Three Films: Hallucinating the Real

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Three films of mine are now publicly viewable, The Topologist (2010), its companion piece Collection of Cuts (2012), and Traces (2002), on my Vimeo page. It’s taken some time to put them online as I realize that a film unseen is a gaze unrecognized. I have always been a little surprised by the The Topologist and Collection of Cuts, given their highly personal natures, even as the versions of reality they describe continue to make sense to me. They would make new (non)sense if witnessed by others, as a universalized reality check.

Traces is from a time well before the making of The Topologist and Collection of Cuts, and would seem to have a different nature from these latter works. In contrast to the personal psychic fictions of The Topologist and Collection of Cuts, Traces presents as a documentary work on the intersection of art and science; a synaesthesia of audio tones and their directly resulting visual lissajous curves.

However, it is possible to draw connections between these apparently different works; all three challenge the idea of narrative and are explicitly experimental and exploratory. One might even say that in them there exists a dialectic between inner and outer space, that is, that what is presented as one is really a representation of the other, which leads to a conclusion that the original distinction is a contentious one. One could also say that the fluid reality of the Topologist and Cuts is somehow akin to the ever mutating shapes of Traces, as explorations of spaces that are happened upon, discovered not invented, following some deeper structures.

Furthermore, what if the differences between them only serve to emphasize their unity? Traces appears as a documentary, describing an objective reality that is reproducible and always available to the explorer armed with tone generators and an oscilloscope. Whereas The Topologist and Collection of Cuts are works of fiction, products of the imagination. Does this distinction keep them separate? It would seem that it is precisely this dialectic between the genres of documentary and fiction that helps us better understand the nature of film and the nature of reality. In fact, it is the tension between these terms that allows us to re-produce reality, to make it accessible…to make it at all.

Documentary and Fiction are both forms of re-presentation, each having its virtue depending on intention. It should not be said that one is superior to the other for describing reality. For to construct a documentary, many arbitrary decisions need to be made about content, about the ‘story’ that one wants to tell. This documentary ‘story’ is immediately analogous to the fictional ‘story’; both require choices on subject matter and choices on the point-of-view from which that story is told. Indeed, we approach the tension between ‘imagination’ and ‘truth’, only to realize that one leads to the other, and that there is a necessity for both in the representation of reality, or, that reality can bear being represented in both forms.

Therefore, to say that Traces is simply a documentary of audio visual geometry allows us to miss the significance of infinite forms and deeper structures that have implications for biology as much as for psychoanalysis. These forms can serve to unnerve the notion of teleology and fixed subjectivity. They also exemplify the idea that small changes in initial conditions (e.g. changing the frequency of the audio tone) can lead to vast and unpredictable outcomes (the resulting lissajous curves). But what of the curves themselves in Traces? Apart from the conjuring of archetypal shapes (squares, circles, etc) that verify one mathematical reality, one might, as I do – see letters, biological and geological forms, future design vectors and complex noise.

Similarly, to say that The Topologist and Collection of Cuts are works of fiction is to miss their description of reality. Their non-narrative nature is itself part of this description, but it is the intended poetry of the metaphoric scenes that becomes the better (the only?) technique to describe the character of the Topologist – the way it feels for him, the way he sees and experiences it, and the way he misunderstands things. (One could even say that the character’s predicament is one of topolosoIipsism.) I understand that the best way to describe reality is to fictionalize it. It is through extrapolation, embellishment and invention that the texture of reality is best comprehended. Obversely, if one wants to tell a really ‘tall’ tale, then make it as a documentary.

Lastly, these works have the influence of the 20th century inscribed all over them, from the tropes of experimental film of the 60s and 80s, to the use of a cathode ray oscilloscope. More precisely, they acknowledge that film is the memory of the 20th century, it is its seeing, its hallucination of the real.

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Read the related short essays:

Transfusion: Video, Topology, Sisyphus and The Topologist: Super8 SuperMemory

 

View the related short film and music video:

The Room and Post Utopian Pause

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Story. Ocean. Desire. The Day They Came Home

“He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity…these were the Streams of Story, that each coloured strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different stories, and all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story…” Salman Rushdie, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, 1991

‏All there can ever be – stories. All that there are – oceans. All we have – desire. In Aeschylus, the Oceanids listen in sympathy to the story the bound Prometheus tells, and it is one of desire. Not simply to be free of his own chains, but to remain true to the liberation of humanity from its darkness. In Rushdie, stories emerge from the Ocean of the Streams of Story that Haroun battles to save from the forces of silence. He battles to restore, not simply the story-telling art of his father, but from this, to bring his mother back home. Story. Oceans. Desire. In Lacan, that weaver of theory of desire, of stories of subject, we are engaged by the agalma, that inestimable object of desire. It is the quality within and beyond the surface; it is the treasure we seek.

