Next gig: this Tuesday. Unconscious archives #2.

Friday 9 September 2011

Yes it’s short notice but I just found out myself. Dear Reader, you are always the first to know about these things, because I care about you.

Still full of myself after the gig at ABJECT BLOC in July, I’ve agreed to play as part of and Other Film’s Unconscious archives #2. If you missed the Limehouse gig, this is another chance to hear the Mock Tudor live analogue electronic feedback loops, made from small amplifiers, mixers and modulators. Connected into circuits these gadgets start to oscillate and interact with each other in unpredictable ways.

I’ll be supporting Korean filmmaker and performer Hangjun Lee, with local musician, poet, performer, filmmaker and legend Hugh Metcalfe. Tuesday 13th September, Apiary Studios, 458 Hackney Rd, London, E2 9EG. It’s a £4 donation and you can – nay, must – bring your own booze. Don’t worry, there are plenty of offies in the steret. 8pm onwards.

This is the New Music: Mock Tudor III (for real)

Thursday 4 August 2011

Mock Tudor III (variant)

I’ve taken down the old test recording of Mock Tudor III (variant) and replaced it with a much better recording. This gives you a pretty good idea of what my gig in July at ABJECT BLOC sounded like. Everything you hear is live sound from the output of feedback loops, created by connecting signal processors and mixers into circuits, and which can in turn be fed into each other. There are no edits or overdubs, and the only post-production is a bit of crude mastering.

Because my YouTube account was getting lonely, I even made a video of the performance. Rejoice in the sedentary stage life of the electronic composer!

The evolution of my video style: a pictorial history

Friday 11 March 2011

In 2008, Fiona Macdonald made a flat, white video for my installation at her Redrawing show.

In 2010, I made my own video for a performance of String Quartet No.2 (Canon in Beta), and uploaded it to YouTube.

In 2011, my piece This Is All I Need was performed as part of Interior Design: Music For The Bionic Ear, with a video projected against the back wall.

Next year, I expect I shall make a video that is solid black.

Rescreening: String Quartet No.2 (Canon in Beta)

Sunday 14 February 2010

When String Quartet No.2 (Canon in Beta) was exhibited as part of Redrawing in 2008, I added a video component to it, as a structural gesture to the work’s origins, and acknowledgement that it was being exhibited in a show of visual art. Fiona Macdonald kindly made me a video of a blank, white screen, which played on a continuous loop in the room while my cheap Malaysian laptop sat on a shelf and performed the music.

When I was asked to play the Quartet at the Vibe Bar last month I was also asked if I had a copy of the video to go with it. Even though I didn’t, I said yes, figuring that (a) it surely couldn’t be that hard to make a video of flat, solid white and (b) however bad it turned out it couldn’t be worse than having some random VJ doodling crap all over the wall behind you while you’re trying to play some music.

As it turned out, (b) the lovely people at Music Orbit don’t pull that gratuitous VJ shit, and (a) about as time consuming and frustrating as I thought it might be. There’s a video button on my little digital camera, which I’d never switched on before. I balanced the camera on a stool, pointed it at a flat white panel on a door, and let it roll.

You’d think there’d be nothing simpler, but it took a few goes and some playing around with the settings before I got something slightly acceptable. The gloomy English skies of January didn’t help much either, and I got 10 minutes of fairly solid grey. I played this back on my computer and made a handheld video of the screen. After too much time messing about with the movie editor software that came free with the laptop I got the final product, a soft grey that complements the muted monchromaticism of the music.

As the resulting video is a remake of a pre-existing work (originally made for an exhibition about remakes), and is itself a video of a video, the title Rescreening seemed apt. The 10-minute duration of the Vibe Bar performance makes it an ideal fit for YouTube, where you can play it to your heart’s content.

The Strange Case of Dr. Chicago

Thursday 23 July 2009

One thing I forgot I wanted to talk about when mentioning Alvin Lucier last month was his starring role in George Manupelli’s Dr. Chicago trilogy*. I first heard about these films only last year, over at Renewable Music, where Daniel Wolf suggests that Lucier is the composer with the most prominent film career.

(Possible runner up, Erik Satie in Entr’acte. John Cage makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in Maya Deren’s At Land, and almost had a part in La Dolce Vita, but didn’t.)

The thing that reminded me was Kyle Gann has just posted about these films, and mentions that Robert Ashley made the soundtracks for them. That’s something else I didn’t know before but do now.

