Claps and Bangs: Film, Sound and Sync.

This essay was written in 2012 for a booklet to accompany the re-issue of a lost LP originally created in 1978 by CCMC, including Michael Snow on piano and trumpet, and John Oswald on alto saxophone. Because lack of funds prevented publication of the booklet I am publishing it here. Since it was intended primarily for distribution in North America, some terminology reflects that, ie the us of the word ‘faucet’ instead of ‘tap’

Claps and Bangs: Film, sound and synch.

In the 1980s, when working as an assistant film editor at the BBC, I came across a hand-written text that a colleague had attached to the wall of one of the corporation’s 120 film cutting rooms. Entitled The Beaufort Synch Scale, after the famous wind scale of the same name, this terse document defined degrees of loss of sync, from one to ten. The first level, corresponding to “smoke rises vertically” on Beaufort’s scale, was “stiff upper lip”, followed by level two: “loose lower lip” and so on. The tenth level (Beaufort’s “very widespread damage to vegetation”) was defined as “wrong film”. The Beaufort Synch Scale memorialized the perpetual and often ingenious struggle undertaken by film editors and their assistants to keep picture and sound in synchronisation, a consequence of the fact that in traditional film editing, picture and sound are recorded on separate media -celluloid film and its magnetically coated equivalent respectively- and remain thus until the final stage of the process, when a “married” print conjoins the two on a single strip of celluloid via a series of intermediate processes. Interestingly, “stiff upper lip” could be the product of the sound being slightly early, whereas most subsequent degrees of loss assume lateness of sound. This possibility points to another way in which film does not correspond to nature, where sound is always late relative to vision. (It has been a common practice of editors to synchronise the sound of explosions filmed from a distance when in reality the sound would follow some time after the image).

Wojciech Bruszewski’s Match Box (aka Audio Visual Experiment) (35mm, B&W, sound, 1975) is one of a small number of films that manipulates the synchronisation of sound and picture precisely to structure an experience of duration. In a broad sense sound plays some such role in most films, however, not all films give us such a direct, somatic experience as Match Box, in which the drift in synchronization between sound and picture engenders palpable physical-mental tensions in a particularly focused and acute manner. The film consists of two alternating, repeating shots described by its maker thus:

“1. A hand tapping a matchbox on the window-sill with the tap itself coming right in the middle of the take (90 frames).
2. An incomplete view of the window (30 frames).
The repeatable section of the picture (take 1+2) remains constant and lasts for 5 seconds (120 frames).
The repeatable stretch of sound, in which apart from the tap there is silence, is 5,O833 second long (122 frames). With each repetition of the action the sound falls behind the picture by another 0,083 seconds. This means that if in the first audio-visual variant the tapping is synchronous, the next synchronous tap will occur in variant 61” (1).

Thus the picture moves –rotates- forwards, while the sound moves in the opposite direction, shifting incrementally until it arrives back in synch after five minutes, at which point the film ends. The work’s efficacy turns on the contrast between its absolute structural transparency and the autonomic responses it stimulates and focuses, responses similar to those experienced when engrossed in a narrative movie.

Matchbox

As the sound in Matchbox starts to lag behind the picture, it feels as if it is still being generated by the box-tapping hand, but at a distance in time. One has the sense of there being a causal delay, or rather it feels that that is what one wants to impel: one strains to keep the causal link alive, well past any point of rationality. Next, a rhythm emerges between the box hitting the surface -the bang- and the cut to the window-sill, a rhythm composed of equally spaced image events with the sound event halfway between them; box tap, sound, cut-to-window-sill. This lasts for a short while, to be gradually replaced by the sound moving into conjunction with the picture cut. Once one realises that this is going to happen, a strong urge, a sense of anticipation, or alternatively, a willing for the sound to move forward, to accelerate so as to synchronise with the picture-cut, takes hold. This is eventually satisfied, yet it is an irrational satisfaction because the bang and the cut don’t naturally belong together, obviously. Even when the bang is in its rightful place, as generated by the box hitting the table, synch is only a function of framing: for synch to occur in a film or video, it’s necessary for us to see the event that generates the sound. As soon as picture and sound recording devices are spatially separated by even a few feet, synch is effectively lost, not because of the difference in speed between sound and light, but because the camera is no longer looking at what the microphone is recording. Godard demonstrates the way synch sound becomes effectively non-diegetic, and vice versa, in the Mozart farmyard chapter of Weekend (1968). In his film Videotape with Bicycle Sound (8’, colour, sound, video, 2001) the English filmmaker Colin Crockatt records himself on video setting off on a bicycle equipped with a mini-disc recorder. As soon as he leaves the frame –the camera is left behind on its tripod to film the park in front of it- the sound goes out of sync. Or does it? Insofar as camera and sound recorder are recording at the same time and broadly the same location, picture and sound could be said to be in synch, or at least contemporaneously conjoined, but in terms of cinematic conventions synch is lost, simply because the camera isn’t pointing at the source of the sounds on the soundtrack. This situation persists until Crockatt arrives back in frame at the very end of the video (2). Tim Bruce’s little-known precursor to this film Underground Movie (, 12′, 16mm, b&w, sound, 1973) rehearses a similar strategy. A cameraman (the film-maker John Smith) films inside a London Underground train. We hear what we take to be synch sound, but which doesn’t consistently fit the visual environment. Eventually a sound recordist with a Nagra tape recorder –Tim Bruce- steps onto the train, approaches the camera and taps the end of the microphone to create a definitive synch point, before walking away.

