Johns Hopkins Magazine -- November 1999
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Kicking off the millennial revelry
Artisan insights from a butler's tomb
The Jubilee Year revisited

Tobey (center) is collaborating with Charles Kim (l) and David Wetzel on Times Square 2000.
Photos by
Craig Terkowitz
Kicking off the millennial revelry

Performers want an audience. In a few months, Forrest Tobey (Peabody '97), Charles Kim (Peabody '99), and David Wetzel (Peabody '99) may have one numbering in the gazillions.

December 31 of this year is popularly regarded as the millennial New Year's Eve. As a consequence, Times Square 2000, this year's revels in New York City, will begin at 7 a.m.--midnight in Fiji-- and acknowledge the changing of the year in each succeeding time zone during the course of a 24-hour celebration. Among the live performances, indeed the first live performance from the outdoor stage on the square, will be Tobey, his electronic wands, and a digital virtual orchestra.

Tobey is a computer music researcher, composer, and performer best known around Hopkins for his work with the Buchla Lightning. The Lightning is a sensing system that permits him to direct a computer music performance by means of two infrared wands. He conducts with the wands, like an ordinary symphony conductor using a baton. A computer monitors Tobey's motions and plays digital music under his direction. He controls entrances, tempo changes, and dynamics, and the computer responds to his commands much like a live orchestra.

In New York, he will conduct his own composition, Times Circle, commissioned for the event. "They wanted some music that would really celebrate world culture," he says. "I'm trying, in all of six minutes, to do a quick hurdle around the world. I start with didgeridoo and a hollow log, real primitive music, and then move from there to increasingly more sophisticated music, things like singing bowls and cymbals. Then we move into tabla and some choral singing, finally ending with a combination of gamelan and a little bit of jazz feeling." Once that ends, Tobey will go right into Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, reorchestrated for electronic instruments.

At 4 p.m., organizers plan a light show, and they've tapped Tobey again. He will conduct another of his new pieces, titled Jaya hai!, a Hindi exclamation of joy.

As the lead-in to midnight, Tobey will conduct once more with the Lightning. This time the piece will be Kim's Anthem for the Millennium. "It's a very traditional chorale using the same harmonic language as Bach," Kim says. "But we're adding to that by orchestrating it for electronic instruments." The piece will include the recorded sound of Peabody faculty member Donald Sutherland playing the new Holtkamp organ.

Producing all of this is Wetzel, who will be on the scene to wrangle equipment and be, as he says, "the man behind the curtain." He notes, "We have to come up with a hardware and a software system that's bulletproof. We're locked into a TV timeline. I've never planned anything this carefully in my life. It's the computer music equivalent of Evel Knievel jumping the Snake River canyon."

Wetzel is also writing software for the performances: "I'm taking the conducting system that Forrest has developed and adding the other half of it, which is the expressive instruments that follow the conductor. I'm building the virtual players, what we're calling a virtual orchestra. Forrest's conducting system is really sensitive to his gestures. What we don't have yet is an engine to actually make sounds that will respond as sensitively as real instruments would." Wetzel's virtual players will have human-like idiosyncrasies. The trumpets, for example, will not all attack a note at the same time. The idea is to replicate the complex variety of a human ensemble. As Tobey explains, "The sounds that come out of the computer will have a certain amount of musical intelligence."

Peabody director Robert Sirota is advising the trio, and Geoffrey Wright, head of the computer music department, is serving as artistic director. "It's a scary thing, but really an exciting project," says Wetzel. "People ask me, 'You working New Year's?' And I say, 'Yeah, I got a gig.'" --Dale Keiger

Paintings from the tomb of S-em-niwet, royal butler to King Amenhotep II.
Artisan insights from a butler's tomb

Been there, dug that.

Betsy Bryan, the Alexander Badawy Professor of Near Eastern Studies, began working on an archaeological dig in Egypt in 1994. The dig, known as Theban Tomb 92 (TT-92 for short), is the site of a tomb for Su-em-niwet--the royal butler to King Amenhotep II, who ruled Egypt from 1427 to 1400 BCE. Bryan has now completed her on-site work, which has yielded valuable insights into how ancient tomb painters worked.