‏These three elements – story, ocean, desire – come together in the short fiction writing competition – The Day They Came Home, that supports the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Athens. It will be for the writer to weave these strands together; to speak of emancipation, not simply in return, but for what that return will mean, what it will engage and liberate in us.

‏This is therefore a plea to you, dear reader, to pledge to the competition. Each pledge to fund the competition is a hand that dips into the sea of stories and stirs the currents of invention. It will break the surface of refusal and be a propellor that agitates the currents in the streams of stories. Each pledge creates the desire for the very ocean itself, the medium to navigate the Parthenon Sculptures to their home.

Tom Kazas

Coordinator. The Day They Came Home Writing Competition

Funding the Reality of The Day They Came Home

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Today sees the launch of the crowd funding campaign for The Day They Came Home short fiction writing competition. This day, like the day the Parthenon Sculptures themselves return, is hugely important.

‏For the writing completion, the arrival of today calibrates a whole sequence of events: the appeal for sponsorship and donations to fund the competition, the reception of submissions, the judging of the stories, the announcement of the winners, the gala celebration night, and finally, the reflection on the stories themselves.

‏For the Parthenon Sculptures, the day they come home also calibrates a course of events: the celebration of success in a long fought struggle, the creation of new meaning in an aesthetic rejuvenation, and a brave gesture of the power of international voices.

‏There are 60 days to reach the target of AUD$15,000. No mean feat. But by offering some currency, you give currency to the campaign for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures. By donating, you will be part of the process of creating the all-important context of return, of nurturing the ideas and stories that will be crucial for return – that will make return an act of inevitability.

‏Although it can be argued that the current geo-political situation leaves little room for this campaign, the opposite is in fact the truth. This campaign is a long, uninterrupted and tenacious campaign; one that is always gaining momentum. Yet never has there been more clarity in the reasoning for return. Never has there been more need for those outside Athens to assume our critically important role in the campaign for return. Because never has the desire to invent ourselves, to recognize ourselves, through the narratives of the sculptures, and through the sculpturing of narratives, been as great.

‏I therefore urge you all to give a little to this desire – to facilitate phase one, the funding drive, of the competition. Success here will then allow phase two, the submission of the stories, that you will hopefully write, to bring us to a discovery of the narratives for the day they came home. Today is an important day.

‏Details about the writing competition and the crowd funding campaign can be found here:  http://www.thedaytheycamehome.net/

‏Thank You

‏Tom Kazas
‏Coordinator of the Competition
‏email: tom@thedaytheycamhome.net

The Ifs of Language: the Poetry and the Proofs

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The following is the poetry, the voice-over script by Peter Lyssiotis, to the short film The Ifs of Language. The images above are from the proofs of the book of the same name. 

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maybe it’s the words we forget, maybe it’s the sentences we can’t finish that save us

day after day the words they use decay softly, this makes them wise, its makes want to talk again

sometimes over coffee in the kitchen, or while stirring fish soup over a humming gas jet, they begin to accustom themselves to that feeling of tenderness again

language opens up the same wounds as love

everyday all the good words are burnt in a clearing the size of my heart

our joys and our misfortunes are made of the same words

is it silent where the future is? how do you get back those moments words have lost for you? (with words still moist from that other world)

so much depends upon a fresh thought in the middle a frosty red plum

instead of god or the word, the splendour of black

even telephones have lost their voices

words cows words cows words cows words cows words cows words cows

ah, the pleasure of being a word, with other words, in an elegant sentence

why do expect these dry syllable to frame our shapeless worlds?

if we are not the words, can there be a story?

two words, three lies

and always the terrible machinery waits in place

words always arrange themselves to tell the same story, things will change, but words are heretics, and later in the fire, they will deny it all

these words send me aching towards another mistake

beware when an obedient language parts, we can only descend into an empty heaven

a long sentence slouches against the door like an axe with nothing to do

each words a trojan horse

which one of us will be bled to death tonight?

time now for the crying of statues

a man fell in love with the word, but the word didn’t care about him

the man looked for it in a dictionary, a thesaurus, the encyclopaedia, the newspapers, on signs, but the word couldn’t be found anywhere

the man recalled the word meant bird, meant sky, no, it meant homeland, perhaps it meant all these things at once, maybe it came from nowhere and meant nothing

the man can’t remember the word and it won’t let him rest

my father said that when he was young he saw a Greek word leap from the sea heart to the clouds and carry his village with it, but that was when fish were fish, and the the Mediterranean was still a myth

the last word my mother spoke left a small black hole in the air outside her kitchen window, just above the lemon tree…it’s still there

so here I am, a thief, stealing from thieves

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Peter notes: “William Carlos Williams writes about ‘…the ifs of language…’, which I take to mean the possibilities or the potentials of language, that are beyond dictionary meaning. It’s what’s outside the frame, what is absent that interests Williams.”