“Cutting on the beat”, which occurs twice in Match Box at the points where there is a cut to the window sill and a cut back, is considered by editors to be a dreadful filmmaking cliché, but that dread evidences a resistance to the strong desire for the mutually reinforcing integration of sound and image. Match Box, though, supersedes the cliché, or overhauls it, since the two points at which it occurs are integral moments in a continuous structure that is non-hierarchical in form but highly uneven as an experience.

One wants to stabilise and regulate certain rhythmic conjunctions or disjunctions, even though any given such moments only occur strictly once. However we seem to will certain rhythms to continue for several repetitions, and this says something about how we struggle to manage the material by ordering it into phases or stages. What we should do is surrender completely to the constantly drifting sync events, in which case the experience becomes disconcertingly ineffable.

The point in Match Box at which the bang synchronises with the cut to the window-sill arguably fits the definition of “wrong film”: the two events, though not entirely unrelated, do not belong together in any natural, causal sense, but that doesn’t weaken our sensation of there being a causal connection: the cut seems to cause the bang, or is it vice versa? This moment in the film illustrates Hume’s sceptical admonishments regarding our strong disposition to attribute causal connections to events that coincide with or succeed one another where there is no empirical evidence to warrant such an attribution.

The sound in Match Box is as much a music track as it is documentary sound, and its rhythmic beat connects it to the Sink section of Michael Snow’s film Rameau’s Nephew. In Sink, Snow drums with his hands on an empty sink (3). After a while he drops a plug into the plug-hole and turns on the faucet, continuing to drum as the water fills the sink to the very top, at which point he is splashing in shallow water, resulting in a kind of miniature version of kicking through waves. He then pulls the plug and continues to drum as the water empties out. In their discussion of this section of the film, Ivora Cusack and Stéfani de Loppinot focus on word play –sink / synch- and correspondences between the world and language, and between image and language: “The faucet figures language in many regards: a liquid flows out of it, just as language and its sound cascade from the mouth” (4). One could add: “pulling the plug” in a metaphorical sense: Snow pulls the plug on the sequence at its mid-point, after which its conclusion is inevitable. The water drains away like sand through an hour glass, and time runs out for the film. Conversely, the sound’s resonance increases as the quantity of water decreases: less is more, or rather, more air equates with more sound. This symmetry though is unbalanced in a sonic sense, because the sound of the sink filling is loud and splashy, whereas the emptying is much quieter, apart from the odd gurgle. Overall, in musical terms, there is a diminuendo, a splashy middle section, then a crescendo. This is just one of many symmetries in the film. The water, as well as changing the resonance of the sink contributes another sound to the mix, and comes close to dominating at the point where the sink is full. This mix is like a slow dissolve, but built in to the situation, arising organically from it.

snow sink

Sound rises from the sink, amplified by its highly resonant volume. Evidently the sink is made from something like fiberglass or thickly coated steel, but not porcelain, and not stainless steel either, which sounds a lot less “dry” than fiberglass. Snow enacts a primitive musical event, using the most natural of beaters –human hands- and a mass-produced, but primitive, resonating body –the sink (5). The latter is rectangular, and its proportions correspond quite closely to the aspect ratio of the film frame: 1: 1.33, corresponding to 3 x 4 in video parlance. Furthermore our angle of view on the sink is similar to Snow’s, so that a kind of symmetrical relationship is established between his extended hands and our directed gaze, which is drawn around the perimeter of the sink by Snow’s hand movements as he drums on its four edges. Curiously, the sink’s design is such that its apparently shorter sides align with the frame’s longer, horizontal ones, and while the sink is symmetrically centred in the frame, the composition as a whole is asymmetrical, with part of the draining board visible to our left and a wooden work surface on the right. The faucet extends into the frame from the bottom left area at a 45° angle, aligning diagonally with, and indicating, a different symmetry, that of the square within the frame’s rectangle (the “1” part of the 1: 1.33 aspect ratio). The sink, which resembles a drum in some important respects, becomes one, in the act of being so used. One could also think of it as a Foley artist’s tool: if one were to put the sound to the image of rain beating on a tar-paper roof, it would be hard to identify its true source.

