice and electronics by Nicholas Isherwood. Total Running Time: 34:28.

Shamayim DVD cover
Shamayim DVD cover

Available for purchase from Albany Records.

Review from American Record Guide, May/June 2010, pp 226-227:

FELDER: Shamayim
film by Elliot Caplan; Nicholas Isherwood, b Albany 1137—34 minutes

According to a fascinating but somewhat elliptical conversation between Felder and Caplan that takes the place of liner notes, this video-music work involved structural principles derived from Hebrew letters (which, according to Caplan, imply a sense of direction and movement as well as contain a numeric value). Indeed, "Shamayim" is Hebrew for "heavens", and the first two sections also carry Hebrew titles: the first, 'Chashmal', refers to the fiery radiance surrounding God on His chariot in Ezekiel's vision (Ezekiel 1:1-3); Felder himself translates the second, 'Sa'arah', as "stormy wind". In all three movements (the last is called 'Black Fire/White Fire'), the computer-generated sounds draw principally on Isherwood's wide-ranging vocal virtuosity, while the video presents many images from nature— trees, a lake, clouds—sometimes supplemented by other images (luminous hexagons are prominent) and other video processing. Sometimes I almost hear a text; the musicologist in me would like to know the text and translation, if any, but the notes supply none. I'm struck by Felder's remark that the work is "operatic" in size—that it loses quite a bit if one's not able to see it projected in a dark hall on a big screen. I can imagine the work making an even stronger impression in such a venue.

As it is, I find Shamayim a complex and (in the best sense of the word) awesome work. The music is abstract but not forbidding, and the images arresting and unforgettable. In particular, I'm glad to see Caplan's work. He's had a long career that includes collaborations with John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and the American composer Michael Gordon and hasn't gotten the attention that it deserves—most likely because the kind of theater that he's creating is so difficult to describe but so important to see.

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