Saturday, November 20, 2010

Man, did I feel like an idiot.

I'd first seen, and loved, the work of film projection artists Sandra Gibson and Luis Recorder in the untitled release on SOS Editions with music by Olivia Block a couple of years ago, then again at Experimental Intermedia this past February. Through both these experiences, as well as last night until informed otherwise after the event, I'd assumed that somewhere buried deep beneath the abstract, phantasmal black and white imagery, there lurked film, film of objects and/or actions that was being somehow manipulated well past the point of recognizability. On the disc, I thought the source might be footage shot through the windshield of a car driving at night through heavy rain, for example.

Watching the performance at the International House in Philadelphia last evening, I again suspected something of the sort and, actually was on occasion a little closer to the truth. The screen was dark for the first several minutes, Olivia's rich, somber drone filling the space. One gradually came to perceive a border within the screen's frame, slightly to the left of center, a darker portion with a sharp, vertical edge. "Behind" this corner, ectoplasmic shapes began to form, ghostly images for which one could easily supply anthropomorphic interpretations, especially when an tentacular "hand" slipped around that corner. Gibson and Recoder have often (at least in what work I've seen), made use of interior frames which the viewer initially accepts as the working area, only to have that exploded later on. Here, the images gradually strengthened and enlarged, bending, shifting, illuminating, shading, pulsating, lapping onto the surrounding walls either directly or via light reflection.

Over the course of 45-50 minutes, the general "type" of image shifted three or four times, occasionally giving the impression of scanning electron microscope footage of, perhaps, lung fibers or other bodily elements. Olivia's music (electronics and inside piano) shifted as well, by and large retaining an ongoing throb but breaking off into harsher moments as well. The collaboration is a work-in-progress and one could perceive both elements of great beauty (and potential for much, much more) as well as the odd misfire or meandering. As it happened, the set-up didn't allow for a great amount of direct knowledge on the part of the participants to the immediate contributions of each other; Olivia had to glance up at the screen (making her own manipulations more difficult) while, in the booth, Gibson and Recoder couldn't clearly hear the music, picking up mostly the bass vibrations. One imagines this issue could be remedied in the future, venue details permitting. This begged the question though--how, if indeed they were, were Recoder and Gibson interacting in real time if they were simply projecting a film?

There was a Q&A after the event and, eventually, as it were, I saw the light and felt like a dolt. For the most part, the videographers were not, in fact, projecting film, but filtering the actual projector light through various glass objects (and, I think, their hands; there were moments when the projected, amorphous forms made motions which I had, in fact, thought reminiscent of hand and wrist movements). That this was entirely invisible to me either says something about the dearth of my perceptual sense or their immense craft, or both! Olivia told me later that it wasn't until the XI event that she realized that this is what they were doing, so I felt a little better, but not much; I should have cottoned onto this myself. This, of course, went a long way toward explaining the couple's contributions of an improvisatory nature as, obviously, they could and did adapt to Olivia's music (to the extent they could hear it) as well as she to their images. It also seemed to offer a clear way of improvising, not so much different from the routine musician-to-musician method, an even more orthodox or organic form than that practiced by Nakamura/Roisz or Rowe/Bjørgeengen where digital information is passed directly between devices. Of course, it would run into the same type of decisions/problems that beset any improviser, including to what degree, if at all, to echo (directly or obliquely) what one has seen/heard, taking into account the space, the use of silence (not yet an issue, so far in what I've experienced with this trio), etc. (I pause to note that, at least quasi-similar to post-Cageian listening to silence, looking at a "blank" wall or projection screen reveals a ceaseless display of activity, of the motion of air between one's eye and the surface, of the infinitely subtle play of light on that surface, and so on).

Of course, this knowledge caused me to go back, in my head, and reinterpret what had just transpired. I'd love to see/hear it again armed with this awareness, but going from memory, I'd still say there were moments that jelled quite beautifully and others that lagged, which is probably as it should be for a collaboration at this stage. On the whole, it was fascinating and invigorating both for what has been achieved thus far and, more, for the doors it opened with regard to future work along this line.


olivia said...

Hey Brian,
Thanks so much for the review. Very much appreciated, as always. You should not feel bad that you didn't know S and L's process. I don't think they really call attention to how they make the images, which is why I encouraged them to talk about it in the Q and A. I think knowing about it adds another level of appreciation to the work, as you pointed out, but the work doesn't even need it because it is so stunning.
We are trying to figure out how to make a more fluid communication for future live events. I might work from a high vantage point next time, and we will try and get speakers in the booth. I always take for granted that normally, during live interactions with musicians, I can always hear things, no matter where I look.
No more late-night driving!

jkudler said...

brian, thanks for the nice writeup. i will repost it from philly sound forum and maybe international house (still working out our blogging/FB content and frequency).

i feel bad we didn't get a monitor in the booth for s+l. it just kind of totally slipped at my mind, as i guess it did for everyone else. i don't think the performance suffered, though (of course).

olivia said...

HI Brian
I just learned that Sandra and Luis are called "film projection artists" or "visual artists" fyi...
Thanks again for writing and attending!!!

Brian Olewnick said...

duly noted!