I’ve only seen short excerpts from each film, on YouTube and Manupelli’s website. They look like a mixture of cinéma vérité, awkward improvisation, and flights of deadpan absurdity. A lot of that last element comes from Lucier’s portrayal of the nefarious Dr. Chicago as he flees with his meagre entourage across the United States into Mexico. His Chicago combines the feckless insouciance of Nick Riviera with the calculating amorality of Burroughs’ Dr. Benway deprived of a budget.

* “There was also a fourth film, Dr. Chicago Goes to Sweden, but Manupelli got pissed off at a film festival in Toronto and drove around town with the only copy of the film unreeling out the window of his car.”

Filler By Proxy LXVI: Ist das Leben nicht schön?

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Right after Die Hard, A Christmas Story and Lethal Weapon, It’s A Wonderful Life is my fourth-favourite christmas movie. Last year I linked to Gilbert Sorrentino’s remarkable interpretation of Capra’s movie as an essay in digust with modern American life. This year’s heartwarming message of cheer comes from Soho the Dog: Strauss and Mahler re-enact It’s A Wonderful Life.

I have a feeling we’re not in Crouch End any more.

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Soon after arriving home from Australia I caught a few minutes of a TV show on one of the more obscure digital TV channels available in London. An American couple were walking lost around some empty streets in – a town. (I’m tempted to say an inner suburb, but even that statement is too revealing.)
According to the story, the couple had just been married in America and had come over to London to spend their honeymoon in Crouch End – you know, the same way tourists flock to New York to go sightseeing in Queens. Even though this was one of those cheap TV programs which always frames the actors’ heads as tightly as possible, and even though I’ve only been to Crouch End once, and then at nighttime, I instantly recognised where these two were; and it wasn’t Crouch End.
They were in Melbourne. North Carlton, to be precise. My girlfriend’s from south of the river and so thinks it was Middle Park, but I’m feeling cocky and reckon it was around Station, Fenwick, and Canning Streets. Something about the houses, the light, the width of the streets, immediately made the place unmistakable, even when partially glimpsed in the background.
I wonder if anyone in Britain would have been fooled by the substitution? No Londoner would have, even if they had never been near Crouch End. It’s possible, however, that they might assume it was filmed somewhere else in England. An American wouldn’t have a chance in picking this deception.
In time you come to know a city the way you come to know a face. It’s not just in the skylines, or the streetscapes, but in the way the people inhabit their space. On another TV show years ago, an Australian documentary, a friend and I watching immediately called out “Melbourne” when the film cut to a brief shot of a group of people walking down a street. The narration later proved us right: it was something about the way they were casually drifting off the pavement onto the street itself that couldn’t happen in any other large Australian city (except Adelaide, but that city always gives itself away.)
With the increase of Hollywood-funded filmmaking in Australia, these places have been turning up more and more often, the streets and buildings as actors, playing a fictional role. Sometimes they play disguised under heavy make-up – I once watched a corner of the University of Adelaide transformed into a Parisian street for a TV commercial – but often they appear as they are, expecting the viewer to mentally substitute the fictional location for the real (or is it the other way around?)
For the non-Australian majority, these urban locations act effectively as generic Western cities, shot without any readily identifiable landmarks in sight. Their acting function is less as a supporting role, and more as an extra, faceless and interchangeable. If Peter Jackson made New Zealand a stand-in for the otherworldly, then Australian cities have been made a stand-in for the real world.

(Crossposted at Sarsaparilla.)

Filler by Proxy LVII: Things Ain’t What They Seem

Thursday 27 December 2007

Because it’s that time of year, I’m working up a short list of best-ofs for 2007. It’s the fashion. Last December Georgina Hibberd posted at Sarsaparilla her list of books for the year, with the twist that the books did not necessarily have to be published in the past 12 months. In fact, it was preferable for them to be older. It’s such a good idea I’m going to steal revive it for a follow-up article posted on Sarsaparilla in the next day or two. Gilbert Sorrentino will be mentioned.
Because it’s that time of year, It’s A Wonderful Life has probably been on a telly somewhere near you. It’s the tradition. While it’s fresh in your head, you might enjoy Sorrentino’s brief, but thorough, demolition of the illusion that movie strives to portray.
Capra’s greatest film, It’s a Wonderful Life, is a curious example of a work that means precisely the opposite of what it seems to say. Its true message is, in the context of Capra’s oeuvre, a surprising one: Money is everything. Although the film is usually read as the pinnacle of the Capraesque ideal of grassroots optimism, I would argue that its subtext calls this optimism into serious question. In effect, the film encapsulates a disgust and anger with modern American life that are barely hidden, and often glaringly foregrounded.
The final scene of the film is ambiguously eerie, and its strangeness is emblematized in George Bailey’s near-maniacal grin, one that is equally composed of shame, fear, gratitude, and self-loathing. It is a grin that, once seen, can never be forgotten. Money is everything is what that grin says, what the scene says, and what the film says. In this final moment, the truth of the film strikes at us with metonymic power through the stilted images of celebration and victory and joy….

