May 18, 2012 — "Rotunda, A Living Portrait," composed from images and sounds of the University of Virginia's Rotunda and Lawn captured over the course of a year, is now available on DVD.
Judith Shatin, an acclaimed composer and William R. Kenan Jr. professor of Music in the College of Arts & Sciences, created the piece with filmmaker Robert Arnold, director of the School of Film & Photography at Montana State University.
The 15-minute film was created from more than 300,000 fixed-point images of the Lawn and Rotunda taken outside of Shatin's office in Old Cabell Hall. The scene moves from dawn to dusk as the seasons change over the course of a year. It premiered at the U.Va. Art Museum in 2009 and was shown continuously as part of the special exhibition, "Thomas Jefferson's Academical Village: The Creation of an Architectural Masterpiece." The film won the experimental film category at the Macon (Ga.) Film Festival in 2011, and has been shown at a number of film and music festivals.
Shatin said she conceived of the project after being struck by the beauty of the changing scene, and the myriad activities she could see on the Lawn.
"There were days when it was so foggy I couldn't even see the Rotunda, as well as gorgeous days when the Lawn was filled with colors and light," she said. "The project is also a way to share this World Heritage Site with people who aren't able to experience it in person."
The DVD release features two soundtracks, both in stereo and 5.1 surround sound. The original includes excerpts from unscripted interviews Shatin conducted with students and faculty, while the new version uses only the ambient sounds she collected and the music she made by processing them..
"What was fascinating to me as a composer was that some sounds that in some circumstances I find annoying – such as lawnmowers when I'm trying to teach – would strike me so differently when doing field recordings." Shatin said. "The sound of the lawnmowers turned into something beautiful. I think this was a wonderful lesson in how context can transform sound."
A sample of the film is available online.
– by Rob Seal