10 de noviembre de 2017

Listening to the Space #01: Peter Rose


The Man Who Could Not See Far Enough (1981) Peter Rose

Listening to the Space is the title of a new series of collaborations with different filmmakers, concerning the ideas and practices around the sound of theirs films. The header of this section makes reference to a film by Robert Beavers named Listening to the Space in My Room (2003) where the sound recording is entirely relevant.

The North American filmmaker Peter Rose is the first who has decided to exchange thoughts about the process of creating and arranging the soundtracks of some of his pieces, in this case two of his most known films: Analogies: Studies in the Movement of Time (1977) and The Man Who Could Not See Far Enough (1981). Since 1968 this artist has been creating over thirty moving pictures, videos, installations and performances. To deal with the idiosyncrasies of time, space and light –through sound and moving images– has been one of the major themes of works that also include mathematics and language issues, as well as oblique strategies and structural film inspirations. His intellectual point of view and sarcastic humor make him one of the great filmmakers of avant-garde cinema. Since today he has been able to produce a rich body of work on video, a medium he continues to investigate through pieces like 6D for Google (cardboard) Glasses (2016).

The french label Re-Voir released a DVD compilation of some of his films under the title Analogies. His vimeo channel is an awesome resource of digital versions of incredible conceptual procedures and formal solutions, deeply stimulating for the viewer and the listener.


Analogies: Studies in the Movement of Time (1977) Peter Rose

Peter Rose:

I’ll offer some general thoughts about the thinking behind, the genesis of Analogies: Studies in the Movement of Time (1977) and The Man Who Could Not See Far Enough (1981).

I’ve always been impressed by music as a model for organizing events in time and my first films were efforts to try to embody musical thinking in the structure of the work. Incantation (1970), for example, plays with a complex form of rhythmic polyphony and was inspired by both my own experience as a hand-drummer and by elements of Baroque music, Bach in particular. I found, however, that there were limits to the approach –there were only so many levels of superimposition that might be readable, and so settled on a kind of visual canon, juxtaposition rather than fusion, as an organizational solution–. This required the invention and construction of an insanely complicated optical printer that allowed me to integrate images in a more controlled way, and Analogies (1977) was a second attempt to try to understand the laws of this new format. The first attempt was shot in 8mm and ended up in a film called Studies in Diachronic Motion (1975). (This was all inspired, too, it must be said, by a vision I had while on my first LSD trip in 1965 during which I observed a Japanese couple making love in the thousands of tiny spaces between the weaves of a napkin; their motions were displaced in time and I was transfixed by the whole experience, vowing to try to find a way to capture the experience. Ten years later I was able to do this…)

It seemed logical, in this context, to turn to musical form for the sound as well, and to try to echo the rhythmic understructure of the image with a similar configuration of sounds. I had been much impressed by a series of lectures presented by Slavko Vorkapich at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in the sixties, during which he talked about the “kinaesthetics” of the medium. I saw sound as a means (perhaps the more important) along with image, of provoking a muscular, as well as visual/intellectual/verbal, response. And, too, many of my generation were inspired by Phillip Glass, Harry Partch, and Steve Reich, as well as by the work of those exploiting tape recorders to construct new kinds of sonic experience.

So, in Analogies you’ve the sound of the optical printer, an empty hallway, a drum, an automobile engine slowed down, a developing tray struck and slowed down, piano strings being struck, and what purports to be synch sound (footsteps) but which was actually post-dubbed. These are all percussive in nature and intrigued me by virtue of the way a vernacular source could give rise to something “mysterious and strange.” (Prospero’s words in The Tempest) Indeed this has animated much of my work, particularly in the more recent The Indeserian Tablets (2014).


The Man Who Could Not See Far Enough (1981) Peter Rose

On to The Man Who Could Not See Far Enough. Having figured out the basic laws that characterized “diachronic motion” I then wanted to apply these to the articulation of something more personal, more poetic, and more evocative, and so I tried to assimilate the approach to a grander ambition.

