University of South Carolina

Tarr’s star rises over Carnegie Hall

By: Frenche Brewer,, or 803-777-3691

Ever since he was eight years old Simon Tarr has been making films. Since then, his thirteen films have been screened on every continent, even Antarctica, in hundreds of film festivals. They’re available on DVD from Netflix and Amazon and as digital downloads from iTunes.

Today Tarr, a digital filmmaker and USC professor, can strike another venue off the list when he takes his visual act to the holy grail of stages--Carnegie Hall.

“I’ve done shows in Toyko and in clubs and auditoriums across the country, but never in Carnegie Hall. But, it’s a great way to make a visual statement, Tarr says.

That may well be the understatement of the year.

At the invitation of a musical composer with whom he worked last year, Tarr is partnering with Dan Visconti again. This time, Tarr, will “play” his film on stage at Carnegie Hall.

“Dan asked me to do this with him. He’s writing the music and I’m writing the visuals. We worked together last year during the Indie Grits Festival, and we developed a relationship because I really like his musical sensibilities and he really liked the way I treated images, Tarr says.

Visconti says he's thrilled to partner once again with Tarr on this collaboration commissioned by the American Composer's Association.

"It's exciting to hear instruments of the classical orchestra interacting with 20th century technology, and Simon's video really ties these themes together for a unique multimedia experience."

Tarr has been creating his part of the performance in his USC art studio on a laptop, and Visconti has been creating the music for the piece titled “Glitchscape” in his Washinton, D.C. studio. With the exception of one face-to-face collaboration, the two have been creating their production long distance.

“I show him some images, he takes that into account when he writes music, and sends that to me, and I take that into account when I write visuals, and we’ve been going back and for with that, almost like a correspondence,” Tarr says.

Tarr uses specific software called VDMX to make his visuals. It sounds very “Jetson-like.”

“It allows you to choose what videos you’re going to see, where they’ll be on the screen, when they show up, how fast they’ll be and how it will look,” Tarr says.

The show, called “Playing it Unsafe” will feature five composers playing new musical works. Tarr will be playing the visuals live like an instrument, on stage with the musicians as another performer, but instead of playing a violin, he’ll be playing a laptop.

“I’ve got some things tuned to certain frequencies of the music, so when the bassists section plays a certain note at a certain frequency, I have a piece of software that knows when that happens, and it changes the video as that note gets played, and it breaks the video, on purpose,” Tarr says.

Peter Chametzky, USC art department chair, says Tarr’s accomplishment brings great pride to the department.

“The Tarr-Visconti collaboration represents the cutting edge of contemporary artistic processes, earning it a place on that legendary stage. Our students get a tremendous benefit from working with dedicated teachers who are leaders in their fields.”

Tarr says never in his wildest dreams did he think he’d ever be playing Carnegie Hall, describing it as an interesting and exciting way to be a filmmaker.

“There’s the terror that things might go wrong, but there’s  a certain energy that comes from being in front of an audience that you just don’t get making a movie,” Tarr says.

The curtain goes up at 7:30 p.m. tonight.

Posted: 04/05/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 04/09/13 @ 2:53 PM | Permalink