Thus two essential components of a musical instrument, a sound generator and an amplifying device, are present in an absolutely transparent form. However, where most musical instruments contain these two elements, which are then manipulated by a third element, the performer’s hands, here the hands are both the means with which the “instrument” is played and the source of the sound itself, in the same sense as pizzicato string playing. From this perspective, then, there is a kind of short-circuit, or rather the performer and the instrument are one and the same in part, or rather, the instrument, like the synch sound, only exists at the moment of their conjunction. The instrument is virtual or potential, and unique at every occasion on which it is played: another sink and pair of hands, another instrument. The same applies to the space in which the performance takes place, since that is also a resonating body. The microphones and their placement introduce further levels of variability into the sonic outcome. Thus, from a simple event, transparent in its technological means and mode of execution, a complex of sonic possibilities becomes apparent. Hi-fi

enthusiasts are obsessed, if not distressed, by these variables. Entire houses have been rewired with oxygen-free copper or even more exotic materials, components cryogenically treated, and, specifically, listening rooms populated with sound absorbing objects in order to “tune” the space, to prevent it from contributing its own resonances to those of the recording, much as cinema auditoria are draped in sound-absorbing materials.

Sink’s resistance to this neurotic culture is embodied in the sound of the water, which in a sense interferes with the drumming sound. Its presence is necessary to affect the change in timbre but at the same time it imparts its own character on the total sound of the work. This is consistent with the work’s transparency of means, an ethic shared by both the films discussed here: no process may be introduced that does not inscribe its own contribution to the overall process into the work.

  1. http://www.voytek.pl/aindex.htm
  2. I discuss this film and related ones in my book Film Art Phenomena (BFI, 2003), pages 167-177.
  3. Rameau’s Nephew by Diderot (Thanx to Denis Young) by Wilma Schoen by Michael Snow, 16mm colour film, 266 minutes, 1970-74.
  4. Ivora Cusack and Stéfani de Loppinot, trans. Pip Chodorov: Rameau’s Nephew by Diderot (Thanx to Denis Young) by Wilma Schoen by Michael Snow, accompanying book to the Revoir VHS edition of the film, 2002, Paris: Exploding, pages 45-46.
  5. Steve Reich composed Clapping Music, for two pairs of hands, in 1972, right in the middle of the production period of Rameau’s Nephew.

 

 

Analogue Recurring at Lo and Behold, London E2, 18th July 2014. Preliminary report.

The latest Analogue recurring event was held in a much larger space, round the corner from the usual venue in Swansfield Street. A packed house on a hot evening were treated to twin-screen 16mm films, preceded by some single screen work and a Super 8 installation by Mai Spring, a recent graduate in Fine Art from the University for the Creative Arts in Canterbury. It is this work that I shall discuss, with further reports to follow on the rest of the work. Spring’s installation; Untitled (2014) uses the simplest and most basic means to create a film sculpture. In her use of marked clear leader, her work has something in common with Vicky Smith’s body of films, also made using clear 16mm.

In its original form Spring’s work consists of four elements; the film, a circular stone carving placed on the floor, a drawing and a book containing graphite-covered pages. All four elements are concerned with marking / mark-making (the work elides this distinction in interesting ways) and with the transfer, inadvertent or not, of marks from one surface to another. For example, the graphite in the book transfers itself to the fingers of the person handling it. Thereby marks migrate from one surface to another, creating new images, changing as they leave a trail of traces. The film consists of the loop with a hole punched in each frame. It is projected at three frames per second, well below the critical flicker threshold at which still images appear to move, but still an apparently quasi-moving image. (Derek Jarman used to show his S8 films at the same speed).

In the film-alone version, presented at Analogue Recurring, the image was projected onto a rough brick wall, such that the frame more or less covers the surface of a single brick. The slow projection speed is instrumental in creating the sense that the image not only modifies the appearance of the surface onto which it is projected, but fuses with that surface, creating a new third layer: at normal speed, the distinction between the moving image and the static projection surface would be arguably more visible.

Mai Spring 2

To put it in terms consistent with the account above, the forms within the film layer transfer to the wall, thereby modifying it. Similarly to some of Vicky Smith’s films, the image is less than nothing, an absence in a transparent medium (here for once the medium really is transparent!) But whereas Smith traces, from shot footage, recognisable forms into her clear celluloid, Spring simply punctures hers. The passage of light through these holes generate something out of nothing: an image made by the differences between refracted and unimpinged projected light, which becomes palpable in its luminosity. The projector contributes to the work, light leaking out of the lamp housing to create incidental projections onto the adjacent wall. It becomes in effect the physical fulcrum between the deliberate and the contingent, the intended and the accidental, the material and the ineffable.

