Streaming Now...
Anne Beal
& Christopher Zuar

November 2018 – January 2019

Public Viewing Hours:
Fridays 6–8pm
Saturdays 1–5pm
Sundays 1–5pm

Tonal Conversations by animation artist Anne Beal and composer Christopher Zuar is comprised of thousands of colorful images that Anne created while listening to Christopher compose music on the piano. The ongoing collaborative project debuted on the 150 Media Stream featuring Christopher Zuar’s nine-piece jazz orchestra.

One-minute documentation of Anne Beal and Christopher Zuar's collaborative project "Tonal Conversations" performed live on October 25, 2018 at 150 Media Stream, Chicago.

Interview with Anne Beal and Christopher Zuar

Anne, can you talk about your career as an artist and animator?

Anne: In my career as an artist, I value living a full life with diverse methods of expression. When I’m not creating animation, I’m playing the fiddle or collecting sound bytes to use in my films. I’m motivated by my deep love of painting and drawing with ink, and I keep physical mark-making at the core of my work. At the same time, I develop new methods of digitally compositing my paintings, and I seek out new ways to display my work.

My films are intrinsically linked with music and sound: in my personal films, I design and mix the soundtracks. In commissioned work, I collaborate with musicians and record labels as I direct animated music videos and content. Recently I have gotten into micro-animations and animated GIFs I use for promotion on social media platforms. When I get it right, my unconventional watercolor animation style draws positive attention to itself, among the sea of motion graphics saturating the Internet.

Teaching Experimental Animation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago gave me the opportunity to develop experimental animation methods to share with my students, and observing their approach to animation infused my work with inspiration. Attending artist residencies has been essential: fellowships at the MacDowell Colony and at the Corporation of Yaddo allowed me to develop my personal film. The artists I met there have enriched my personal life as well as my career.

Chris, can you talk about your career as a musician?

Chris: My career in music took a turn in 2005, during my transition into the New England Conservatory as a trumpet performance major. Much of my musical energy had, up to that point, been directed towards becoming a jazz trumpet player. I discovered a knack for composition in high school but always envisioned myself as a trumpeter. At NEC, I learned to my dismay, that performance majors would be unable to write for the various performing ensembles, but compositions majors, besides having their music regularly performed, would be able to study an instrument with any faculty member of their choosing. The choice was a no-brainer; I switched majors to jazz composition halfway through my freshman year, and haven’t looked back since. After graduating from NEC (and eventually The Manhattan School of Music) I’ve pursued a variety of different musical endeavors. In 2015 I started my own ensemble, the Christopher Zuar Orchestra, a twenty piece ensemble dedicated to performing my original music. We released our first recording, Musings, on Sunnyside Records, which went on to receive critical acclaim. I maintain an active freelance career as a music copyist, digitally engraving music for publishers and composers alike. Teaching is an important part of my musical life as well. In addition to maintaining a private composition and trumpet studio, I’ve taught and lectured yearly at the City College of New York, the Manhattan School of Music, and New York University among others.

Anne and Chris, how did your collaboration come about in making the project for the 150 Media Stream?

Anne: Speaking of the MacDowell Colony, that’s where Chris and I met. His studio was right across the hill from mine. We found ourselves walking to and from meals together. Naturally, we became curious about one another's work. When I visited Chris’s studio and saw his hand-engraved musical scores spread out on his desk, I immediately stood in awe of his creative process. And then he went to the piano and played the piece he was working on, and my admiration doubled. I played classical violin throughout grade school and had seen plenty of sheet music, but this was the first time I witnessed the craft of creating an orchestral score. Beside each staff, he had noted which instrument was to play that line, and suddenly the mysterious process of orchestral composition I had always coveted was laid out before me. I wanted to know what he was thinking about as he wrote each line, how he put the parts together, how he conceived of the whole orchestra working together while discerning the flutes from the trumpets. As I got to know Chris, I realized he was incredibly special. Not just artistically, but as a person. I felt that our work would complement one another, and that if it were possible to collaborate on a project together, we should make that happen. The seed for Tonal Conversations was planted.

Chris: To say I was impressed with Anne’s work would be a severe understatement. I’m not sure how to express what I felt upon seeing her work for the first time, but I know it moved me deeply. Her hand-painted animation style, besides being visually gorgeous, is painstakingly crafted. When I heard that her 3.5 minute film, Balance and Swing, consisted of 2,500 paintings, I was stunned - and this from someone who's not unfamiliar with tedious work; my handwritten scores consist of thousands of tiny lines, notes and curves. All this aside, I found the work to be deeply genuine, full of a rare, raw emotion. After arranging a studio visit, and experiencing Anne’s work more fully, my initial suspicions of her talent and artistic depth were confirmed. She’s a pretty special person as well.

Anne: For the first half of Tonal Conversations, which we created for 150 Media Stream, I responded to Chris's music as he wrote it. I listened to him develop his musical ideas over a period of 8 months and painted hundreds of tiny paintings that became animations. For the second half, which we’re just beginning, I’m developing those paintings into more cohesive animated sequences which will become a series of short films.

Chris: It’s not often that a composer gets to write music before it’s paired with a visual media. It’s a great luxury that allows me to write freely, unrestricted by the time confines and content demands of another media. It’s been an unbelievable experience, watching Anne respond to my music. Frankly, I’m honored that she enjoys my music enough to invest the time and creative effort into a collaboration.

Anne, I believe your work is primarily shown in black-box theater setting in a 16:9 format, and Chris, your work is played in performance halls or other venues. So what were the challenges and considerations in creating work for the 150 Media Stream with its unique structure and audience?

Anne: Working with the 150 Media Stream format was an exciting challenge. The shape is completely unique, since it is made up of many tall, long screens of different heights. I am used to working in a standard 1920x1080 HD format. I had to think about the design in a new way: How can I utilize this series of shapes? I wanted to make my animation weave in and out of it at times, while overtaking the structure at others. I thought about music staves and how they are linear; if I turned them 90 degrees they became quite compatible with the columns. Technically speaking, the piece was massive compared to anything I've ever done before. I am so fortunate to have had this experience, and I learned more on this project than I ever have before.

Chris: The lobby of 150 North Riverside is big! Anne and I visited the space several times during the writing process and were taken by the beautifully reverberate nature of the acoustics. A space that live can be both a blessing and a curse for a composer, especially one writing for a 20 piece jazz orchestra. An ensemble of that size, consisting of woodwinds, brass, and drums, can be loud in any space. The challenge for me was to write music that took advantage of the unique nature of the lobby’s acoustics but didn’t oversaturate it. The music I wrote is dramatic; at times both delicate and bombastic, capable of not only serving the animation but providing an aural experience for 150 Riverside guests and employees.

What are your upcoming projects? Individually and collaboratively?

Anne and Chris: After the 150 Media Stream installation, we will continue to develop this project by making a series of animated short films: one for each orchestral piece. Ultimately, we will have a suite of animated films and loops that can be shown during live performances by the Christopher Zuar Orchestra. I am learning video jockeying and projection-mapping software so that I’ll be able to manipulate my animation in real time to the music! Soon we will be launching a Kickstarter campaign to help fund this undertaking, in addition to seeking out project grants and generous donations. Please follow our progress at where you can sign up for our newsletter.

Learn more about Anne Beal here
Learn more about Christopher Zuar here

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Penelope Umbrico

150 Media Stream website:
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photography by michael salisbury