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Various Artists

  • Optofonica: A new and impressive DVD/Book combo has just been released by LINE and it is an essential for anyone out there following contemporary sonic cinema art. With videos by several artists I’ve worked with including Portland’s own Ryan Jeffery (in his second collaboration with Scanner), Frank Bretschneider, Richard Chartier, Pe Lang + Zimoun and Skoltz_Kolgen among others. One of those others is Kanta Horio who was featured in PICA’s TBA Festival a few years back, it’s great to see his em#3 once again! Inside the full color book is an essay by Cretien van Campen who also wrote The Hidden Sense, Synethesia in Art and Science (MIT Press, 2007). Black Noise White Silence by Marcel Wierckx alone is brilliant. Get your copy of this limited edition before it vanishes into the thin air we have left…
    (TJ Norris, unBLOGGED)

  • Can we give some kind of award to LINE overseer Richard Chartier for ensuring that material of this rarefied and elaborately presented kind—especially in such fragile economic times—finds it way into the marketplace? Though issued in a run of only 1000 copies, the deluxe release perpetuates LINE’s high standards by packaging its DVD case and fifty-two-page full-colour booklet within an embossed slipcase—an embarrassment of riches, visually speaking. On Optofonica, Optofonica, a platform for art-science situated in Amsterdam and founded in 2006 by TeZ, presents two-and-a-half hours of twenty-three video-sound projects (involving forty-two artists from thirteen different countries) of the synaesthetic kind you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else. It also makes for an incredible headphones listening experience, especially when the Surround Sound option is selected. In some cases, a piece pairs a visual artist and a sound artist; in other cases, the work is the product of a single individual or outfit.

    Some pieces naturally turn out to be more memorable than others, including Marcel Wierckx’s “Black Noise White Silence,” a three-minute, achromatic blizzard of eruptive convulsions and rapidly fluttering forms; Otolab’s “Animula,” which pairs animation suggestive of caged electronic fireflies and clangorous buzzing and combustion; and Rayxxxx’s dizzying “Pulse,”  which conjoins jagged, stroboscopic shapes to rubbery techno-like rhythms. In the mesmerizing “Rhythm Exp.,” Frank Bretschneider brings his meticulous rhythmning to a beautifully spare display of snowy dot galaxies. In Quayola, Mira Calix, and Autobam’s “Strata #2,” a spectral setting in a ‘holy minimalism’ vein, piano and orchestral elements (horns, strings) provide a jarring but not unwelcome change in musical style from the release’s predominating style; the piece is as striking visually in depicting shards extending out of stain glass windows and in synchronizing them to the electronic intrusions—a bold merging of the medieval and the modern in audio and video terms.

    Also noteworthy is “Waterfall,” a collaborative piece by Ryan Jeffery and Scanner, which laces a mini-soundtrack by Robin Rimbaud of synthetic whooshes and Japanese voices with menace and paranoia while visually alternating between the illuminated interior of a night-time office and the amplified crackle of tree branches. Ulf Langheinrich’s vaporous drone “It Would Have Been Fantastic” shows a dust storm of white particles morphing into a flickering blue-dominated colour field display; David Muth & Hiaz’s “Counterclockwise” configures transluscent veils into fan-like displays; and Kanta Horio’s “Em#3″—talk about minimalism!— deploys magnetism to direct tiny nail-like rods, whose rapid motion generates magnified noise, along hard surfaces. Relatedly, “Sonolevitation” by Evelina Domnitch, Dmitry Gelfand, and Chartier shows flat, vertically aligned shapes suspended in mid-air with a droning field of sine tones and whirrs as accompaniment. “Raindrops #7” by Jason Graham, Kim Cascone, and Tez pairs rivulets of rain on windows with the kind of creeping digital sounds—like factory sounds ricocheting through the galaxy—one associates with Cascone.