Mai Spring 1

Wild Interior, work by Suky Best at Danielle Arnaud Gallery, 24th May to 15th June

Suky Best has a long-running fascination with the clash occasioned by encounters between well-groomed domestic interiors and nature run wild. In The Journey Home (1999) she ‘wanted to make an image as if the room was being menaced by vegetation…Trees might burst through windows to claim back their own’. She is also inspired by specific buildings, as in Walking Meditation (2000) made in and for Cleeve Abbey, a C13 Cistercian ruin in Somerset. A third concern is with the way the simplification of an image can disturb perception. This is achieved In the video series Wild West (2005), made in collaboration with Rory Hamilton, in which a group of cowboys on horses riding across the plain is reduced to a shimmering volatile block of colour from which all other information has been removed.

the journey home

These various interests and strategies are evident in the work shown here in Wild Interior, the latter most notably in An Observation of Flight (2010), in which a Peregrine Falcon’s movements, seen in silhouette, are tracked against a rotating latticework cage across and within which it flies. Reduced to a ragged white blur, the bird sometimes resembles a clutch of falling leaves or even paint dripping from a brush. The rotating grid pattern imposes a malleable three-dimensionality that clashes with the two dimensionality of the bird. Such clashes, or interplay, structure all the work seen here, which can be thought of as hybrid: time-based collages that combine non-temporal photo-reproduced elements, populated by cutout loops of footage of real birds, energized and animated by a virtual camera.

frame 1 an observation of flight

Alwyn Park House, (6’, 2011) is modeled on the form of the toy theatre, with its stack of printed cardboard flats that recede from the eye and between which figures can emerge and disappear. The house is a composite, constructed from stock photos of furniture and household effects found in stately home catalogues. Thus the objects represented in the film exist, but not in the configuration in which we see them here. The walls have been removed so that the remaining furniture comes to define the space it occupies as provisional. Doors have been made semi-transparent (and given thickened edges, since they are only paper-thin) in order to create a complex vista of succeeding spaces through which a virtual camera can fly. The work was partially inspired by Beatrix Potter’s wonderfully subversive The Tale of Two Bad Mice, in which the eponymous characters furiously smash up the food in a doll’s house into which they have trespassed, when they find it to be made of Plaster of Paris.

Alwyn Park House_frame 3

The first birds we encounter in the piece are crows. Best chose these birds because they live in proximity to man, are easy to film in parks and live in societies. They are also considered to be one of the most intelligent animals in the World, capable not only of using tools but of making them too. Thus while we tend to experience as despoiling their nonchalant pecking, perhaps they are in some sense entitled to occupy such an elevated environment. Yet, in the light-sucking blackness of their plumage, which contrasts with the pastel delicacy of lace tablecloths and pale yellow cake stands, they constitute a rude intrusion, evoking the trope of the unhomely that was elaborated with such shocking force in Hitchcock’s The Birds. In this pale setting the crows themselves become silhouettes, reappearing later in a room full of mirrors that have become apertures through which they are fleetingly visible as they fly past. These apertures transform the space into a kind of sieve, emphasizing the self-conscious process of making-transparent that Best employs through the film.

In At Betty’s House (2012) the quantity of information is further reduced, so that an environment somewhere between a room and its plan and elevation is realised. The spaces are constructed from a combination of images of real and dolls’ houses. With the floor beneath the carpet in the first shot removed, the latter seems to take on mass, projecting assertively into the void that separates it from the viewer, and throughout the piece the removal of information, combined with the way we fly through the spaces and between objects, generates multiple ambiguities and conflicts of scale: after leaving a large room we encounter a set of coffee and tea pots, beyond which lies a group of lemons. The way these elements are disposed was inspired in part by the still lives of the C16-17 Spanish painter Juan Sanchez de Cotán, whose invariably front or top-lit subjects; melons, cabbages, quinces, similarly hang in impenetrably dark spaces.

At Betty's House (still image 2)

As Betty’s pots are approached their cut-out nature becomes blatantly visible, followed by the lemons, which resolve into the matrices of their constituent colours; cyan, magenta, yellow. Thus we are shifted from one kind of seeing to another, one level of matter to another, from the image of a thing to its material constitution, in a single continuous sweep. Simultaneously our scale has shrunk from human sized to miniature as the lemons loom over us. There is perhaps a link back here to Best’s enthusiasm for cowboy iconography, in that the sensation evoked is reminiscent of the common scenario in Western movies where a group of riders pass through a narrowing defile (just before the Indians attack).

For Best the work ‘refers to the interior spaces of computer games and their first person point of view’, and although the piece is structured loosely round alternating views of corridors and object groupings, the whole is constructed as a continuous fly-through. The camera finds a path between all these contrasting elements, unifying everything it encounters into a sequence of surfaces to be negotiated. But this unifying process also generates the many anomalies of scale and texture that reveal the nature of the work’s construction. Here, perhaps, one might think of the way the inexperienced gamer finds himself bumping against the pixillated boundary wall of the game’s universe. But although gaming environments are often hostile and dangerous, they are never uncanny, as they are in Betty’s house, which the humans have abandoned, leaving an eerily empty scene reminiscent of that described in the story of the Mary Celeste.

