Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society
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Night visions (a photo essay with music)

On Sukkot, we bask in the raw wonder of nature, exposed to its elements, and abandon the chains of modern life to give ourselves the chance of seeing things with fresh eyes
"Holy Bagel"
'Holy' (photo by the author)

The night sky of Jerusalem at Sukkot is full of wonder and infinite variety. In this photo essay, I have tried to capture its seasonal cornucopia of forms and moods that change with the weather. The forms are remarkable, especially at night when the contrast between the white/grey billows and the jet black darkness is particularly dramatic and enticing. In addition, music (presented in the “coda” below) helps us understand the phenomenon as pure sensuality).

‘Time Stands Still’

Rather than capturing the movement of the clouds (which of course is dramatic), I have challenged myself to isolate the movements and shapes in snapshots.

‘Night Vision’

As we enter the period of Sukkot, we are asked to bask in the raw wonder of nature, to be exposed to its elements, to abandon the chains of modern life and to immerse ourselves in a return to our natural state of seeing things with fresh eyes. I have tried to approach this challenge as a child seeing the sky for the first time.

‘Raging Fire’

As a child of 7, I used to lie for hours on the grass in my backyard and marvel at the infinite variety of cloud shapes triggered by the ocean near my parents’ home in Marblehead, Massachusetts (Boston’s “North Shore”). In Jerusalem, instead of an ocean, we have rough high hills and a “sea” of collective memories through shared history, religion and traditions.

‘Solitude’

We are blessed by a gigantic annual “Rorschach test” triggering associations in us as the stars did to the Greeks while they cataloged the constellations. The difference is, of course, that clouds are constantly changing and elicit complex images that are personal and particular to our pasts, dreams and moods.

‘Green Haze’

In this series of images, the jet black trees give contrast to the sky; sometimes the effect is dramatic and foreboding, transporting us to a penetrating state of mind. From the 100-plus pictures I took, I chose 12. Each has a poetic title adding illumination to the picture’s possible meanings.

‘Dreamily’

Sometimes, the view is disconcerting and disturbing, especially when the light turns to haze; we suddenly feel lost. Often the dramatic scene looks like a painting, with natural graininess reflecting faint colors which are not “supposed” to be there, but are.

‘Infinity’s Face’

Sometimes, the stately trees stand tall, contrasted by others which seem to crouch. The trees seem particularly solid and majestic along the backdrop of the shifting tides of fluff.

‘Crouched’

Thinner trees seem to slant upward and cry out to heavens. Their fragility adds to their beauty and our own feelings of vulnerability, as the winds increase in velocity and unpredictability.

‘Slanted Upward’

Sometimes, we return to feelings of solidarity and community with the trees. Nostalgia for a calm, peaceful life together often seems beyond our capability in this age of public cacophony, insensitivity to one another and special interests.

‘Poised’

The cold sharpness of Jerusalem stone against the soft stately night reminds us that we have a way to go.

‘Slice’

The easiest way to celebrate the sky’s motion is to hear music inspired by the above phenomenon. The following musical passages portray the constantly changing forms, textures and meanings we experience through sight and touch.

1. “Les Nuages” (Clouds), by Claude Debussy, performed by the “YouTube Symphony,” Debussy’s groundbreaking piece explores the infinite possibilities found in cloud forms.

2. Night Pictures (excerpt), by the author, performed by the Lab Orchestra. This piece depicts the mystery of night, and the clouds that ebb and flow.

3. Circus (excerpt), by the author; musical collage and sound environment; the piece creates layers of sound and melodic memories within the shifting “tides” of clouds and seashore.

4. “Le Portail Aux Etoiles” (Portal to the Stars), from Pleine Lune100 Rêveries  Illustrées  published by Riveneuve Editions, Paris), a collaboration between painter Pascal Colrat and the author.  Hear music and see the image go to https://share.getcloudapp.com/jku1p4Q4 (click link, then click “download to hear) or http://www.experience-pleinelune.com/  (scroll down to the ninth item). The massive clouds are a memory, while a gigantic portal opens to the stars. Here is the image that inspired the music:

Le Portail Aux Etoiles, by Pascal Colrat (courtesy of the artist)
About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA). His teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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