The Other Film Festival, part 2

Tuesday 11 December 2007

(Part 1 is here.)
Where was I? Yeah, genre confusion. Some of the film-makers (what the hell, I’m going to call them that) were happily working in ways totally removed from the idea that cinema must be in some way dependent on theatre and narrative. Their art worked in a more purely compositional sense.
Nigel Bunn showed off his inventions, including a newly-built painting machine he had brought over from Dunedin. It was a sweet little device, consisting of a large box covered with various buttons and flip switches. When activated, it would semi-autonomously add abstract splotches of colour to a reel of blank film that was threaded through it. The abstractions were projected onto a screen covered with an array of photosensitive electronic cells, which controlled a simple sound synthesiser. In this way the painting machine manipulated both the image and the music.
Intriguingly, Bunn described his work as ‘cine-sculpture’, playing at the edges of both cinema and sculpture. The latter definition can be understood to contain a description of the entire work – objects, image, and sound, activated in a space. There’s always a pleasure in seeing a new, homemade invention working in ways that you’ve never seen before. On a deeper level than content or a message, it functions in the primary way of art, telling you things you didn’t already know, opening up new possibilities for the imagination.
A much more fiercely reductionist example of this type of work was shown by Bruce McClure, who showed a 45-minute “film” which didn’t actually use film at all. His three movie projectors were set up to screen flashes of white light at regular intervals, each at a slightly different speed, focused on the same spot to produce a flashing, pulsing white circle, first on a black screen, then on a white. He gave us a small warning that the piece is “difficult to look at”, and he wasn’t wrong. The starkness of the image, undifferentiated white light in the darkness, made the image produce optical effects, halos, patterns, and headaches. The soundtrack was a similarly minimal cross-rhythm of clicks that mimicked the pulsing of the three light sources.
In fact, flashing and flickering seems to be the style du jour among a lot of experimental film makers: both Bunn’s and Kerry Laitala’s films often flickered like an early home movie, as did a number of other films shown. After two nights straight of watching one set of flickery images after another in the dark, it all got a bit much and I had to leave before the audience participation all-together audiovisual jam session that ended the Festival.

Brisbane is a place where the arts have traditionally been treated with such suspicion that the lines between “high” and “low” art have blurred, with tenured academic finding themselves as much of a societal outcast as the underground guerrilla artist. This gives a refreshing informality to events such as the Other Film Festival. OFF is three years old now, is supported by government and institutional funding, has guests and visitors from overseas, and was this year presented in the old Brisbane Museum building. Despite all that, the atmosphere was little different from a “secret location” rock gig, with people happily drifting around in the dark, chatting or looking for the stations of free finger-food set up around the lobby.
Announcements of upcoming events were made by people wandering around wielding a small, portable amplifier, often with the reverb turned up so far that the voices were rendered unintelligble. There was no fixed, formal seating in either of the two large rooms used for most of the shows, and punters were free to come and go as they pleased. The artists used whatever wall or part of each room was most suitable for their work. Most striking of all, there was no backstage (let alone a VIP area), so that organisers and artists milled about amongst the audience, happily conversing and answering questions from anyone who happened to approach them.

Theatrical highlights: Kerry Laitala dressing up for the part when manning the projectors for her occult films.
Overheard gossip in the foyer: Howard’s out!
Boring Like a Drill Cultural Beer Exchange: Stubbies of Coopers Pale for $3!
Admission: Free!

The Other Film Festival, part 1

Sunday 9 December 2007

It was the only election night broadcast I’ve ever missed, and what a corker of a night to miss! I gave it all up to be at the last two nights of the Other Film Festival in Brisbane. Was it worth it? Yes.
Firstly, I got to see Helmet-Head at last: the collaborative project by Rod Cooper and Anthony Magen (remember when reading my comments that I’ve worked with these guys on different projects). Magen is the only VJ on the world I can stand. The usual animations and video samples are there, but only a supplement to the main action. Magen uses the bed of an overhead projector as his workspace, building up, manipulating, and then tearing down again a series of tableaux constructed from an ecelectic array of objects. The effect is simultaneously painterly and theatrical. All of this was projected onto a screen attached to a helmet worn by Rod Cooper, who stood some five metres away.
Cooper held a nifty little device in his hands, which he clutched and poked at in different ways to produce a soundtrack of sufficiently bewildering variety to match the visuals, combining electronic noises, music, quotation, field recordings. The overall effect was a type of omnium gatherum collage that revelled in the richness of its materials.
Upon later examination and questioning, Cooper’s mysterious device turned out to be a handheld cassette player: a low-tech apporach to producing a more complex and sophisticated soundscape than most laptop artists can achieve. The technical limitations of Cooper and Magen’s methods gave a clear, but undectable, structure to their performance, holding their diverse materials together.