Peter also notes this by Antonin Artaud: “This is all that language is good for from now on, a means of going mad, eliminating thought, rupturing; a labyrinth of foolishness, not a dictionary into which certain pedants from the environs of the Seine may channel their spiritual awareness.”

Peter: ‘It is the duty of the reader to take the writer to safety.”

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I provided the music and sound design to the film. That music can be heard as part of my album Manoeuvres 1995 – 2005. Liner notes to that album can be read here.

If thought needs words, then they both need proof. This is what language is, a neurosis for reality. And maybe thought needs further proof; in the sound of language, in its music. Music then becomes the sound of thought, its proof.

…the proofs of language.

Manoeuvres 1995-2005 liner notes

Manoeuvres 1995-2005 Cover Art

Manoeuvres 1995-2005 is a collection of recovered movements of a decade. Yet a decade never seems to sit in its limit; it leaks into its future as much as it remakes its past. The music pushes at these signposts like sentences sounding their thinking.

Far from finding relief in an ‘out-take’ genre, it is the setting of a decade’s limits that creates the album. This scaffold gives the compositions a grander scale than they deserve, but also an arrangement they relish. Though conceived years ago, the pieces only now begin to take shape; to cohere in the present like memories still forming. Whether from four-track cassette, eight-track tape, hard drive or cd, stereo mixes or multi-tracks, this music – now caught in an album’s net – does not sit idle, but challenges the present composer to address the musings of that younger one.

Manoeuvres 1995-2005 is a collection of sketches, out takes, film music and alternate mixes, that were recorded between the years 1995 and 2005. At one time or another these pieces were part of proposed albums, but these albums gradually mutated away from their initial themes, rendering the pieces stateless. As a result of this seeming relegation, these pieces lay in the bottom drawer for decades, and only now have found a theme to organize and animate them.

The pieces are like a poems, not simply in the tones of their expression, but in the actions needed to realize them in 2015. If imagined as an operation with words, then some had a word or two altered or included, while a few had a new sentence written. These types of actions emphasize the idea that to create a truth – in this case, the collection of a decade’s worth of varied music into an intelligible whole in the present – one might need to embellish, to alter – to abandon the idea that the original piece has an authentic quality not to be disturbed. This approach allows the music to settle into a time that it pushes and pulls against; past and future simply a manoeuvre of the present.

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1  Sixes and Sevens
This stereo mix was the only remnant of a recording session with the bass guitar take, before an irreparable hard drive crash. I am thankful. It is from 2001 and the last of a long line of versions started in 1997. It is an experiment in rhythmic tension between the six-eight and seven-eight parts that resolve into the driving organ and bass lines.

2  Unbound
Painstakingly extracted from a cassette whose hiss had reached wind-like proportions. It dates from 1995 and snapshots my love of backwards guitar and dual basses, that are given expression in the simple beauty of a pentatonic scale. An alternative version was used in the short film The Ifs of Language. There is something about this piece that for me captures a feeling of liberation.

3  The First If
Composed for the 2003 experimental short film The Ifs of Language, with words by Peter Lyssiotis and video by Michael Karris. In that sequence it hints at the melancholia and inabilities of language. The pulses of its five-eight rhythm were used to directly create the staccato melody that hovers with a minimal range of notes.

4  You Could Be Sky
This is a markedly different version of You Are Sky, which predates the one that appears on my 2006 album Fleeting Eternities. In this version the drums and bass are returned, as is the revealed guitar that generates the curtains of texture that drape the piece. I still hear a certain possibility of ecstasy up there.

5  Five Ate My Guitar
I had always intended to make a more sophisticated version of this circa 1996 piece. But its simplicity, the skippy rhythm parts and its lead guitar of stylings signpost a place that I had often wished I had visited more often.

6  Sailing to Nafplion
The third of the compositions used in the The Ifs of Language. It had no title within the film, and given a certain nostalgia in that closing sequence, an urge was created to savour the impossibility and fantasy that its given title now suggests. Nafplion is a coastal town on the eastern Peloponnese where my father was born.

7  Intermoderne
Somewhere in there are the hazy fragments of musical ideas from the 1890s and the 1990s; the interplay between their modernities, between guitar and keyboard, between the slow swing of the drums and the deep sounds of a tape echo machine. It is an edit of two versions decided in this one.

8  Always Known
This is a multitrack remake from 2004 of a 1993 piece. It captures my joy and indulgence as a lead guitarist. The original 1993 guitar solo was a single improvised take, and the attempt to reproduce it in 2004 had me toiling with multiple takes and edits; the broad stroke freedom of the former to the one-hair brush detail of the latter – hoping that the original feeling comes through.

9  Ripple Blanket
Laying dormant as a synth and piano piece until the addition of the whisk guitars. This guitar technique, once relying on the handle of a kitchen whisk, now uses the surface of a metallic pen. When rubbed over the desired note on the guitar neck, it produces a shimmering violin-like sound. It has long been a favourite technique of mine to create slow moving melodies and washes of atmosphere.