    There’s more, of course, with contributions coming from Skoltz_Kolgen, Martijn Van Boven, Ryoichi Kurokawa, Kurt Hentschlager, and Natalie Bewernitz and Marek Goldowski (whose “Life at the Witch Trails” deserves a prize for best title). In certain cases, yes, the audio portion delivers pretty much what one would expect—granular, glitch-laden material where melody is absent, rhythm surfaces rarely, and textural sculpting is paramount—but the release (whose works span three years) features enough captivating audio-visual synchronicities to earn its recommendation (in a perfect world, there’d be page numbers included in the booklet but even mentioning it seems churlish in light of what’s provided).

  • Marking another superb audio-visual project for LINE, this DVD brings together abstract visual and auditory imagery in order to “shift the observer’s attention from the physical objects that stimulate perception to the act of perception itself.” Not unlike the label’s previous DVD, Colorfield Variations, this project aims to reassess connections between the senses of sight and sound. Among the assembled musicians/composers are such familiar names as Mira Calix, Frank Bretschneider, Kaffe Matthews, Skoltz_Kolgen, Scanner and Kim Cascone. First up comes a collaboration featuring Richard Chartier, Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand called ‘Sonolevitation’. It’s a piece of film that shows thin pieces of metal suspended and spinning in the air between two large magnets while corresponding sound currents whir and pulse in a complex yet very hushed soundscape. Next, Telcosystems’ ‘Scapetime’ is fconcerned with pure digital abstraction, very much in the tradition of Farmers Manual-style audio-visual experiments, made up from raw noise, colour and geometry. Although operating along similar lines sonically, Ryoichi Kurokawa accompanies his glitching digitised sound experiments with hair formations that writhe around, change colour and flicker onscreen according to whatever’s going on with the sound. Kanta Horio’s ‘EM 3’ appears to be a more naturally synchronous combination of sound and vision: electromagnetic forces manipulate the motion of a pin on a surface, jerking and scratching around as it moves, acquiring the company of other small parts as the duration goes on. In a not dissimilar fashion, Pe Lang + Zimoun’s ‘Untitled Sound Objects’ captures a large number of small, robot-like mechanical devices all scurrying around the frame while tactile noises jangle in the ears. Tapping into the current obsession with all things 3D, Bas Van Koolwijk offers ‘fdbck/av 3d’. Glasses aren’t included, but if you had them you’d be able to see violent static interference getting all up in your face while the sound of faulty connections dances between your ears. The reliably brilliant Frank Bretschneider is also on hand to marry his marvellous nano-beat compositions with a flutter of beautifully arranged dots, creating something incredibly ornate that has all the feel of a single entity rather than a multimedia project. Entirely different from all of this is the Quayola + Mira Calix + Autobam effort ‘Strata 2’, whose neo-classical piano and string tones accompany the digital fragmentation of a stained glass window. Most peculiar, but quite spectacular too. Probably the most formidable and ambitious LINE mixed media project to date, the Optofonica DVD has a total running time that’s not far off two-and-a-half hours and comes in both stereo and 5.1 mixes. Highly recommended.

  • Showcasing 23 artists over almost two and a half hours of audio-visual work from Optofonica, the “platform for synesthetic media and sound spatialization”, this new LINE not only is a broad survey of the form, but carries the lofty ideal opening “new doors of perception.” Founded by Italian multimedia artist TeZ, Optofonica has been commissioning media works wince 2006, with the aim of evolving a new way to perceive the combination of sound and vision. While this DVD compilation includes a few that fail to stray far from the conventions of music as abstract soundtrack or video as media player visualization, and others for which the transfer to domestic viewing diminishes their impact, there is much that impresses. The simplicity of James Graham + Kim Cascone + TeZ’s work “Raindrops #7” recalls the spirit of Marie Menken in its collage of themed image set against a background of lo-fi interference, and there is humor in Kanta Horio’s “em#3” as a metal nail enacts a ritual dance to the swoops of a since tone. Natalie Bewernitz + Marek Goldowski and Skif++ both create evocative visual renderings of complex sounds —noise, tones and feedback—where the visual deconstruction adds an elevating new level to the aural experience, but it is only when any literal narrative is abandoned that the doors of new perception begin to creak open. In Ulf Langheinrich’s “it would have been fantastic”, a wall of modulated out-of-focus visual white noise is pitched against ever denser clouds of sound, creating a sublime sensory overload, which, like staring at the inside of your eyelids, lets the mind wander unchecked.
    (The Wire, UK)