As you’ve figured out from the above description, OFF is not your standard evening of sitting around watching movies. There were live performances – theatrical, musical, or both – incorporating film, in addition to light shows, installations, and other less easily categorisable phenomena. Most of these works involved film projectors, old-school film projectors (but hoepfully not old, school projectors), 8mm, 16mm, and 35mm – but not always in the standard ways.
Dirk de Bruyn presented his 1982 piece Experiments, ostensibly a film for two screens, but in fact a live multimedia performance in which he added his own noises and vocalisations to the soundtracks, and frequently adjusted the positions of his two projectors to differently mix and overlap the images from his collage of homemade movies against a large, blank wall. Again, this performance used film as a means to present an amalgam of the plastic and dramatic arts, reversing the old cinematic dictum, making all arts meet beyond the camera frame.
In a similar manner, Kerry Laitala concluded a retrospective of her films with a live performance, Hocus Pocus… Abracadabra…!!!, projecting slideshow images that moved back and forth over a series of superimposed film loops. Laitala’s material typically drew upon images and paraphernalia from the turn of the last century, sharing in that era’s particular fascination with the occult, manifesting itself in seances, theosophy, mesmerism, ectoplasm, table-tapping. It’s no coincidence these images are melded with glimpses from the earliest days of cinema, that time’s other great conflation of art and science, summoning visions from the beyond, bringing inert matter to life.
Tomorrow in part 2: more genre confusion, and the general atmosphere at the Other Film Festival, especially on that fateful election night.

“Now that things are so easy, there’s so much to do.” Nono, Tarkovsky, Facility, Impossibility.

Monday 8 October 2007

It must be nearly ten years ago that I took a friend to the abandoned power station in the middle of Melbourne for performace of Luigi Nono’s epic work for violin and tape, La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura. He came away from it exhilarated, saying that it was like the musical equivalent of a film by Tarkovsky.
The last and greatest piece on last Monday’s concert program was Nono’s ‘No hay caminos, hay que caminar’… Andrej Tarkovskij, for seven instrumental groups distributed around the concert hall. Nono described Tarkovsky as “a soul who enlightened me”; both made art that fought against the way modern life dulls one’s perception of the world.
Alison Croggon at Sarsaparilla has recently written beautifully about Tarkovsky, particularly his film Stalker.

Stalker’s beauty is woven out of its limitations, its finitudes. When I watch a Tarkovsky film, I am always aware of the literalness of his medium; he is never doing anything more than making a film. Out of his refusal to aggrandise his medium he forges a profound poetic.

Croggon writes that Stalker is a film about faith: it articulates faith, but does not attempt to explain its meaning or its purpose. The Stalker is a guide, who offers the hope to others of realising their desires, but he cannot fulfil these hopes for himself.

Meanwhile, Daniel Wolf at Renewable Music has also been writing about Luigi Nono, in particular his late string quartet Fragmente – Stille, An Diotima:

… each attempt to write something meaningful about the quartet has failed, and I’m not sure whether my failure lies in my inability to get closer to a work whose distance to my own musical culture is great, or in a more fundamental doubt about the work as a technical and musical achievement.

Wolf has problems with this piece: it seems hermetic and obscure. Worse still, Nono’s material seems thin, facile; is he using hermeticism as a cloak for a lack of musical substance?
This is something I hadn’t considered before, but if it is an issue then it strikes me as being of a piece with the other distinctive aspects of Nono’s late music. Nono’s music had always been about struggle, most obviously in the many works dealing with political and social struggle. In his late works the struggle becomes internalised, a matter of personal and spiritual wrestling. The quotation “No hay caminos, hay que caminar” is invoked in several of Nono’s titles from this period. It comes from a graffito he found on the wall of a Spanish monastery; loosely translated, it means “There is no way, yet we must go” – a sort of variant of “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”
The struggle is not just metaphysical, it is also a testing of Nono’s musical ideas and technique. Morton Feldman (who provided the quote for this post’s title) liked to complain that one of the many problems with composers is that they liked to make everything seem so easy: there is always the compulsion to make the music, even at its most anguished, seem to have emerged unmediated from the abstract, unscarred and unruffled. In other words, glib. It’s an important theme in writing and painting, but music pretends it doesn’t exist.
Nono’s music confronts this smoothing banality of technique with denuded musical material, isolated, halting phrases, inarticulate gestures, made from habit and apparently empty of meaning. In the same way, Tarkovsky in Stalker guides his limpid camera over industrial waste and other detritus. “Out of his refusal to aggrandise his medium he forges a profound poetic.”
This method shows itself most clearly in La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura, with its taped part built up out of sounds produced by violinist Gidon Kremer in the studio. Set adrift by Nono without any music, Kremer was left flailing, confusedly making tentative, awkward, disconnected noises; his mutterings, dropped objects, and extraneous studio sounds intrude on the soundscape. When writing the solo part, Nono kept Kremer waiting until the morning of the premiere for the complete score, semi-legibly scrawled in biro. Composer and musician each stripped of language and technique, forced to make sense of what was left.