10  From This Hill
An alternative version of the closing theme to the 1999 multimedia theatre production The Wound. Work on this version continued after the stage production had finished, to explore parts in the original demo and to drench the melody with as much emotion as possible.

11  Persistence of Paint
An experiment in fixity and release. Its ascending and descending tones run forwards and backwards across a looping beat of five-eight. Detailed post-production allowed it to pass from being a sketch to that befitting the closing manoeuvre on the album.

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Listen to Manoeuvres 1995-2005 here

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Ilissos to the Hermitage

British Museum loans the Parthenon Scuplture of Ilissos to the Hermitage

For the first time since their Enlightenment abduction, one of the children of Pheidias has been allowed out of bondage to glimpse the outside world. Ilissos, the river god, has been temporarily freed from the British museum and allowed to travel to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. He has been given a gift, allowed to witness the world outside his vault. Although he’s only really travelled from one institution to another (an inter-asylum temporary sleep-over), and is likely to experience those familiar feelings of alienation in Russia as in England, he nonetheless is the first of his kin to step outside the centuries of confinement in the British museum.

The excitement lay in what he will see and experience on this journey. So far, he would’ve looked out of the bus window, possibly talking with strangers, even asking about his home in Athens. I imagine Ilissos to be starry-eyed, in awe at the wonder of the world he will glimpse, and the brief freedom he will taste. He, a river god, to get his feet wet, to bring his mesmerising Socratic idyll to St. Petersburg. Regardless of how the Russians treat him, and I’m sure he will be absolutely adored by them, sadly, this trip can only end in the return to his enlightenment bondage. Will the god weep?

Unless…this brief jaunt in the world will want to make him break from his alienation and yearn for emancipation. Will he seek asylum in Russia? Will he plot from this distance the liberation of his siblings? Will he feel pangs to see his homeland again? Will the Russians listen to his story, deeply moved, and be the agents of his liberation?

We must applaud his keepers for the risk they take in allowing Ilissos out…Enjoy Russia Ilissos. And if I learn of your escape from there, and hear your mournful homesick murmurings in the flow of the Merri Creek, I too will sing a song to struggle.

Transfusion: Video, Topology, Sisyphus

Still from the video clip to the TJ Eckleberg remix of the Tom Kazas song, Transfusion.

Still from the video clip to the TJ Eckleberg remix of the Tom Kazas song, Transfusion.

Q: ??

A: Interesting you should say that, because working on the video clip to Transfusion -TJ Eckleberg remix brought back some of my curiosity about the links between topology and psychoanalysis. It reminded me that the lyrics to Transfusion are from the time I was making my cinema poem (short-film) the Topologist, that in many ways was trying to explore these connections. In simple terms, topology is study of the folding of space, the preservation of properties of space under transformations. This subject matter can also be imagined as the terrain of unconscious drives and desires; where separated histories and urges can come into connection, or where accepted associations become disconnected, where shape does not have to correspond to content, and where visually, (in a somewhat literal rendering for the Transfusion video clip), a multi-surface multi-angled scene represents such psychoanalytic structure and tension, or torsion, if you will. Loss, not only of present fixed co-ordinates, but of nostalgic co-ordinates and future co-ordinates, requires (and required of me in the making of the Topologist), a new way of seeing the world.

Some of these ideas were expressed via the narrative (or more appropriately the anti-narrative) of my film the Topologist; with its unidentified polyvocal voice-overs, its episodic sequences, and its representation of no ‘real-world’ terrain, that tries to question metaphor. With the video clip to TJ’s remix, all this was able to come together in a new way with the inclusion of the 3D image manipulations I created of a still from the Topologist. These image transformations (as seen in the image above) depict this multi-dimensionality and contrasting orientations, with that tiny figure of the topologist himself present in some of these Escher-like and Dora Maar-like scenes.

I was thrilled that TJ’s remix focussed on the lyrics: “I stepped out of the water, walked in from the weather”, because this couplet condenses the idea of transition from one terrain to another, of transformation from one shape to another that struggles for coherence. It poses an escape from a dense bounded space (in the lyric: a bathtub) to a somewhere-else, from a site of elemental turmoil (in the lyric: the weather) to a new space, that in many ways become equally challenging for the topologist. You see, as experimental as I tried to make the Topologist, that is, with its non-narrative features, the lyrics to the song Transfusion are certainly narrative in form. Namely, they describe a journey over time, where this movement can be plotted and its parts related, intentionally problematic as they made be. Elements of the ‘absurd’ now enter, especially with the sense of the absurd that Camus wrote about in his treatment of the myth of Sisyphus. That book became inextricably linked to my lyrics, that found some form in: “I revel in the burden that’s rolling up and down the hill.” But Camus’ book, the Myth of Sisyphus, deals with so much more. For example, how suicide as a response to the absurd is not an acceptable option; not a somatic suicide, not a psychological suicide, not an abandonment or apathy. But it precisely identifies the need for struggle, for a freedom that only becomes intelligible in the face of the absurd. One begins to see the political in this story.

