Multimedia premiere ‘The Raft’ features experimental music, art, and alumni

Digital imagery from the multimedia experience ‘The Raft.’
Digital imagery from Yale School of Art professors Johannes DeYoung and Natalie Westbrook is part of the multimedia experience “The Raft.” (Image credit: Johannes DeYoung)

The Kon-Tiki expedition – when Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, five crew members, and a Spanish-speaking parrot journeyed by raft across the Pacific Ocean in 1947 – was inspired by his conviction that people from South America settled in Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. To prove it, he and his crew built a 30-by-15-foot raft from nine balsawood logs secured with hemp ropes and set sail. His related memoir was an instant bestseller.

Growing up in Camden, New Jersey, a young Jack Vees, founder and director of the Center for Studies in Music Technology at Yale, was entranced by the story.

I’m interested in the fact that someone would take a theory and put their life on the line to prove it,” says Vees. “As a kid, I became more courageous in my way of thinking.”

That adventurous thinking has led to a new multimedia experience called “The Raft,” which will premiere at the Center for Collaborative Arts and Media on April 3 at 7:30 p.m. The work is an exploration of sound and visuals that involves video imagery from Johannes DeYoung, faculty director and senior critic at Yale School of Art, who had been similarly moved by Heyerdahl’s tale and a related book by crewmember Erik Hesselberg. The Kon-Tiki expedition even inspired an art installation by DeYoung in 2014.

I am drawn to the drive and the determination to cast out to sea,” DeYoung says.

Johannes DeYoung and Jack Vees
Johannes DeYoung (left), Faculty Director and Senior Critic at Yale School of Art, and Jack Vees, founder and director of the Center for Studies in Music Technology at Yale, who have collaborated on a new multimedia experience called “The Raft,” based on the Kon-Tiki expedition. (Photo credit: Brita Belli)

Sandbox Percussion Quartet – a group of four School of Music alumni living in Brooklyn – are performing the music on a range of unconventional instruments, including a dan bau (a Vietnamese one-stringed zither), open-tuned guitars, a TV antenna with tuned pipes, chopsticks, and an air can cleaner.  

Percussionists are great to collaborate with because they are open to hitting almost anything,” says Vees. “The resources are almost infinite.”

The effect is to pull listeners into this watery world through sparse tones, repetitive sounds, wind-like blowing and the interplay of a female narrator referencing the sea being calm and the fish indifferent and a male narrator describing TV antennas and channel surfing. The audience will surround the players as they play and recite text written by Paul Schick (’97 Ph.D.), who wrote the libretto for Vees’ chamber opera “Feynman,” about physicist Richard Feynman. A six-channel abstract video piece featuring imagery from DeYoung and School of Art professor Natalie Westbrook (’10 M.F.A.) will change in time with the music.

Sandbox Percussion Quartet performing
Sandbox Percussion Quartet features four Yale School of Music alumni who will return to Yale to premiere “The Raft.” (Photo credit: Noah Stern Weber)

Quartet member Jonathan Allen has studied with Vees and performed his music before. “Jack dives deep into instruments,” Allen says. “He takes a small idea and uses it to its full potential.” He says the collaborative process of developing this new piece has been “a voyage of sorts” in its own way, one that requires “a spirit of adventure.”

For the members of Sandbox, returning to Yale will be a welcome homecoming. “For all of us, the fire for performing was ignited at Yale,” Allen says.

As Vees has developed this new work, he, in turn, has used it as a teaching tool for his class, “The Twenty-First-Century Recital,” which features 25 students developing their own collaborative music and design pieces. “The central focus of this is to be a force for more collaboration across the arts community,” Vees says.

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Media Contact

Brita Belli: brita.belli@yale.edu, 203-804-1911