It’s a world that offers glimpses of an unsettling beauty that flourishes beyond human desires and yet can provide a home for the unsayable, unattainable longing that reaches beyond the confines of the self.

Repeatedly, in the score for Fragmente – Stille, An Diotima, the musicians are confronted by a fragment from Hölderlin, inscribed above the music, silently chiding them: “…but you cannot know that…”

Fly home daughter, cover your ears: Eurovision, the Movie!

Sunday 13 May 2007

The Eurovision Song Contest wrap-up will appear tomorrow. In the meantime, please enjoy the following announcements from the Eurovision website:

There were two new announcements which were made today were that the European Broadcasting Union, the first of which was that it has signed a contract with a feature film company, who produced amongst other things Notting Hill and Love Actually. They will make a feature film with a comedy hint all about the Eurovision Song Contest, and will hopefully be in cinemas in 2008.

The second announcement is that negotiations are underway for a Eurovision Song Contest musical inspired and including the songs from the past 52 years of the contest. This follows on from the success of Mamma Mia. This again is hopefully going to happen in 2008.

Aha ha ha ha aha ha ha AAAAAAUUUUUUUGGGHHHH!!!!!!!!!

Filler by Proxy XLVI: London and Daisies

Saturday 10 February 2007

I like the idea of movies but usually don’t go to see any, which leaves me with a small, erratically selected pool of films to draw upon when I find myself in a conversation about cinema. Found more or less by chance, two bloggers have been writing more or less recently about two of my favourite films: Patrick Keiller’s London and Vera Chytilova’s Daisies.
Books and movies in which the city becomes a character have always touched a special something inside me, and London comes out on the top of this internal list. I’ve mentioned it in passing once or twice before: it’s the movie that convinced me that moving to London wouldn’t be a total loss, no matter what else happened.
The Measures Taken seizes upon some of Keiller’s ideas and cinematic techniques, as part of a description of his latest project:

It still feels like a peculiar gesture though, to follow these films with a project made up of around 60 films from the 1900s, which are then spun into a coherent narrative on the one hand, or on the other affixed to map of the world, with highlighted cities or streets taking you via a click to footage of that area in the first decade of the 20th century. We are in fairly Borges-like territory here, wheeling from Shanghai to New York to Liverpool, zeroing in on discrete streets with lunatic exactitude. It isn’t entirely clear what this project is…

I first saw Daisies while lying on my side, quite drunk, half on top of someone else, as it was projected onto a wall in a small bar down a backstreet somewhere in Melbourne, and have been infatuated with it ever since. “That film could only have been made in the 60s,” a friend once remarked after watching W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism. “People have never been so dirty in quite the same way.” Daisies has that same, ineffable quality, and the same cheerful anarchy to it, but is even less encumbered by theories – even countercultural ones.
It’s one of the few cultural artifacts I’ve seen built upon a presumption of abundance instead of scarcity, affirmatively blowing social and political dialectics away. The Pinocchio Theory gives us a more substantial appreciation of Daisies.

… manages to be both visceral and abstract, playful and savage, intellectual and infantile, all at once. Watching it last night, I was literally trembling with joy and exhilaration. I felt the same way when I first saw the film, nearly thirty years ago.

Found via sit down man, you’re a bloody tragedy, written by the same bloke who does The Measures Taken. It’s all like cellophane!

Will I regret not spending an hour travelling out to Croydon last night to pay 28 pounds to see Steven Seagal play guitar with his blues band?

Monday 22 January 2007


Unfortunately, when they arrived at the other end they discovered the movie was also showing there. (Bada-bing!)

Thursday 27 July 2006

Eurostar said the partnership with the movie – whose cast included French actress Audrey Tatou – helped generate “strong interest in overseas markets”, with travel agents reporting increased sales on the London-Paris route.