What became interesting to me were the deeper layers to the character of Sisyphus. Sure, he was given an absurd punishment, but Sisyphus is not simply a criminal, nor a simple criminal. He can be understood as a hero. The Greeks certainly rendered him as such. He was a hero that challenged and disobeyed authority, the Law. He was equated with that other great hero who disobeyed authority, Prometheus. Prometheus was also given an ‘eternal’ punishment, but we celebrate his crime because it becomes the very beginning of humanity; we understand this act as a gift. However, this gift is not just that of fire, (the arts of civilisation), but one of the ‘act of disobedience’ itself. Eric Fromm identifies that civilisation can be understood to have been founded with acts of disobedience. It was this Promethean disobedience that brought civilisation to humanity. In the biblical myth, it was Eve who disobeyed and precipitated the Fall, that allowed humanity to begin. These Western creation myths embody, at their very heart, acts of disobedience. It is not a stretch to see that for society to evolve, at many levels, we need to acknowledge this deeper sense of the role of disobedience. (Fromm is clear to differentiate between the right and wrong kinds of disobedience.) Authority, whether political, economic, patriarchal, theological, cultural, etc, needs to be challenged by humanity for society to exist. For me, this is a crucial insight. Sisyphus, in the hands of Camus, becomes a character that disobeys, rebelling against the absurd of his situation. It is in this act that a deeper sense of emancipation is created; a rupture in the repetition. As Camus writes, “one must imagine Sisyphus happy,” and happiest in this situation. So that if freedom means anything, it means a predicament that necessitates struggle, and so this becomes the definition of happiness. These ideas were irresistible to me, so I had to title my ep, (the one that contains my mix of the song Transfusion), ‘Sisyphus Happy‘.

I won’t go into it here, unless you ask me a question on this, but the other major theme on that ep is the tension between presenting different remodellings of one song on the same ep. (There is yet another version of Transfusion, on this ep, called Revel in the Burden). The ep problematizes ideas of the original versus the copy, of cause and result, and of discovering alternate meaning by juxtaposing these remodelled versions. It comes full circle by trying to equate these songwriting ideas with the Sisyphean moments between ascent and descent.

Trying to make sense of all of this can be seen as an act of transfusion; of absorbing this absurd predicament as a life generating act, even as a therapeutic act. My lyric, “I read words for transfusion” not only references that act of reading Camus’ book, but also that words and language, with their structures (and poststructuralist implications), are a way to allow/restrict movement inside this topological terrain. I have never written many narrative song lyrics, and when I do, they generally start off as word poems, with the poetry of the music arriving much later.

Q: ??

A: …

Shimmering Reverb: Presence and Absence

photo from @EARTH_PICTURES

photo from @EARTH_PICTURES

TJ Eckleberg has devised a clever a method to achieve a shimmering ‘tuned’ reverb. This is detailed in an audio-video demo piece found here.  I can imagine situations where this would work a treat, as it does in his Emm Collins/Celemony example at that post: layering a chord, grabbing only the newly created notes and sending those to the reverb – lush. TJ of course acknowledges the Eno-Lanois ancestry and this effect, but kudos to him for detailing and demoing this method. Surely Celemony can invent an algorithm that encompasses these multiple processes to create a new audio plug-in, that might even be called…Eckleverb.

TJ’s ‘shimmer-verb’ method, by way of contrast, draws our attention to the operation of ‘standard’ reverb. This being that standard reverb is much less ‘tuned’, (dependent of course on the nature of the input source, among other things), or at best is one that achieves a smearing of pitches. It is this ‘un-tuned-ness’ that separates the reverb from the rest of the track, that allows space to be defined. This becomes a rather unique sonic position in the mix, given that everything else in the mix is tuned. (Although, this distinction is not that clear given some sounds, e.g. percussion etc, lack an easily discernible ‘note’.) In any case, if every other element in a track is tuned, a tuned reverb has to then compete in that dense tuned space. I’m not suggesting that such a sound would be unappealing, (quite the opposite), but I want to make the point that this new tuned-reverb becomes subjected to the challenge that all mix engineers encounter, that of trying to clarify and separate elements in a mix. As in TJ’s online demo, the sparser the setting, the more this tuned shimmer-verb becomes a lush and engaging element. However, one could argue that the act of creating this ‘shimmering’ already puts the reverb on the path of separation, away from our finessed and habituated listening to the qualities of standard reverb. Yet, what is of more interest to me is the very nature of all reverb itself, that a shimmer-verb allows us to highlight, that has implications for our sense of presence and absence in a sound world.