All images courtesy of the artist and Danielle Arnaud, London.

http://www.daniellearnaud.com

http://www.sukybest.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Persistent Matters: Image, Materiality at Second Home, Hanbury Street, London, May 8th -15th 2014.

Image, Materiality, curated by Alexandra Hook, a second year student in Information Experience Design (IED) in the RCA School of Communication, and which included the work of a number of RCA students and graduates, was held in the vast ground floor space of the Atlantis building in Shoreditch, off Brick Lane. The space will soon become a trendy hangout for ‘creatives’, with its own bar and shisha lounge, but for the moment is a stripped-out concrete shell. This is a highly selective, preliminary report, not a comprehensive account of what was a large and fascinating show.

Light, Material,ws

There has been much talk of the ‘post-digital’ recently, but there are at least two definitions of the term. The first suggests that digital technology is so sophisticated and pervasive, and we have as a consequence become so emmeshed with it, that we no longer have to be preoccupied with, or conscious of, how it functions and can thus get back to the business of being human. The second sense is more literal: a return to materially based and hand-made ways of working. This show steers away from the first definition through its very foregrounding of technology, as well as embracing the second, in that several works are hand-made or make use of explicitly pre-digital media, such as audio-cassettes or the book. The ideological challenge to the idealist strain implicit in the first definition above needs to be exposed if we are not to be manipulated, assimilated and surveyed even more that we already are, and much of the work in this show constituted a rejection, if not an explicit critique, of this idealism. The following discusses a representative sample of the work in the show.

Jamie Jenkinson’s Fan on Fan consists of a projected video image of the rotating blades of a white electric fan, projected through the rotating blades of the same actual fan. The action of the fan blades breaks up the projector’s beam into its constituent colours, which fire in a three-colour cycle at such a speed that we normally perceive them as their composite, ie white light. The fan blade’s moving-image counterpart, the shutter, is an essential component of the technology for shooting and projecting films, which depend on the discontinuous presentation of multiple images to sustain an illusory movement. Here the shutter, the invisible sine qua non of the technology, becomes both subject and structuring device. The fan forms the work’s subject in the image while the actual fan’s presence threatens to destabilize that same image, partly through obscuring its projected counterpart and by breaking the light down into coloured bands. The work is circular (sic), in that an aspect of its own technology becomes its subject matter, which is then recycled via a projection system that disrupts it even as it appears to figure or reveal its functioning. The balance of elements favours the material presence of the video projector and the fan, with the modified image a tentative, albeit necessary presence, whose main function is to refer the viewer back to the precariously sustained conditions of its existence.

Fan on Fan reminds us that light becomes unruly when subjected to ordering processes. Its combined different wavelengths create complex problems in the design of lenses, for example, which have to be coated to eliminate colour-fringing, which is an effect of different wavelengths hitting the lens in slightly different places.

JJ.Fan.cu2

JJ.projection

Amy Dickson’s Primrose (Primula) is a seemingly straightforward double video projection of spring flowers, shot with a hand held camera that moves sometimes steadily and sometimes jaggedly across its subject. The projection onto a wall, an otherwise straightforward configuration, is subtly subverted by the second, on the floor. This latter, which is necessarily seen from an acute angle if one is to keep the first in view, presents itself sometimes as an image and sometimes as a patch of kinetic colour. The two come to relativise each other in a simple reminder, or prompt, that we are looking at an image of flowers, not real flowers, to paraphrase the spoken monologue in David Halls’ seminal TV work This is a Television Receiver of 1975. The issues raised by Hall’s work haven’t gone away and were echoed in a few of the works in the show. Large projections on walls in big spaces often invite the spectators to immerse themselves in the image. Dickson’s piece counters such invitations.

Amy

Another seemingly straightforward projection, Sally Troughton’s Set-aside (2013) establishes a simple situation in which the viewer becomes acutely aware of their psychological investment in the image. A gold and silver thermal blanket, attached to two cords held by an out of view operator standing near the camera, dances chaotically in a stubbled winter field. As the wind catches it, it forms ephemeral, billowing shapes, voluminous and bio-morphic, but much of the time it is caught by the stubble and lies inert on the ground. One finds oneself willing it to take flight and hence becomes aware of one’s palpable mental investment, notwithstanding the simplicity of the stimulus, in both the physical and mental sense. The stark contrast between ‘nature’ and the hi-tec fabric gradually breaks down as one realizes that the uniform and precisely aligned stalks of stubble similarly evidence the activities of highly sophisticated technology.

Troughton

Kelvin Brown’s Johannesburg Tapes (2014) consists of a series of audio recordings made on a recent Triangle Fellowship residency there. Brown interviewed a number of people involved in what was for many years the semi-legal or illegal South African music scene. A comfy sofa and headphones helped to ease the demands of attending to time based works in galleries, especially as there are several hours of listening here. All the work is presented on audio- cassettes, because this is how banned music was circulated in the Apartheid years. The cassettes thus join this floating archive, much of it music sent to South Africa from abroad, contribute to and comment on it, explicitly since some of the recordings discuss precisely this question of the music’s circulation. One consequence of the banning of any music considered to be subversive is that Johannesburg’s vast second hand record shops are some of the least interesting anywhere, dominated by Abba, Genesis, and Bee Gees LPs. The recordings can be accessed via the link below.

