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STANFORD LIVE Cellist Maya Beiser will perform as part of the multimedia work "Linked Verse" Saturday at Stanford University. ,

Sunday afternoon, picking up my 3-D glasses in the lobby of Bing Concert Hall, I had no idea what to expect from the "Linked Verse" multimedia performance about to happen inside. This wasn't going to be "Hugo," that I knew. But what exactly would it be, this much-touted, East-meets-West collaboration between Stanford composer Jaroslaw Kapuscinski and a trio of digital artists, who call themselves the OpenEndedGroup?

The lights went out. A pair of musicians walked to center stage, like shadows.

Then began the immersion: long-drawn keening tones of the two performers, Maya Beiser (a famous new-music cellist) and Ko Ishikawa (master of the ancient Japanese court instrument known as the sho, a mouth organ). Their music -- drones and matched tones -- moved in mysterious slow motion, mirrored by the sensuous, almost languorous, video imagery (revolving urban vistas, forest flowers, the eyes of a cat) that rolled off the giant rectangular screen behind the performers and somehow made a beeline for my 3-D glasses.

Sparingly elaborated by additional music -- including ambient sounds and samplings of the performers, emerging from speakers surrounding the audience -- this was all adding up to something trippy. But a trip to where? Commissioned by Stanford Live in collaboration with numerous creative media centers around the world (and co-produced with the Stanford Music Department), "Linked Verse" felt open-ended, almost wishy-washy in its aspirations. Poetic association and ambiguity ruled during this second of two weekend performances, along with the sense of near-silence that saturated the hall as much as the music or the imagery.

Often during the work's 53-minute running time, the slow-mo eye of the camera -- with its "captured" shots from Tokyo and Kyoto, New York and San Francisco -- seemed as inscrutable as the eyes of the aforementioned cat.

If art is a reflection of culture, then from what culture does "Linked Verse" derive? An answer occurred to me: the culture of academia and museums, nonprofits and grantsmanship -- a hermetic world that increasingly funds the arts and has a special place in its heart for works like this one. At times, I was reminded of walking into a darkened room in a museum for some "special installation" where random images seem to flit across a screen.

But maybe that's too harsh a judgment. "Linked Verse" strives to be a meeting place for Western and Japanese aesthetics. Kapuscinski long has had an interest in traditional Japanese music and the Japanese concept of ma, or negative space, which posits a unity of form and non-form, of time and space.

Paul Kaiser of the OpenEndedGroup (whose other two members are Marc Downie and Shelley Eshkar) is fascinated by the Japanese poetic tradition of renga. It's a collaborative process: One poet writes three lines of verse, followed by another poet, who writes two more lines to complete the stanza. Then those last two lines open the next stanza, which is completed with three more lines by yet another poet. In this way, linkages of verse grow like chains, moving in unexpected and perhaps unexplainable directions.

Hence, "Linked Verse," a 21st-century collaboration out of which arises "webs of association," as Kaiser put it during a panel discussion following Sunday's performance. Kapuscinski spoke of the connections between his "dreamy" music and the "dreamlike ambiguities" of the imagery. Beiser, the cellist, spoke of "a whole world" that arises out of Kapuscinski's score, which consists of few notes. The music is more concerned, she said, with "sound and timbre. ... There are so many different ways that we can play one note."

I was of mixed mind. For all its ambition and technical ingenuity, the work seemed to fuzzily grasp after some unknowable goal. On the other hand, why not just surrender to its flow? There was a strange and undeniable beauty about much of what I was seeing and hearing: the unexpected partnership of cello and sho, their overlapping sounds of mourning and quiet interior reflection, complementing those long-drawn images of sad cities and endless rivers.

Contact Richard Scheinin at 408-920-5069, read his stories and reviews at www.mercurynews.com/richard-scheinin and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/richardscheinin.