Initially, this leads me to think about another way of achieving reverb: the piano-sustain-pedal-method. This is one of my favourite acoustic experiences: press down on a piano’s sustain pedal, then simply shout at the strings. What is heard are the freely resonating strings; some in sympathy with the pitched parts of a shout, and others (I assume) reacting to the pressure waves of air. This shout (the cause), activates the ‘tuned’ piano strings (the result), where the moving air is translated into a tuned response by the piano strings. Ok, an electro-magnetic transducer, (mic or speaker etc), is much more impressive, and what I detail is an obvious (if a little unconventional) analog technique, but it does reveal that individual sounds have tuned components, and that any untuned components can be transduced as pitch. But there is a deeper transduction taking place in the use of reverb in sound production.

The beauty of TJ’s method is that it isolates the tuned-ness of the source, creates new harmonic layers, and shoots those new portions only to a digital reverb. And here is the point: this operations creates a ‘presence of something that is absent’. One transduces an absence into a presence by appealing to space, to a bouncing-back, to reverb. In simple technical terms, what we ultimately hear  in TJ’s demo is the ‘wet’ reverb only (the result). We do not hear the ‘dry’ pitch-shifted signals (the cause), for they are not put into the mix. It is not just the sensual texture of the resulting shimmer-verb that is engaging. For me, this operation creates the strong feeling that something can exist without any clear, direct, (or even conscious) referent or access; that only a remnant of something, in itself often hard to define, becomes present in the soundscape. Like a haunting memory of an event we are unaware of, or even the residue of an event we have never witnessed. It is this psychological effect, or rather the psychoanalytic effect, and certainly the psychoacoustic effect, (in this case more appropriately ‘affect’) that becomes overriding in the creation of a deep and reactive sonic space. A new emotional resonance is created by the predicament of a distinction between presence and absence.

It is this predicament that has always engaged me. The piano piece Berceuse, (from my album Verdigris), offers a rather extreme sonic example of this presence/absence binary, to the point where ‘absence’ becomes the privileged term. In this piece of music, the original cause, the piano, is absent. Only the many treated manipulations of that piano remain, that include variations of shimmering reverbs. A lush orchestral enormity replaces the small singular piano part. In this way, the piano becomes so much more than it could ever be, but only by its removal. To me ‘Berceuse’ is an example of, and clearly suggests that, results of an event can become so much larger and absorbing than the original cause; that features of the result are not present in that cause. Furthermore, it suggests that sometimes the original cause cannot be decoded, or retro-interpreted, from any resultant artefacts. The original cause becomes much less important (or at least much less sonically complex and interesting) than the result, and that only the remnant can take on new proportions and new meaning.

I think that we hear some of this predicament in TJ’s Emm Collins/Celemony demo. I suggest that one is responding to the situation, (consciously or not), whereby the source of this shimmer-verb has no presence in the dry sound world; that it becomes a ghosting from an imaginary event, and that a new and much stronger emotional power is created precisely by this separation, by rendering this distinction audible. One could even remark that this shimmer-verb allows us to hear the ‘potential’ of the lead vocal line, that is only expressed in the ‘actual’ reverb. I, like many others, have always found reverb astounding.

I think I’ll go and shout into my piano.

On Superstitio and the Horror of Compulsion

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Image: Victorian Horror Vacui’ by John Haverty

(This post is a response to the 25/4 ‘Audio Research Article v2‘, however it does stray markedly from that terrain, and therefore appears as a separate post. I see that both Patrick and Josephine have subsequently written pieces that address some of the concerns below, so apart from the urge to challenge a few of their initial ideas, this post allows me a little exploration.)

In Patrick 25/4, (sounds rather biblical, sorry), he writes that “Jo has written a line I hadn’t noticed before which has suddenly smacked me in the face, ‘I think most writing arises from superstitious behaviour…’” Patrick continues, “this might be the best line ever written about the artistic process.” In Josephine 11/5 (surely old testament, no?) she identifies Slavoj Zizek’s complaint that “…writer’s block is not the true horror, rather, it is the opposite: the compulsion to keep on writing.” Furthermore, Zizek’s “whole economy of writing is in fact based upon an obsessional ritual to avoid the actual act of writing.”

I think Patrick is right to be hit by Jo’s line, for it is powerful and not easily parsed, even to my atheist mind. It identifies that writing (more generally, the artistic process), is often full of spurious drives and desires, prey to a semi-conscious ruse or two, that enable us to complete the task. (That’s right, I must replace that lightbulb..) But is this ‘superstition’? Zizek appears to be saying that ‘obsessional ritual’ is a way of dealing with the ‘horror of compulsion’, (once we accept this as the true horror), and that it is a scary yet necessary response. Ritual, though sometimes superstitious, need not be so. Obsession, though often worthy of fear, does not require a recourse to the supernatural. I suggest that these drives and desires become the province of the psychoanalytic and not the supernatural; that (for better or worse) these fears, rituals and compulsions arrive from the territory of the unconscious. I would therefore claim that the ‘horror of compulsion’ is a very real and rational fear, and one that we can, and should, decouple from ‘superstition’. If nothing else, it may well be simply a question of degree; of how much this fear actually results in the starting and/or finishing of a work, and how much we might rely on ‘techniques to get the job done’.