  • It’s a stunning hybrid of experimental video and music, a compilation that you can listen to, watch, do both with, or just throw on in the background like a screensaver. And since it’s a limited edition of 1,000 copies, you’ll probably have to make up your mind sooner rather than later what you’d like to do with it… The whole project’s the brainchild of “artist and producer TeZ”, an Amsterdam native who’s managed to collect a few big names (Scanner, Richard Chartier, Kim Cascone) and a whole slew of unfamiliar ones to participate in this project. Each of them have provided a track mixed in both 5.1 surround and conventional 2.0 stereo (you choose which version you want when you boot the DVD), and while some of them do veer kinda close to glorified-screensaver territory, there are just as many that command your attention and your thought quite ably. If the video doesn’t do it for you, look at it this way: you’re still getting 2 hours and 23 minutes of deeply absorbing audio… Every track has something fascinating going on, even if only in miniature… The best thing I can say about Optofonica is something that sounds like a cliché: I’ve never seen or heard anything like it. But in this case the cliché’s completely spot-on: I really haven’t seen anything like it. I doubt you have, either. Anyone remotely interested in experimental video or film should seek it out. You can fight me for my copy.

  • Optofonica, the fourth DVD release by the American music label LINE, is a fascinating journey of audiovisual expressivity. The label is mostly known for its extensive catalogue of CD’s documenting digital minimalism, but lately they have also started to release DVD’s, where Optofonica stands out as the finest achievement so far. Curated by the Italian multimedia artist TeZ, and featuring 42 different artists from 13 countries, this 150 minute long DVD showcases some of the best contemporary artists working in the intersection between sound and visual art. Included in the DVD is a booklet with a brief essay on the nature of sensory perception (written by Cretien van Campen, author of The Hidden Sense: Synesthesia in Art and Sciene) and in the product description one can find artistic statements such as “transcending the limits of habitual perception” and “the act of perception itself”. This is obviously not a new phenomenon, neither in cinema nor music, yet there is still much to be written here-and particularly in the context of the new materialism.

    Two of the main artistic achievements of Optofonica are the insistence on the distinct and singular nature of sensory perception, and the fact that raw sensations precede language ontologically. These ideas echoes Deleuze, who did not follow the mainstream theory of subjectivity (that of the linguisticality of experience) when he set out to produce a theory of the subject, but instead went to Hume, for whom the subject is a mere crystallization of singular sensory perceptions (aural, visual, tactile, olfactory, and so on) organized by the association of ideas in the form of habit. Ideas, for Hume, are furthermore not linguistic, but rather lower intensity replicas of actual perceptions. In other words, ideas are not representations of perceptions but rather just as distinct, separate and non-linguistic (although at a lower intensity). Here we must also add the fact that sensory perception ultimately is limited in its nature. This was the insight of Henri Bergson (another important precedent of Deleuze in the theory of the subject), who famously concluded that human perception is both centred and limited. In other words, we are ultimately locked in our own point of view and only have the ability to perceive certain entities of material flows. This is indeed true, but this does not mean that we should deny that which we cannot perceive (as in positivism, where directly observable entites, such as rivers and trees, are considered real, while unobservable entities – atoms, molecules, and so on – are said to have no real existence), nor follow idealist conceptions of experience in which perception is organized by a set of signifiers. These two highly anthropocentric views must indeed be challenged, and since the current academia is dominated by idealists, semioticians and postmodernists, a neo-materalist philosopher may instead benefit from turning to other sources of inspiration, such as the diverse field of contemporary, audiovisual art. A brief comparison with Deleuze’s own approach to cinema will illustrate this philosophical approach better.

