Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Entanglements 1 | formal scene/machine extensions to live cinema practice

I present the following video selections in support of our discussions of the first chapter, "Space 1: Scene/Machine (1876-1933)" of Chris Salter's Entangled.

First up, Moholy-Nagy's "Ein Lichtspiel: Schwarz Weiss Grau" (1930).

At Sonic Acts XIII, Moholy-Nagy's film was followed up by a performance from Optical Machines, whose "SHIFT" led the concept of Moholy-Nagy-esque filmic sculptures into a live cinema format -- a direction that is more or less the theme of this post.


I'm interested in tracking connections between this early history of architecture, staged performance (particularly as it begins to intersect or be informed by/become entangled with early cinematic innovation), music, light, technology, and the presence or absence of performing bodies in the face of these changes. When I read Salter's description of Bruno Taut's Der Welthaumeister (The World Builder): a series of "black-and-white drawing accompanied by music depicting the gradual emergence and transformation of an architectural form traveling through space" (2010: 27), I was reminded of Monolake Live Surround -- Robert Henke (audio) and Tarik Barri (visuals) -- at Sonic Acts XIII.

I would also like to present the formal light/sound play of Haswell & Hecker's "UPIC Diffusion Session #22" as a sonic-visual Futurism updated for the post-Tron age. There was something very war-like about this piece, too, which occasionally suggested prop-driven planes on the verge of crashing (thinking of Mayakovsky's Victory Over the Sun with a plane diving into the stage years before the Pink Floyd did something similar), or crazy laser searchlights scouring a wireframe battlefield (Tron or the old Tank game came to mind), all piercing through this hazy, dusty/foggy landscape, before turning into laser beams shooting through the heads of the crowd on the floor and up into the balcony. At any rate, this was an intensely "retro-futuristic" performance, and it works for me as evocative of my readings of the first chapter of Salter's Entangled, which conjures up so many images and extrapolations of future's past and past futures. It's very interesting to me how the introduction of new technologies and their intersections with bodies, with space, with light and sound, almost invariably impress themselves on technoculture through the speculative imagination and science fictions more specifically.

As obsessed as I am with cosmic art/media, I'm especially drawn to Salter's descriptions of Taut's work and its "shining world" and endless theater of the future -- I recall that Jordan Belson and Henry Jacobs described their work in the Morrison Planetarium for the Vortex Concerts in similar terms, as well as described how the highly technologized space of the dome had become an "exquisite instrument." This language resonates with some of the Constructivist approaches, particularly Meyerhold and Popova's collaborations, which not only made the stage what they called "a workplace for the actors" but also "a kind of performance instrument," even specifically a "keyboard for the performers" (Rudnitsky in Salter 18), that took advantage of what Meyerhold called "biomechanics." These connections are all too much, I'm seeing cyborgs in space with mood organs, again.

But I'm getting off track. The shining world of Taut's The World Builder not only evokes the strange black-and-white architectures of the Monolake Surround set (I was compelled by so much black, white and gray work at Sonic Acts!), but also this notion of "architectural performance without actors," and how this proto-cinematic experience is invested with ideas about "an infinite, mystical, transcendental reality" (27). This leads me to one last connection to one of the stand-out live cinema performances I encountered at Sonic Acts: Jürgen Reble & Thomas Köner's "Materia Obscura." The cracked film surface with its chemogram content -- such basic forms but such vivid color-fields -- suggest something of the limitless spaces Taut evokes, the stage disappearing through screen into this place without edges that, as Salter describes Taut's desired work, extends "beyond the realms of perception," where "the architectural form appeared and then shattered into atomic pieces, dancing as particles through Taut's mystical, cosmological universe and then eventually coalesced into a sparkling glass cathedral" (28). Reble and Köner's performance never quite builds the cathedral, except perhaps the skyglobe that concludes the piece, or is this an earth from a distance, dotted by the multiple tribal firesides for deep psychedelic ritual that cropped up throughout, and where, as Taut would have it, "colors and form would sound and carry their tone as pure undisturbed elements of the infinite" (in Salter 28). That was the mystery of this piece, that it all seemed to be falling apart, cracking before my eyes, and yet it seemed neither disturbed nor disturbing, and a world was built.

The cathedral, at least as it appeared at Sonic Acts, came later, and if glass (as it seemed), it not only sparkled but shattered in the highly disturbing noise of Makino Takashi & Jim O’Rourke "Still in Cosmos," but that's another post, perhaps. For now, "Materia Obscura."

Well, I'm probably reading too inauthentically here, but I'm striving toward a synthesis that builds from Salter's history of Futurist, Constructivist, Expressionist, Bauhaus theater to the live cinema practices that I witnessed and heared at Sonic Acts XIII. I'm interested in the way that live cinema breaks two barriers: first, particularly for the musician, the barrier between stage and the audience; second, for the visual artist, between projection booth and screen. At Sonic Acts, the audio and visual performers (usually a duo, occasionally a solo act), was set up in the middle of the crowd. For instance, for the Monolake set, there were people dancing or milling about on a platform behind the performers at their same level, while other dancers, right in the heart of the surround mix, were lower, on the floor, than the performers. For the Optical Machines set, I was glad to be behind the performers, and I was so intrigued by the little mechanical set-up the one guy was using that I ended up watching that more than the projected footage. So, Salter is resonating for me as I think both of these earlier theater performances breaking the barriers between stage/audience that they had inherited from the theatrical traditions; from the other direction, I'm feeling Salter's history resonate backward in time from a more robust and widespread avant-garde cinema to these quasi-cinematic proto-lightshows and abstract, often human-less, machinic performances.

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