"Tomb painting has always been studied for subject matter," Bryan says. "Now people can go beyond the descriptive texts [of the paintings' contents] and think about other issues."

Though Su-em-niwet was designated as Amenhotep's butler, it would be a mistake to think of him as merely a pharaonic Jeeves. "The royal butler was something between the secretary of state and the chief of staff. He was responsible for provisioning and running the palace. The king would send him on diplomatic missions," explains Bryan.

His tomb includes a three-room chapel at entry level, and two other chambers reached via burial shafts. Bryan and her teams of Hopkins students and scholars from other institutions have found 10 sets of remains in the shafts, and an additional 50 in an adjacent tomb that robbers had broken into some years ago. She did not discover the TT-92 site but is the first researcher to study it in detail.

For unknown reasons, the tomb was left unfinished, and this has allowed Bryan to study paintings in various stages of completion, which reveals much about how the painters worked. She has pioneered a technique of tracing each stage of a painting on a clear plastic overlay to show the work's progression.

The artisans, she discovered, were less organized than previously assumed. She has uncovered evidence of improvisation, experimentation, and individual technique. For example, one painter wanted to give a sheen to the skin of a female figure, so he went over parts of the painting with what chemical analysis shows to have been vegetable oil. In another part of the tomb, another painter used animal glue to apply a similar sheen to a figure's hair. "Each group of artisans had its own way of doing things," Bryan says. "Yet the outcome is homogeneous."

The TT-92 researchers have been able to reconstruct where artisans worked, how they prepared their materials, what sort of pigments they used, and how they combined them to create various colors. Bryan has a graduate student looking into the economic value of art 3,500 years ago, using ancient receipts that pertain to the tomb paintings. By subtracting amounts spent for materials, she says, "you can come up with a figure that shows what the artistic portion was worth."

Researchers have found a significant quantity of linens in the tomb and turned up a lot of bones, which are being examined to determine through DNA analysis if the remains belong to members of the same family. One quirky aspect of TT-92 is that no one knows who, exactly, was buried there. Are the bones of Su-em-niwet among the recovered remains? Were his parents entombed in one of the burial shafts? His children?

She expects the various specialists analyzing material from the tomb to complete their reports by the end of next year. These reports will become part of her final work, which she hopes to publish in 2001. Meanwhile, she expects to begin work on a new project next April--a largely unexcavated temple at Karnak, on the east side of the Nile across from Luxor. The temple was dedicated to Mut, the wife of the god Aman. --DK

Photo courtesy Alessandro Tomei
The Jubilee Year revisited

While some New Year's revelers will be welcoming the millennium with champagne-soaked parties, an estimated 45 million Christians from all over the world will trek to Rome in 2000 to seek absolution for their sins from the Pope. It's a custom launched in 1300 when Pope Boniface VIII (depicted below) inaugurated the Jubilee, or Holy Year, and it has thrived now for seven centuries.

In an effort to revisit the Rome of the first Jubilee Year, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences dean Herbert L. Kessler and Johanna Zacharias have written a book titled Rome 1300: On the Path of the Pilgrim, which is due out in spring 2000 by Yale University Press. The duo illustrated the book with works of art and architecture "that survive today in surprising number--churches and their decorations, and other significant monuments--as well as lost works that have been reconstructed and revitalized through scholarship," notes Zacharias, who is Arts and Sciences' director of communications.The goal of the narrative, she says, is to give readers a chance to peer over a hypothetical pilgrim's shoulder "and take part in the experience of the Christian visitor to Rome at the end of the Middle Ages."

The fragment of a fresco, above, shows Pope Boniface VIII addressing the faithful at his coronation (he reigned from 1297 to 1303). The fresco, widely attributed to the Florentine painter Giotto (which some scholars dispute), once adorned a ceremonial balcony that the Pope had constructed for just such appearances. Today the remnant is preserved on a pier within the basilica of Saint John Lateran. --Sue De Pasquale