What then for superstition? The Oxford dictionary defines ‘superstition’ as: “irrational awe or fear of the unknown…religious belief or practice founded on fear or ignorance…credulity regarding religion or the supernatural…” (OxDic: 3113).

So if superstition is more narrowly a type of fear of the unknown, it easily accords with our ignorance of, or refusal to admit, the psychoanalytic. Is not the project of psychoanalysis one of trying to bring the subliminal drives into the light, to attempt an understanding of our behaviours and motivations? Is it not a process that moves us away from superstition? So I reiterate, that while Jo’s line is not easily parsed, there need not be any residue of the supernatural in the artistic process. However, if superstition is this belief in a practice centred on fear, what this belief might disguise is the surprise in finding out that, ‘I am stuck’, and the serious disappointment that, ‘I don’t seem to have what it takes to finish the job’. So as a remedy, we can employ tricks, devices, subterfuge and mis-directions, that become the necessary and clever techniques in response to the very real Zizekian horror of compulsion. But, can we generalise from Jo’s line, and Patrick’s initial response, that the artistic process is one of working with fear? Is this what is left for our praxis?

To a large extent, yes. Leonard Cohen is said to have remarked that (song)writing is ‘more a sentence than a vocation’. It then becomes unreasonable for us to expect a linear path to the completion of a work, and we must admit that this compulsion can be tyrannical and overwhelming. We must allow the detours, (necessary and unnecessary), to realise the work. So yes, I am in sympathy with the idea that the artistic process can be full of deceptions, but these are not superstition; yes they are prone to compulsion, but need not be prone to the irrational – for there is a logic to the psychoanalytic. Zizek identifies what he calls Lacan’s single best known formula: “the unconscious is structured as a language;” the unconscious itself obeys its own grammar and logic, “the unconscious talks and thinks” (Zizek 2006: 3). Not surprisingly then, language for Lacan becomes “a gift as dangerous to humanity as the horse was to the Trojans; it offers itself to our use free of charge, but once we accept it, it colonizes us” (Zizek 2006: 11).

We might approach ‘superstition’ another way, by its opposition to a very closely related term, ‘religio’. It can be placed in a binary of superstitio / religio. ‘Superstitio’, following the latin, is read as an ‘irrational or excessive fear of the gods’, while ‘religio’ is the ‘proper or reasonable fear of the gods’ (Lewis)(EtymologyDic). Is the writing we are discussing here superstitio or religio? Can the term ‘the gods’, construed as I do, be synonymous with ‘writing’? If so, it would subversively appear that writing is in fact ‘religio’, requiring a ‘proper and reasonable fear’ of its horrible excesses. We might engage with this problem by claiming that writing/the gods, do not deserve our fear, especially on the political grounds of a disobedience to the tyrannical authority of its power to compel. Art/writing then becomes a paradox: it enslaves us to its compulsion, but it is also the act that undermines this power, and allows us to disobey its (and many other) authorities. Eric Fromm reminds us that civilization was created by acts of disobedience; Prometheus, even Adam and Eve,  with their actions allowed us to come into being (Fromm 2010: 3). Maybe we are only ever ‘one word ahead’ (one word behind) of this ever-present horror. Perhaps this predicament allows us to remember that art is the only activity that grants the abandonment of all rules.

I will put aside any further fear that mention of god creates in me to reiterate my point, which is – fear (and its subterfuge), need not rely on superstition. I think we can redefine fear of the uncreated, the incomplete and the abandoned, as a fear of compulsion; but also its result. For to acknowledge that compulsion, and not superstition, is central to the creative process, we find yet another way to say that god is dead. Mikhail Bakunin wrote that “if god really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.” Yet, we might have recourse to return to Zizek on Lacan with, ‘god is not dead, but unconscious’ (Zizek 2007). This of course plays havoc with the standard atheist position. I would then say that while god is being unconscious, I might just have to get ‘on with my song’, and change that light bulb later.

References

Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0059:entry=religio

Fromm, Eric 2010, Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem, in ‘On Disobedience’. Essay originally appeared in Clara Urquhary, A Matter of Life (London: Jonathan Cape, 1963).