A number of works asserted their physicality, their object-hood over and above anything else, even while pointing to strong contrasts between physical form / medium, and ‘content’. Matthew La Croix’s Untitled (2010) is a reproduction of an edition of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s famous 1957 novel La Jalousie (Jealousy). Moulded in Corian, a material used to make high-end kitchen work surfaces, the book is, in La Croix’s words, rendered: ‘entirely surface, demoted to an anti-text or an object in a material specifically man-made’. The book is reduced to its cover, yet it exists as a substantial thing. Placed on the floor, so that it could not thus be read, its outward form is further emphasized. Yet there is a kind of correspondence between the form of this precision-made quasi-sculpture and the book’s contents, since the latter is concerned with a minutely detailed description of the physical layout and construction of a house, and the surrounding banana plantation which is the novel’s setting, and which is itself described in precise geometrical terms and measurements. In another sense, one which gestures to the show’s ambivalent attitude to digital technologies, books embody all the virtues supposedly unique to computer functions: they are randomly accessible and re-readable, pages can be browsed –scanned- and revisited at the flick of a finger. Beyond this books don’t crash and aren’t dependent on imminently obsolete platforms. No batteries are required.

Jalousie

Marianne Spurr’s Untitled (2014) was made from materials found on-site. A cast was made from a fluorescent light fitting and both mould and resulting object shown side by side. Spurr’s sculpture, one of several floor works in the show, is emblematic of the way good art comes out of the limitations imposed by the necessity of using whatever is to-hand. It offers a new kind of take on the idea of site-specificity. We see both found object, the plastic cover for the fluorescent tube, and the white plaster cast taken from it. The work is both found and made, and raises interesting questions about originality and making, and the originality of making: is the cast itself original or a kind of object that is found at one remove, in the sense that, though literally made by the artist, it is derived from something that was not? Does this make it half-original, and is that possible? Like Matthew La Croix’s Corian book, the sculpture is a kind of negation of that from which it is derived, yet connected to it. Beyond their intimate formal fit, the plaster cast cannot function as a light, yet it is highly reflective and hence light-like, much lighter indeed than the light fitting from which it derives.

Floor Piece

http://www.jamiejohnjamesjenkinson.com

http://www.amydickson.co.uk

http://www.sallytroughton.co.uk

http://www.mariannespurr.com

Kelvin Brown: http://www.thetriangleconference.org/archives/2593

http://ied.rca.ac.uk/

 

New work by Gareth Polmeer

Gareth Polmeer: New work at Screenscapes, programmed by Collective-iz at Apiary Studios, Hackney Road, London, March 28th, 2014.

 

For some time Gareth Polmeer has been making short loop pieces by re-working original video footage, usually of land and seascape. His working method takes advantage of some specific possibilities offered by digital video editing, and builds on a tradition of image manipulation beginning in the analogue / TV era, specifically that developed by Steina and Woody Vasulka from the early 1970s onward.

In his experimental video work C Trend (1974), Woody Vasulka disrupted the stable image, shot from a window overlooking a street, by manipulating the vertical and horizontal timing parameters –the video ‘frame’- of the signal from the camera, leading to a kind of indexical image that is non-representational, but in which the image content –passing cars- can be inferred from the traffic noise on the soundtrack. The work makes explicit the fact that an iconic video image must be stabilized in temporal as much as spatial terms, indeed the spatial and temporal co-ordinates are effectively indistinguishable. However, whereas much of Woody and Steina Vasulkas’ work has been made by manipulating voltages that control aspects of the camera signal in real time through the Rutt-Etra Scan Processor, Polmeer reconfigures his original footage in post-production, exploiting the possibilities for the minute reordering of the component lines of the image in digital editing, whereby he can isolate single rows of pixels so as to turn them into a non-iconic representation that is temporally multiple. But whereas C-Trend manipulates the timing control voltages of an image whose temporality itself remains unchanged, Polmeer’s work recombines single lines of image from different frames of an original sequence of several seconds or more. This method is underpinned and validated by the fact that the ‘Rolling’ shutter common to most modern camcorders (and cameras) exposes the light-sensitive sensors line by line from top to bottom, much like the mechanical shutter found on cine film cameras.