    When Gilles Deleuze wrote his two books on cinema in the 1980’s (Cinema 1: The Movement-Image and Cinema 2: The Time-Image) he did not set out to produce a theory of the cinema in the classical sense, but rather see how one may use cinema in order to rethink philosophical ideas. Because, for Deleuze, the great directors in cinema (just like artists in general) are thinkers in their own right, like philosophers and even scientists, but whereas the latter two express themselves through philosophical ideas and scientific functions, artists of course use their chosen medium as their means of expression. Therefore, even though artists, philosophers and scientists all are using different means of expression, they are all united in their explorations of the nature and structure of reality. It is in this sense that they all must benefit from each other, produce points of resonance, which is what Deleuze sets out to do in the cinema books. He is attracted to the cinema because he can find, in the work of the great directors, a similar struggle as his own in philosophy (the struggle of the nature of movement and time) and therefore uses cinema in order to enrich his own philosophical vocabulary. The cinema books are unquestionably a work of philosophy, yet a philosophy which works alongside the cinema in order to produce philosophical ideas in resonance with it.

    I want to make use of a similar strategy here, that is, see how a work such as Optofonica may help us put more light on some fundamental philosophical issues, and my main focus is the nature of perception in relation to the cinematographic image. This may be summarized in the following way: if sensory perceptions indeed are distinct and singular, then the perceptions of cinematographic images must be just as distinct and singular as other perceptions. In other words, as Deleuze concluded in the cinema books, cinematographic images are not representations of perceptions, but rather singular perceptions in-themselves. While it obviously is true that (most) cinematographic images are images of something filmed, the images themselves (and their correspondent perceptions) must be separated from that which is represented; as Deleuze formulated it: “the image is the system of relationship between its components”. This “system of relationship” is equal to the singular perceptual relations that cinematographic images produce; relations which often are masked in the name of narrative cinema (which sets out to produce a centred and organized perceptual pattern which follows the habits of day-to-day perception), yet still remain at the heart of cinematographic singularity. Cinema, in this sense, becomes a powerful tool for producing unique perceptual relations, since the possibilities of camera and montage allow artists to move beyond the “limits of habitual perception” and, just like microscopes and telescopes in science and astronomy, extend perception through technology. In other words, “The camera is a non-human eye”, as Deleuze put it. This is, as I just mentioned, still not very recognised in cinema, since narrative cinema always has depended fully on habitual, day-to-day perception (and in those cases when this perceptual stability collapses, such as when a character is drunk or in a delirium, this is always presented in the context of the narrative – as a negative opposite – and consequently fails to move far beyond the rationality of the storyline), yet in experimental cinema we may trace a long tradition which goes the other way: from the earliest graphical filmmakers (Richter, Eggeling, etc.) to giants such as Brakhage and Le Grice – and also to the artists who are contributing works to the Optofonica release.

    To summarize: when we have recognised that the subject is a crystallization of limited, singular perceptions which precede signifiers, and that cinema presents us with distinct and singular perceptual relations which are capable of moving beyond our own limited perceptual sphere, it becomes not only an artistic but also a philosophical exercise to reflect on how cinema may be used as a creative tool in order to de-crystallize the subject. This claim is obviously diametrically opposite to those made by idealists and positivists, yet for a neo-materialist – that is, one who believes that the world expresses itself on an immanent morphogenetic level, without the interference of human subjects (or transcendental essences) – it becomes crucial, as a way to reduce the anthropocentrism which currently sweeps over both academic and artistic institutions.

