Shamayim - screener

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a collaborative production by filmmaker Elliot Caplan and composer David Felder

Year: 2009, 34 mins
Code: PSF-Shama

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Shamayim began with Felders work with Nicholas Isherwood on a piece for voice and electronic sounds and Caplans interest in a series of images having to do with nature. Shamayim uses Hebrew letters as the base structure for the music, while Elliot Caplan uses the numeric values of these letters as inspiration for the images. In some cases, Caplan attempted to be as close to the sound as possible in creating the images and in others Felder would compose based on the images. 

Bass voice and electronics by Nicholas Isherwood.


Emmy award winning producer Elliot Caplan served as filmmaker in residence at the Cunningham Dance Foundation from 1983 until January 1998, collaborating with Merce Cunningham and John Cage in the production of films and videos. Together, their work has aired nationally on PBS, Bravo, Arts & Entertainment, and internationally to thirty-five countries.

Changing Steps, filmed at the Sundance Institute with an introduction by Robert Redford was produced in association with La Sept and distributed by Éditions a Voir. From 1996-2000, Caplan served as segment producer for PBS's national series on art in America, "EGG," and received an Emmy Award and Cine Golden Eagle for "Outstanding Cultural Programming." His work includes segments on Richard Serra and The Whitney Biennial 2000. As producer for City Arts, WNET/THIRTEEN, Caplan's work included, the making of Carmen Backstage at The Metropolitan Opera with James Levine, Plácido Domingo, Waltraud Meier and Franco Zeffirelli; Jackson Pollack @ MoMA; the restoration of the Rose Reading Room at The New York Public Library, Reading Room Restored; and a segment profiling architect/sculptor, Maya Lin.

Caplan's other work includes theater design and direction. In collaboration with Tony award winning performer Bill Irwin, Caplan designed an evening of theater and video, which was presented at The Roundabout Theatre in New York, June 1999. Caplan designed pieces that were performed by the Cunningham Company at the Next Wave Festival, Brooklyn Academy of Music, October 1997 and in Paris at the Opera Garnier, January 1998. Together with composer Michael Gordon and the orchestra ENSEMBLE RESONANZ, Caplan produced the twenty-six screen video opera Weather, sponsored by the Siemens Foundation Kultur Program and Oper Bonn, which toured five cities in Europe through 2001. In 1991, Caplan and Gordon made Van Gogh Video Opera, first performed at the Bang On A Can Festival and then at the Akademie der Bildenden Kunst, Vienna. With German choreographer Sasha Waltz, Caplan designed a sixteen-screen multi-monitor projection for live performance. Alle der Kosmonauten has been the recipient of numerous awards including, "Berliner Theatertreffen", 1996 and the National Theater Festival selection 1997, Seoul, Korea. Caplan produced the film, One To Four with British choreographer, Robert Poole which features Poole as performer. Additional film collaborations include works with Bruce Baillie, Richard Foreman, Yvonne Rainer and Susan Seidelman.

Caplan's work has received numerous awards, including:
1999-2000 Emmy Award for Outstanding Cultural Programming, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences;
2000 Cine Golden Eagle Award, Outstanding Cultural Series;
1996 Gold Award, Dance On Camera Festival at Lincoln Center, Best Documentary;
1995 Bessie Award for Best New Video Work; "Grand Prix International Video Danse,
1994", and the "Categorie Captation de Spectacle Prix Academie des Beaux Arts", Stockholm, Sweden;
1993 Grand Prize, New York Dance on Camera Festival; 1993 IMZ Dance Screen Award Grand Prix;
1992 IMZ Dance Screen Award for Best Documentary for Cage/Cunningham. Points In Space,
Changing Steps received The New York Times Critics Choice,
1990 Gold Award Dance On Camera Festival, and the 2nd Grand Prix International Video-Danse Festival, France.
Caplan's documentary art film on painter, Robert S. Zakanitch won the Chicago International Film Festival and the International Art Film Biennale at Centre George Pompidou, Paris. Film and video retrospectives have been presented in Portugal, Holland, Japan and the United States. Video installations were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, Buenos Aires (1999); Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York; The Jewish Museum, Vienna (1997); Whitney Museum of American Art, Philip Morris Gallery, New York (1995); and the Cartier Foundation, Paris (1996). Caplan's work is included in the following permanent collections: The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre George Pompidou and Cinematheque Francais, Paris, the National Institute of the Arts, Taiwan; Tanzfilm Institute, Cologne and the Munich Filmmuseum, Germany, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel, the Instituto Itaú Cultural, Brazil, and The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. He has taught courses, lectured and been in residence at colleges and universities in the United States and abroad including co-direction with Michael Kidd of the Dance/Film/Video Workshop at the Sundance Institute. Caplan has served as a panel member and juror for the National Endowment for the Arts, Mellon Foundation, Jacob's Pillow, IMZ Dance Screen, British Arts Council, Fulbright Fellowships, and the Sundance Film Festival.

"According to a fascinating but somewhat elliptical conversation between Felder and Caplan that takes the place of liner notes, this video-music work involved structural principles derived from Hebrew letters (which, according to Caplan, imply a sense of direction and movement as well as contain a numeric value). Indeed, "Shamayim" is Hebrew for "heavens", and the first two sections also carry Hebrew titles: the first, 'Chashmal', refers to the fiery radiance surrounding God on His chariot in Ezekiel's vision (Ezekiel 1:1-3); Felder himself translates the second, 'Sa'arah', as "stormy wind".
In all three movements (the last is called 'Black Fire/White Fire'), the computer-generated sounds draw principally on Isherwood's wide-ranging vocal virtuosity, while the video presents many images from nature— trees, a lake, clouds—sometimes supplemented by other images (luminous hexagons are prominent) and other video processing. Sometimes I almost hear a text; the musicologist in me would like to know the text and translation, if any, but the notes supply none. I'm struck by Felder's remark that the work is "operatic" in size—that it loses quite a bit if one's not able to see it projected in a dark hall on a big screen. I can imagine the work making an even stronger impression in such a venue.

As it is, I find Shamayim a complex and (in the best sense of the word) awesome work.
The music is abstract but not forbidding, and the images arresting and unforgettable. In particular, I'm glad to see Caplan's work. He's had a long career that includes collaborations with John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and the American composer Michael Gordon and hasn't gotten the attention that it deserves—most likely because the kind of theater that he's creating is so difficult to describe but so important to see."
- HASKINS (American Record Guide) 

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