‘Images of sky and sea on the horizon form linear bands of colour through the spatial and temporal composition of scan lines.The videos are composed of multiple instances of recordings looking out to sea. These have been layered and masked in different configurations with areas one pixel in height, each offset by varying iterations of 1/25th of a second from the next. These layers are duplicated, inversed and reversed for a looping projection such that the images develop through one another like a palindrome, with the textures a series of colour fields; a semblance of nature out of the contradictions and compressions of the video-graphic image structure’ (Polmeer)

 

Gareth 1

Gareth 2

 

Thus on a spatial/compositional level, the work is a kind of collage, in which an image is cut into very thin horizontal layers, which are reassembled into a different order. This same process also takes place in the temporal dimension, so that the lines from different moments in time are also displaced and repositioned. Spatial inversion and temporal reversal further remove the constituent lines from their original place and function, to create a mirror-formed loop, a mirror within a mirror.

In a similar but different way to C-Trend, the work isolates and foregrounds the presentational form of the video image as compounded from lines. In cathode ray TVs, the image is scanned onto the screen in a series of left to right, top to bottom lines. In other words it is inherently linear. In modern flat screens and projectors, the pixels are always ‘on’, and their brightness is controlled by the rapid variation in the voltages applied to them, in order to change the composition of the image over time, ie to generate an apparently moving image. However, the composition of the image is still linear, and this is what Polmeer’s piece exploits.

Like the images in C-Trend, the viewer still has the sense that they are looking at footage of something, and the composition still bears some kind of relationship to a landscape. It appears –seems- to have sky, water, perhaps grass. But whereas the soundtrack in C-Trend proffers a didactic address, by which the viewer can find a way into the image and begin to understand, in a non-technical sense, what is going on, Polmeer’s piece turns more on the incipient abstractness of all images, but crucially extending this into an effect of temporal manipulation proper to time based images.

Links:

http://www.xviix.com/

http://www.garethpolmeer.com/

http://www.vasulka.org/Videomasters/pages_stills/index_19.html

 

 

 

 

Unconscious Archives at Café OTO and Apiary Studios, November 1st and 2nd

The first of two Unconscious Archive events with the title The Perfect Medium is the Wrong Message was presented at Café OTO, Dalston, to a packed house. The evening, curated by Sally Golding and James Holcombe, comprised a mixture of Hallowe’en themed performances by Aura Satz, Sally Golding, Malcolm LeGrice, Amy Dickson and ‘Sir Gideon Vein’. Perhaps one way to discuss the work shown is in terms of ‘Paracinema’ a term first coined by the US filmmaker Ken Jacobs and more recently developed and theorised by the critic and teacher Jonathan Walley in relation to work made by the filmmakers Anthony McCall and Tony Conrad in the 1970s. Walley proposes a kind of ‘cinema’ based around the fundamentals of light and time, and not necessarily those components such as celluloid, which have usually been considered indispensible to what we understand cinema to be. The other linking themes were fire, deployed in two of the works, and screens, which functioned as interrupted and uninterrupted surfaces, and as veils.

The purest para-cinematic work of the evening was Amy Dickson’s Light Time, in which she creates a time-based event by lighting candles placed in five rows of five behind a dark thermochromic screen. The candles are lit one by one then extinguished. The duration is variable, as are the effects, in which areas of the screen lighten as they are heated by the candles. The flicker of the candle flames is visible as well as the whitened areas, such that different speeds of movement and change are simultaneously visible: the candles flicker at ‘normal speed’, while the heated areas change slowly, taking longer to return to black after the candle has been extinguished than they take to whiten when they are lit. The areas at the top of the screen are larger, presumably because the heat rising from below increases the effect. A third temporal element is Dickson’s performance itself, which is ultimately limited by the time it takes to light and extinguish the candles, but which usually takes longer than this. The complex mix of temporalities recalls some of David Hall’s TV Interruptions (1971), in which time-lapse, real time and static elements are effectively  co-present.

Dickson

Amy Dickson: Light Time.

Malcolm LeGrice’s Horror Film 1 (1971) could also be said to be para-cinematic. Like Tony Conrad’s Pickled 3M 150 (1974), for which Conrad pickled some 16mm film, and Anthony McCall’s Long Film for Ambient Light (1975), a work consisting of an empty room lit by daylight in the day and electric light at night, it references cinema while vigorously opposing its technical-industrial norms. Three projectors are used, but they carry loops of pure colours, that is, minimally ‘filmic’ material. Thus there are no images as such, but LeGrice’s interactions with the projections bring performance, pulsating light, colour and sound (of the projectors) into dramatic conjunction, focused on the screen as multi-coloured shadow-play. Most of the elements of narrative cinema are present; projectors, film, an actor, a performance, time, sound and a structure with a beginning middle and end, yet the end result is as unlike a conventional movie as it’s possible to imagine. Horror Film 1 remains one of LeGrice’s simplest, most elegant and dramatic works in a series of meta-cinematic studies that he made through the late 1960s and early 70s.

Horror 1

Horror Film 2

Malcolm LeGrice: two moments from Horror Film 1

In Sally Golding’s Face of An Other faces and torsos are precisely projected onto the artist’s face and body to produce what at times looks like a kind of virtual veil, while at other moments seems to transform the artist’s face in more or less grotesque ways. The illusionism of the work has been transformed in a more complex and abstract way in her more recent performances, where the image is pulverised by the use of strobe light and other elements that supplement the projected images.

