When the new work of Varèse spilled across the conventional musical scene of the early twentieth century, he found himself stumbling among the ruins of the 19th Century. He was a pioneer, inventing genres, exploring new sounds, and is acknowledged as the "Father of Electronic Music." His music established a new ethos, so that including Varèse's Ionisation as the finale of Across the Ether provides a metaphor of this work reaching across Time to make a sounding presence for a new and growing artistic awareness, a new manifesto.
Across the Ether was an Internet2 multimedia performance on November 1 among distant sites including New York University, University of California Santa Cruz, Stony Brook University, and Bergen Community College. The NYU portion of the performance was in Loewe Theatre at 35 West Fourth Street, but the presence of California, New Jersey, and Long Island permeated the space, transforming it into a new artistic medium that would have made McLuhan proud.
The performance, based on interaction, spontaneity, and improvisation, unfolded with the air of a happening of the 70s, but through connections that dissolved the borders separating the collaborators as they merged in mutual and simultaneous spaces at each location, parallel universes of artistic activity. The NYU space projected to three screens that merged live and processed images and mixed images and sound from the distant sites as part of the artistic presence of the event. Ionisation provided the finale as performed by the NYU Percussion Ensemble under the inspired conducting of its director, Jonathan Haas. To hear this work performed live is a sonic treat, and this masterwork sounded as fresh and innovative as it did more than half a century ago. After the curtain call, performers combined in an improvisation of music and movement that celebrated the idea of pioneers in a journey through a new medium. Even now Across the Ether serves as a permanent web archive of the event, where collaborators continue to post the various media and interactions that comprise the event.
To be sure there were technical difficulties. Connections were lost and regained, much like travelers on a journey to remote regions separated from their origins by vast distances. In this production space stretched across the continental United States and the performers learned firsthand that indeed, Space IS Time. The imaginations of musicians, actors, filmmakers, dancers, and creative technical collaborators formed a medium of exchange that produced extraordinary moments of chemistry, a fragile chimeric collage reaching across the ether in a project of discovery.