"The Prologue" is interesting. I had written the text while traveling in the Caribbean in the late sixties and liked the way it seemed to apply to the game of hide and seek being played by the shadow of the car. I tried narrating it in English but found it hideously dull and thought that perhaps a voice speaking another language might bring a little gravitas and register to the occasion. It seemed arbitrary to settle on any particular tongue and so I thought I’d invent a language for the occasion. Several weeks of improvisatory articulation led me to develop a kind of right-brain talent for riffing in what sounded like a language. And so I “translated” each line into what sounded like it might be a semantic equivalent, taking cues from the etymology and rhythm of the English utterance. (I later exfoliated this approach into a much more complex investigation called Secondary Currents (1982)…).

Moving on: the second section, titled “One”, actually, is a visual representation of what I understand to be “klangfarbenmelodie”, tossing around a melodic idea between different instruments. Here the landscape is, in effect, tossed around by the force of Time –we see a consistent subject but it has been refracted by weather and time of day–. (This particular section took me a year to make; I composed and executed many different scenarios but this was my favorite). The melody here, too, is tossed around between different instruments so there is a fairly literal relationship between sound and image.

“Two” is pretty self-explanatory, although it is fun to note that the sound of impacts, made occasionally throughout the film as if they were made by cars hitting struts on the bridge, was actually made by dropping a chair on a bare floor and adding a little echo. Too, the voice moves from a vaguely interior space throughout most of the narration and out into an exterior soundspace at the end.


The Man Who Could Not See Far Enough (1981) Peter Rose

“Three” was shot during total solar eclipse of the sun. I’ve seen three eclipses and they are so totally overwhelming that it is difficult to shoot in any objective way. This particular event took place off the coast of Mauritania when I was on a boat with a bunch of astronomers who also wanted to observe the event. I wanted to document the way the sky changed, rather than concentrating on the details of the eclipse itself. That was, I thought, the source of the power of the moment. The multiple image is directly inspired by the music of Steve Reich insofar as it devolves upon unpredictable structures that arise when predictable cycles of different lengths are juxtaposed. It starts out seeming to be completely ordered, but then it seems chaotic, and then it returns to another kind of order –like a sign being given–. This is all the consequence of the algorithm I used to construct the compound image. But the sound is actually generated by my voice –I thought of it as the “sound of light”–.  The screams of the astronomers were recorded on location during the event.

Part "Four" is too complex to be described verbally. Suffice it to say that we see a hemisphere of space that revolves, like a kind of astronomical instrument, and which presents us with an perfectly coherent image of the sky and yet a fractured and fragmented image of the viewer. And yet there are no cuts…. Sound was made by recording running water and slowing it down.

Finally, part "Five" is pretty self-explanatory. As backstory, I’ve climbed around ten bridges, most without permission, and thought it would be fabulous (taking the term in its original meaning) if I could climb the most iconic bridge in North America. I had originally been given permission to go up in November, and had intended to go up to the first tower only, but the weather was bad and, in the interim, I realized that I had to cross the whole bridge if it was to be about “passage” rather than “conquest.” The final image is modeled on Peter Bruegel The Elder’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (1555), wherein the protagonist is so small as to be almost invisible. The track was taken from Ornette Coleman’s Skies of America (1972), but I superimposed the music over itself with a one measure delay, trying to suggest an immense space through sound and resonating with some of the thinking, certainly, behind Analogies. When I showed it, upon a fortuitous occasion, to Ornette Coleman he summarized the film in the most marvelous way. He said:

“I see what this film is about…..It’s about the Open”.

In all of this I’ve been immensely impressed and inspired by the work of many: Michael Snow, Peter Greenaway, Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, Hollis Frampton, Harry Partch, Sid Caesar and Maya Deren.


Analogies: Studies in the Movement of Time (1977) Peter Rose

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