Golding 2

Sally Golding: Face of An Other

Aura Satz’s film-performance Sound Seam combined extreme close up images of records being cut on a cutting lathe, with a collage of ghostly recorded voices. At the side of the screen Satz manipulated a hand-cranked 78 rpm record player on which was placed a glass box containing a candle. The work wove rotational graphic images with the flickering of real fire and whispered voices to generate a range of ethereal effects.

Satz 1

Aura Satz: Sound Seam.

 

Living Film at No.w.here

Living Film comprised an evening of single and double screen films, a film and food happening by Victoria Schmidt  and a peep show performance by Birgitta Hosea. The evening, held at No.w.here in Bethnal Green on October 16th, was curated by Karel Doing and Vicky Smith, and the title has at least two meanings; the first pertaining to the fact that film is still with us, and the second because the work comprised either live elements, or, as in the case of most of the single screen films, imagery created with body fluids. Animal-mineral film –gelatin, silver and celluloid- mingled with blood, hair, fire and saliva. The forensic nature of the film image, a tiny patch of matter magnified hundreds of times, clashes with film’s kinesis to produce unique, unexpected, medium-specific hybrid forms. In the case of Thorsten Fleisch’s Blutrauch (1999), swirls of blood periodically coalesce into explosive, crab-like forms, while Patti Gaal-Holmes’ Blutrauch: die ende der Geschichte, remakes Fleisch’s film in menstrual blood, resulting in a more globular, sticky image, so much so that the projector jammed a few times, testifying to the fact that we were watching original material, not a print, in the manner exemplified by Emma Hart’s Skin Film (2005-7), a work that no longer exists because microbes in the skin flakes that form the image have eaten that image into invisibility. Vicky Smith’s 16mm film Noisy Licking and Spitting (2013) was particularly alive with eruptive living material, ending with dramatically bubbling saliva forms. Cathy Rogers’ Rosemary Again and Again (unsplit Standard 8 presented as 16mm, 2013) is a deceptively simple work made by wrapping film around a rosemary bush and exposing it to light. This crude process generates complex layers of depth and shallowness. A knowledge of how the work was made in no way reduces it to an illustration of the process. On the contrary, it offers a way into what at first appears to be a chaotic jumble of lines, streaks and patches of light, but which on careful viewing can be seen to capture a complex of variable interactions between bush and filmstrip. At the end of the evening a dry reprise was provided by James Holcombe and Asnan Adams’ Hair in the Gate (2013), in which the hairs pushed into the gate briefly caught fire before being extinguished.

In between these single screen works was a variety of other highlights, including George Saxon’s rediscovered early work: Blissfully Gunned Down (1980), a fragmentary, two screen film loop of his late partner falling to the ground as if shot by an imaginary gun, and in which more bangs are added the soundtrack during projection by the artist’s scratching the loops as they pass through the projector. Saxon has a body of wonderful, performance based, twin screen films that deserve a retrospective screening. A contrast to this noisy work was provided by two installed loop projections by Louisa Fairclough: Drawn up by some Breathing (2013). Both loops have no perceptible image and only a barely audible soundtrack, the exact content of which is more or less impossible to discern against the noise of the projector and other sounds. In leaning close in to the projector to hear the sound, one experiences in a very physical way the machine’s functioning, such that the work becomes about this as much as anything else. By reducing content to a minimum, Fairclough’s pair of films achieve a novel balance between projector beam and image, and projector noise and sound.

The statement by the organisers / programmers (should they be called curators?) amounts to a manifesto, in which film is reclaimed (again) as an artistic, above all experimental medium:

“We refer to Living Film with respect to the reversibility of the terms: film as object that is activated through physical contact and film as an ongoing mode of material practice… This program…focuses on the use of film as a living material. In mainstream cinema every trace of physical contact is removed from the film material, but with the disappearance of film from the industry, the medium is liberated from this armour…At stake here is not just an artistic concept or method but the formation of a strategy towards an alternative filmmaking ecology: working with cheap or out of date film stocks; bartering knowledge for materials; finding cooperative forms for using resources and equipment”.

Fleisch

Thorsten Fleisch: Blutrausch (16mm, 1999)

P Gaal Holmes

Patti Gaal-Holmes: Blutrauch die Ende der Geschichte (16mm, 2013).

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Vicky Smith: Noisy Licking and Spitting (16mm, 2013)

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Cathy

Two frames from Cathy Rogers’ Rosemary Again and Again (unsplit Standard 8, 2012)

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James Holcombe and Asnan Adams: Hair in the Gate (16mm, 2013).

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George Saxon: Blisfully Gunned Down (2 x 16mm, 1980).

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Two views of Louisa Fairclough’s Drawn up by some Breathing (16mm, 2013)