4 – SoundImage by Gunnel Pettersson

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The guide aims to show from a historical perspective how visual artists and sound artists have explored and pushed the limits of different art forms. At times they have acted as models for one another, occasionally they are in accord and at other times they change roles to create new points of entry into the world of sound and images. To grasp the SoundImage Your ears and eyes are doors that open to receive and interpret impressions from film, video or multi-media work. You perceive and acknowledge something and the focus changes, per- haps offering a new way in through the entries the archives provide. Technical improvements aside, several things have driven the development of film and video: the desire to cross boundaries, to work in an interdisciplinary fashion or to centre your interest upon and explore what is media specific. A long time ago I was asked in connection with the development of a video department at an art academy whether or not sound was important. My answer was that sound is twice as important as the image – there are two sound channels and one video channel. Today I would say that it is more complex than that. In the mid 19th century Richard Wagner criticized the opera of his contemporaries for focus- ing too much on the music and thus lacking dramatic qualities. He regarded music, theatre and visual art as being equally important parts of the whole which form the total artwork – the Ge- samtkunstwerk. Music as a model Leopold Survage (1879-1968) wanted to animate his paintings; to add rhythm and movement and free his works from the conventional objects of the world. To achieve this he made over 70 studies in 1913 for the film Rythme Colore, a symphony in colour and rhythm that was un- fortunately never realized. Around 1920 a generation of artists, among them Walter Ruttmann, Man Ray, Hans Richter, László Moholy-Nagy, Viking Eggeling and Dziga Vertov began to explore and express them- selves within a field we today call Media Art. These painters, graphic artists, film makers and avant-gardists inspired each other and developed the formal and technical aspects of film me- dia in an interdisciplinary manner. One of these early examples can be found in Filmform’s archive. Viking Eggeling composed the Symphonie Diagonale (1924) using the same approach as for a musical score. Looking for a universal language that could communicate directly with the audience Eggeling created one of the first abstract animated films in the history of the moving image. Dziga Vertov developed important narrative tools in his documentary film The Man with the Movie Camera (1929). It is a silent movie without a traditional narrative and without actors in
which he uses double exposures, varying film speed, frozen images, reversed film, split screen, jump cuts, animation etc. Walter Ruttman foresaw a new type of artist positioning themselves between music and paint- ing. In 1927 he made the experimental film Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. Ruttman made his first and only radio play Weekend in 1930. His motto in writing the play was to utilize eve- rything in the world that was audible and the result can be described as an acoustic film with- out footage. In a more up to date piece HF Remix (2002), referencing the avant-garde of the 1920s and 30s Pascal Baes uses digital techniques while experimenting with stop motion, filming image by image, playing with exposure, frozen image and complex algorithms with music and sound by DJP. This work is preserved by Argos, centre for art and media, which has the largest Belgian collection of audio-visual works made by artists. The music industry plays an important role in the development of sound and visual media, a role which is informed both artistically and technically. The SCCA (Center for Contemporary Arts Ljubljana) archive contains video works of Slo- vene and foreign artists. Anglia (2006) is a music video directed by Sašo Podgoršek from the album Volk by the Slovenian group Laibach. The video addresses a socially relevant issue de- picted using a visual language that wouldn’t look out of place in the commercial world. The songs on the album are inspired by national anthems and revolve around conflicts and differ- ent national interests. Laibach was set up as a conglomeration of musicians, artists and actors. They pursue a type of ironic nationalist propaganda as a means of pushing the limits of the communist ideology, while at the same time making visible the similarities between different totalitarian systems. Everything is perceptible John Cage, an American composer and sound artist highly influential to the avant-garde of the 1940s, 50s and 60s claimed that: “I believe that the use of noise to make music will continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the aid of electrical instruments which will make available for musical purposes any and all sounds that can be heard. Photoelectric, film, and mechanical mediums for the synthetic production of music will be explored”. This constitutes the foundation for the intermedia art of the 1950s and 60s. A more contemporary example of cross-border work can be found in Montevideo, Nether- lands Media Art Institute’s extensive collection. In abstract digital animations, set in a sound- scape of industrial sounds, with alterations in light and perspective and playing with two- and three-dimensional footage, the video ScapeTime (2002) by Telcosystems extends our limits of perception. At the core of the work lies a technically impregnated style transformed into vis- ual and audible expression. Even as students, the members of the group were engaged in in- terdisciplinary research with sound and image. Sound anticipates images, images give space for sound 30 years before the advent of DJ culture, Nam June Paik began using the vinyl record as a musical instrument and with its liberal nature the art scene became the place for meetings and experiments. Paik has a background in composition and gained presence in the art scene via
the anti-art movement of the Fluxus group. In Exposition of Music/Electronic Television at Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal 1963 he presented his experiments of TV monitors with mag- netically distorted picture tubes. He transformed the passively charged TV, the very emblem of consumer culture, into an interactive and creative instrument. His work “Participation TV” gave an anticipatory nod to the “prosumer” of today’s participation culture. The catalogue by Heure Exquise covers a wide variety of film- and video art, for example Robert Cahen who has developed his video aesthetic using music as a theoretical framework. In his works he emphasizes the idea that different time zones conflict as well as integrate with one another in music. He studied musical composition with Michel Chion and Pierre Scheaf- fer in Paris at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 70s. In Juste le Temps (1983) he uses a narrative motif in which different persons’ individual experiences of time are inter- sected. The video Fossilization (2005) by Kurt D’Haeseleer, which can be found in Argos collection, is based upon a composition by David Shea merging sound and image in an apocalyptic drama which reverses the traditional hierarchy of sound acting as a translation and expansion of the film. Sound and image’s connection to language and space Gary Hill, represented by Montevideo, Netherlands Media Art Institute, is a progenitor in sound and language’s relation to video. In the video Primarily Speaking (1983) we hear Hill’s voice talking about language and perception synchronizing the transition between the video’s still images and the articulated syllables. The images also relate to the strict graphic layout of the TV’s test card used to measure the TV broadcast signal. Instants Vidéo is a festival dedicated to electronic poetry of which Takahiko Iimura’s works, one of the pioneers of the video medium, are a good example. In the video AIUEO NN six fea- tures (1994) he studies the relationship between identity and language based on the sound of nouns in the Japanese and Roman alphabet. The visual and sound artist Liv Strand links the tradition of electroacoustic music. This genre has been a strong element in the development of video art in Sweden and is one of the themes that Filmform archive addresses. Liv Strand focuses clearly on aspects of spatiality, centring on the public space we occupy and share and the friction that occurs from mutual compro- mise. Pipeline (2007) gives a physical experience of speed and movement depicted in sound and image. The video was filmed in a pneumatic tube system at Karolinska University Hospi- tal in Stockholm; a micro-system that mirrors a public environment.

by Gunnel Pettersson, Filmform July 2009.