July was a month of endless rain, many deadlines, and one fantastic screening of early film fragments at the Woodend Barn in Banchory. The highlight of the evening was Melancholia, a rescoring and reimagining of a film from the Miles Brothers by Ross Whyte (electronics) and Richard Craig (contrabass flute). The film captures a trolley ride through Main Street, San Francisco, just days before the 1906 earthquake. It is filled with remarkable (audio and visual) moments. Keep yours eyes peeled for the child in the back of a horse-drawn carriage who pulls back the curtain and magically appears.[vimeo https://vimeo.com/46316708 w=575&h=400]
Excerpts from “Shadow Play,” a series of silent/film sound events held at the University of Aberdeen in December 2011 are available (for now) online.
The neo-Benshi performance of The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Lotte Reiniger, 1926) can be found here. My colleagues, Dr. Simon Ward (Film and Visual Culture), Dr. Laura McMahon (Film and Visual Culture), and Dr. Nate Jezzi (Philosophy) were kind enough to lend their voices. Ross Whyte provided additional sound tech and effects.
Ross Whyte’s wonderful re-score of Piccadilly (E.A. Dupont, 1929) can be found here. Keep your ears open around 6:30.
Our first evening of “Shadow Play” concluded with R.W. Paul’s final work: an industrial film promoting a new commercial whaling route between Norway and Ireland. For me, the film recalls the generic and temporal instabilities of many ethnographic hunt films. The interminable progress of the hunt (and the factory) is disrupted by death and the gruesome transformation of animal into object. The encounter between the film’s intertitles (Landing the Whale, Removing the Jaw, etc.) and its visual excesses is also strikingly disjunctive. The image overwhelms, undermines, undoes the certainty of its plain text.
But this film ends with an amazing set of final scenes. Irish and Norwegian workers “at play”: dancing together, sack racing, wrestling like animals on the ground. Not only do the boundaries between industrial, educational, and ethnographic modes collapse here, but boundaries between nations, genders, and species likewise seem to be very much in flux.
Many thanks to Ross Whyte for providing an improvised electroacoustic soundtrack that matched the complexity of the evening’s images. The glitches and stutters of the soundbox drew our attention, I think, not only to the content of these images (and the deep space that returned compositionally over and again), but to the surface of the celluloid, to its rips, gaps, tears, and imperfections. My attention was pulled in two directions: into the depth of past/historical time and across the surface of internal/archival histories.
Next Thursday: The Dying Swan, Menilmontant, and Orphans / 7-9 PM / Auris Lecture
Smithereens (Ross Whyte, 2011)
Pete Stollery, a Professor in Composition and Electroacoustic Music at the University of Aberdeen, passed this short piece along to me a few days ago. It was composed and created by Ross Whyte, a musician and PhD student at the University of Aberdeen, whose research explores “audio-visual intermedia and multi-sensory perception in music.” You can find Whyte and more of his work here.
The film echoes the woman-on-the-stairs of Leger’s Ballet Mecanique. But it manages much more than nods to history, the pleasures of found footage, or the ghosts of mechanical reproduction. Whyte’s use of sound remakes the image(s), brings texture to these early spaces, and plays with the absurdities and excesses hiding just beyond the chase scene.
Smithereens also invites us to spend time with (several kinds of) orphans. I couldn’t help but wonder: Who is this girl? Where is she going? Did she ever get there?