Online Etymology Dictionary, “Superstitio” and “Religion”, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=superstitio&searchmode=none

Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 2007 6th edition, Vol. 2, N-Z, Oxford University Press

Zizkek, Slavoj 2007, “God is Dead, but He Doesn’t Know It”: Lacan Plays with Bobok, http://www.lacan.com/zizbobok.html

Zizek, Slavoj  2006, How to Read Lacan, W.W Norton & Company Inc., New York

Lyrebird: Sound to service Narrative

StreamGate

(A response to ‘Patrick 25/4’,for the Audio Research Article v2′, conducted at writingfix)

In considering Patrick’s three categories – place, memory, narrative – I would agree that “the first two are becoming enmeshed and the third is the means by which we express this” (25/4). The references below, as requested, are also divided into these two (neat yet not exclusive) categories for the same reason. They are collected from my film studies and specific research for the Lyrebird Project, that is, the radioplay ‘Under the Forest’ and the sonic poem ‘Ladyswamp’. What I see is that my interest in ‘sound to service narrative’ is mostly understood through the art of film making. This also contrasts with my interest in non-narrative sound and music. The binary of narrative/non-narrative continues to absorb my interest and was applied to the sound design and music composition for the Lyrebird project. Furthermore,  ‘sound in film’ theory held me in good stead for the work of ‘narrative sound’ in the Lyrebird project where clearly a proffered visual is not just absent, but unneccessary. Or, the visual is only to be discovered in the imaginary of the listener.

My understanding of ‘narrative’ based on these film studies, is that narrative is not the story, but rather, how the story is put together. This helps me, as the definition of the term ‘narrative’ seems to vary according to the different arts (writing, film, music, philosophy etc). We can therefore see that there are – linear, episodic, circular, hidden, unresolved, etc, narratives, regardless of what the story is doing. As mentioned elsewhere , I have come to hear that music might well be the only form that can truly express the non-narrative. But this idea strays from our task of ‘sound to service narrative’. What is of interest to me, and briefly discussed in (TK 5/4), are the categories of place – of the diegesis: diegetic, non-diegetic and meta-diegetic. An example of meta-diegetic sound might be, sound imagined, or perhaps, hallucinated by a character (Milicevic). In Audio Research Article v1, Patrick identifies that the radioplay text is essentially a meta-narrative, where the story of the child lost to the forest is distorted and internalised by the memory of the narrators. Here there is a dialogue between the non-diegetic and the meta-narrative. I remind the reader that the sonic place from which the radioplay narrators speak is that of the non-diegetic; it is not a sound imagined or hallucinated, but intended as a sound that is completely outside the experience of  the radioplay, to create as much distance as possible (a Brechtian alienation even), to allow the text enough space to realise its meta-narrative quality, to become the elusive – ‘sound of memory’.

I have been contemplating Carter’s powerful statement, that Josephine reminded us of (3/4), which is, “to sound a space is to denominate it a place: it is to mark it as an historical event.”  Focusing on the first part of this statement has led me to some curious questions. Is sound the only real way, the best way, to denominate a place? Is any place that has an absence of sound essentially placeless? Even in our suspicion that we do not hear sound, as in imaginary spaces, are we in fact ‘hearing things’ (in a subcoinscious way), thereby allowing that place to be denominated? I have more questions, but will try for some answers before profering them, and hopefully be reformed by responses.

A list of references, useful to me on  ‘theory of sound’. Patrick, I hope this suffices.

Place/Memory:

Beck, Alan E., Listening to Radio Plays: fictional landscapes,http://cec.sonus.ca/econtact/5_3/beck_listening.html

Carter, Paul 2004, ‪Material Thinking: The Theory and Practice of Creative Research,Melbourne University Publishing

Carter, Paul 2009, Dark Writing, University of Hawaii Press

Carter, Paul 2010, The Road to Botany Bay: An Exploration of Landscape and History,Uni of Minnesota Press

Dunn, David 2001, Nature, Sound Art and the Sacred, http://www.davidddunn.com/~david/writings/terrnova.pdf

Soundscape, The Journal of Acoustic Ecology, World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, http://wfae.proscenia.net/journal/index.html

Toop, David 2010, Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener, Continuum International Publishing Group

Narrative:

Altman, Rick 1992, Sound Theory, Sound Practice, Routledge, New York

Balazs, Bela 1884-1949, Theory of the Film: Sound, https://soma.sbcc.edu/Users/DaVega/FILMST_113/FILMST_113_0ld/GENERALTHEORY/Soundtheory_Balzacs.pdf

Brophy, Phillip 1989, Film Narrative / Narrative Film / Music Narrative / Narrative Music, http://www.philipbrophy.com/projects/rstff/FilmNarrativeMusic_S.html

Milicevic, Mladen Film Sound Beyond Reality: Subjective Sound in Narrative Cinema, http://filmsound.org/articles/beyond.htm

Sonnenschein, David 2001, Sound design: the expressive power of music, voice, and sound effects in cinema, Michael Wiese Productions, Studio City

Spande, Robert 1996, The Three Regimes: A Theory of Film Music, http://www.robertspande.com/19037.html

Truppin, Andrea 1992, And Then There Was Sound: The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky, inSound Theory, Sound Practice, Altman, Rick (ed) http://filmsound.org/owesvensson/truppin.htm