    Deleuze writes something really similar in the cinema books. He distinguishes between three forms of perceptual relations in the cinema: solid, liquid and gaseous. For Deleuze, solid perception is that form of perception which is dominating traditional narrative cinema, while he identifies liquid perception with early forms of French cinema (Renoir, Vigo, etc.), in which the stability of habitual perceptual patterns is questioned. Yet it is first with avant-garde cinema where a third form of perception appears: a gaseous perception, in which the camera completely breaks with normal conditions of subjective experience, and instead opens up to a non-human flow of pure matter. Here, the focus is not on the centred and limited point-of-view of human subjects, but rather on the decentred and de-crystallized nature of those raw sensations of colour, sound and other qualities which are immanent in matter itself. There is no longer a closed anchoring in a human subject, but only the open flow of matter. Similar thoughts may of course be found in writings by avant-garde filmmakers such as Vertov and Brakhage – who wrote of the unlimited nature of a non-human eye (“kino-eye” and “the untutored eye”) and its ability to penetrate into material objects “through an adventure of perception” – and in the “common artistic philosophy” of the Optofonica DVD. The latter follows this cinematographic tradition by presenting an impressive amount of “adventures of perception” – such as the molecular patterns of Frank Bretschneider’s “rhythm exp.” or the sensory overload of Ulf Langheinrich “it would have been fantastic” – in which the main character is not a human subject, but rather “the act of perception itself”. It is obviously not hard to find a lot of resonances with earlier works in the same tradition, yet two aspects of most of the short films presented on the Optofonica DVD do set it apart from many earlier exercises in the same domain: the importance of sound and of digital technology. I will not discuss these aspects in detail here, yet a few words must be said. The relationship between the aural and visual is of course nothing new within this cinematic tradition, since even the earliest graphic filmmakers often deliberately played with the relationship between images and music, yet, it seems to me that the relationship between the aural and visual dimensions is a lot more intimate, or blurry, in the Optofonica-films than in many of the classical graphic films. Because the two dimensions, rather than working alongside each other as in the classics, here seem to merge into more undetermined perceptual patterns in which it becomes increasingly difficult to tell what is sound and what is image (or which comes first). There are a lot of references to synesthesia throughout the whole work, which is a condition in which perceptual borders are blurred and intersected (or more precisely: the condition in which the stimulation of one perceptual pathway leads to automatic, involuntarily experiences in a second – such as the ability to hear sound in images, see images in sounds, etc.). This, I believe, is here used as another creative method to disrupt and fragment habitual perception – to the point where images and sound, rather than working alongside each other, merge into one blurred perceptual mass. This is obviously achieved with the help of the precise mappings of digital technology, which furthermore allow the artists to produce an even more molecular dimension than earlier artist working in the same tradition. Digital technology is indeed powerful for expressing the microscopic, or the infinitesimal, which is brilliantly exercised in these works – on both the level of the aural and visual – in order to produce fascinating patterns of “pure perception”.

    There is a current trend in many academic institutions today, in which we are said to live in a time of total economic exploitation. Abstract forces such as “the mass media” or “late capitalism” seem to exercise complete control and have – through their tireless hunger for consumerism and profit – erased creativity, subjectivity and even reality itself. Thoughts like this have become clichés in the so-called “post-modern” debate, such as in the philosophy of Baudrillard, yet, these so called “critical theories” fail to live up to their name precisely because they are unable to see that what must be criticised first and foremost are not the “consumerism of postmodernism” or the “economic exploitation of late capitalism”, but rather these concepts themselves, since they tend to reduce the diversity of cultural production to a homogeneous field of pure exploitation. Reality is much more complex than these “worn-out slogans” tell us, so the first step for a truly “critical theory” is to rediscover the heterogeneity of things as they really are. This is particularly true when it comes to totalized systems such as “the mass media”, as in Baudrillard, since by reducing the diversity of media- and artistic production, we subsequently ascribe too much (negative) unity to those fields and end up in a dead-end. It is in this sense that works like those presented on the Optofonica DVD, and subsequent analyses of them, are important as a way to reintroduce more heterogeneity and creativity into contemporary cultural production. This is obviously not a way to deny that there is (a lot of) economic exploitation and economic power today, because it obviously is, but rather to avoid ending up with concepts such as “the mass media”, in which media is seen merely as something which obscures our relationship with reality. While it certainly is true that this is a very real and ugly side of media, there is also another side; because media may also help us to enrich our relationship with reality and with ourselves, which is what the films on the Optofonica DVD are great examples of, and they must therefore be recognised as important artistic and philosophical resources, since it is only by reintroducing more diversity in cultural production, and in philosophy, that we will be able to break this negative trend and rethink the future.