Stokes Sound & Video Inc.
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Matching Sights to Sounds
by Kerry Coughlin, Akron Beacon Journal staff writer

     When Alan Balter conducts the Akron Symphony Orchestra in Stravinsky's Petrouchka ballet tonight, sound and video engineer A.J. Stokes will be directing his own symphony of sorts backstage at E.J. Thomas Hall.
      Stokes will lead three videographers and a technical crew in the orchestra's first live video experiment. A 10 by 14 foot jumbo screen will give the audience a close-up view of the conductor, plus the musicians and their instruments. More than 130 video shots of musicians will be shown during the 40-minute ballet, said Stokes, a Hudson resident.
     "It's probably about 40 minutes of sheer terror for me," he said.
     Timing the video images to the music is complicated. All shots must be framed, focused and cameras must be switched within precise variables. For example one timpani roll in Petrouchka lasts only three seconds before video cameras must switch to another musician.
      "They're not going to wait for us," Stokes said of the orchestra.
      The large video images are meant to give the audience a sense of closeness with the musicians. And for the first time, viewers may witness the intimacy between orchestra and conductor, whose back is always turned to the audience.
     Petrouchka, which is rich in solos, is the perfect piece to capture the energy of the orchestra close-up, Balter said.
     "The orchestration is so colorful," he said. "There are so many solos; there are so many combinations of instrumental color."
     The musicians are so comfortable with the piece, the conductor doesn't think they will become too distracted by the large screen that some of them may see out of the corner of the eye.
      The ballet Petrouchka was written to include a visual element, so Balter believes it is appropriate to add the video screen. The conductor, who has wanted to do the project for years, said he needed the right musical piece, finances and technical crew to make the experiment possible.
     According to Connie Linsler, executive director for the orchestra, "tonight's video venture will cost several thousand dollars."
     The project isn't intended to change the music at all or dictate how the audience members feel about the music, Linsler said. After the concert, the orchestra will gauge audience reaction through a written exit survey.
     Stokes will be so busy tonight, he won't see the big picture until he watches the videotape after the concert. With the assistance of his wife, Nancy, he'll be following his colorfully highlighted score, watching three small monitors and giving directions to the camera crew.

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