Since my PhD research is broadly concerned with feminist, or at least female, digital media production, I’ve been trying to track down documentation (other than the rare anecdotes in books & articles) on women doing cool shit. Assuming I had watched all the doc’s available on electronic music OHM+: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music popped up. It’s a DVD collection of excerpts of interviews, performances, short films by some interesting pioneers in electronic music, perhaps not “gurus” but I guess this shit has to be marketed somehow. The experimental film Mutations definitely stood out. Mutations is a 1973 film done at the Bell Labs by computer art pioneer Lillian F. Schwartz with music by French composer Jean-Claude Risset, based on his Mutations I, also done at the Bells Labs in 1969 using Max Mathews’s Music V. Mutations I was completely computer synthesized & the first work to include FM synthesis. It was commissioned by Office de Radiodiffusion-Television Francaise. But for my purpose,s I want to focus on the film & the woman who made it happen.
The OHM+ booklet states: “Schwartz used computer-synthesized images animated by computer, along with speeded-up crystal growth filmed in polarized light, and laser beams difracted through transperent plastic volumes (the heat from the laser distorts the plastic, causing the beams to move).”
I wonder how the crystal growth was filmed to achieve these colours? Using some sort of microphotography? The taupe, pink, purple tones are incredible. I want a dress in this pattern! They work so well with the computer synthesized proto-pixel-art that looks like cells forming and dividing, that I’ve researched is actually The Game of Life.
Schwartz is a still a prolific artist and scholar of visual perception & sound, among other endeavours, and has become my new obsession (being a VJ — I am always looking for bizarre experiments before the ease of pre-written computer software). She has also been instrumental for the use of the computer in the philosophy of art. Her artistic catalogue is going to take me weeks to get through. Basically, she is a fucking bad ass who everyone should know about. I’m surprised I never came across her work before.
At 41, in 1968 she took computer math at The New School in NYC & subsequently became an in-house artist and researcher of color & perception at the Bell Labs for the next 33 years. She started working with scientists who were thrilled at the idea of an artist wanting to reconfigure the linearity of computer programs at the time, and wanting to add color to push the boundaries of animation. This was also a huge draw for Max Mathews, who never worked with an animator as part of the process of computer programming sounds before. During her time at the Bell Labs in the 70s and 80s, Schwartz invented a variety of computer system techniques for artists to use.
In September I attended a toy camera workshop with Midi Onodera put on by my department of Communication Studies at Concordia. We had an afternoon to shoot and edit. I chose the Barbie Cam to shoot my short film because how strange is it to shoot holding a Barbie in your hand that has a camera in her chest. The feminist discussion is not lost on me, but that’s not the point right now. The Loyola campus of Concordia reminds me a bit of York: it’s far away from the centre in the suburbs & no one likes going there. Having just arrived, I wanted to get to know the campus and make friends with it. I decided to shoot the garden, as it was just finished sharing its bounty for the season. I emailed j that afternoon asking: “hi / can i use one of your songs / it’s a love letter to the garden / wanna send me something calm and slow?” & what you hear is what he sent me & I love how it works so perfectly.
After being in the Lab at Ryerson til about 3:30am editing last night (as has been every night the last while), I woke up at 7am and met up with J at York, hand-processing my 16mm film for almost eight hours in the darkroom, then I went straight back to my Lab and worked on Final Cut with my other movie until now, and it’s nearly 2am. We didn’t take enough breaks or drink enough water and my head is feeling pretty fried from all the chemical fumes. I can’t wait to see what I shot on Wednesday. A large portion of it was underexposed, so I messed around with the bleach and made crazy streaks, washing out many frames, because I didn’t realize that you have to dip bleached film into water immediately or else it keeps eating away at the frames. Seems obvious! I’m making mistakes all over the place and it’s really helping me learn (like actually take in information and process it into knowledge, not this half-ass skill acquisition that I usually do when learning new tools because I get sidetracked by …. the Internet!!). I love that working with analog there’s nothing to be distracted by like when working on a computer, because you’re in this dark room with lots of chemicals, time constraints and your work on the line & when you get into a groove & the fumes start kicking in, it gets proper meditative. We did listen to a lot of jungle to keep us going though. Next up is in-camera edits and superimposition. I really want to have enough material to incorporate it into our Bangface Weekender performance. I am addicted to the Bolex.
I can’t seem to work on video unless it’s dark out. Do you get that too? I don’t think I’m sleeping until I get to London next month, and then it’s all VJ, documentary shooting and RAVE.
For my Process Cinema class with film-maker Phil Hoffman, he’s pushed us to explore shooting in 16mm, more specifically with the Bolex and hand-processing our own film. There’s an added warmth and depth to the 16mm that even a 35mm shot can’t get. I’m still learning how to use it. My first day out with it on my own last month was exciting, except I forgot to wind the lever to wind the film each time, so I only shout about 30 feet of tape. Even though I walked the clunker and my tripod all the way to the lake and back, even getting a few seconds of film was so rewarding. I expected nothing to come out, but the fast shots were beautiful and I used the light meter correctly (!). The Bolex needs a lot of light, because it’s 12 ASA so one of the most common mistakes is underexposing the film. Although you can dip the film in bleach, that creates a certain effect that you might not want. I did a reversal process with mine rather than a negative process for higher contrast and better image quality even though it takes much longer. But I love the patience and focus of working in analog. I don’t do it often. If you have a chance to use one, do it. I’ve been getting quite addicted the past few months. Watching Kelly O’Brien’s work-in-progress about her son has also shifted my understanding of cinema and production. Kelly is film-maker and the co-founder of Splice This! Toronto’s annual super-8 film festival. I wanted to link the festival website, but it’s gone as is any coherent information on it. I remember the festival because my old boss Christina Zeidler showed her films at it. In a strange way, not being able to find something online kind of feels like it never existed. Further search brings that Christina is on the Board of Directors of a new 8mm/Super 8 festival called The 8 Festthat started in 2008, two years after Splice This! finished. I must say considering some of the cross-over of people, that it’s surprising they don’t make a mention of Splice This! as a precursor to what they’re doing, because they obviously started the new festival to fill in the gap after Splice This! finished.
Today I had two rolls (200′), unloaded and loaded them all myself. I hope it turned out. A Bolex only takes 100′ of film at a time because of its size, which translates to about 2.5 minutes each at 24 fps. It also only shoots about 30′ of film at a time with the spring motor. It’s incredibly impractical and necessities constant creative negotiation. I brought a field recorder with me to record the sound as I was shooting, but it’s best to just apprehend the images for now. Taking it slow is all I want right now.
Do I look like I’m trying to walk in Jane Goodall’s footsteps in the top shot? I feel it (quite abstractly of course). I’d love to shoot a color 16mm one day soon! Maybe even Super 16 if I have the chops. Super 16 is 16mm film “but extends the image into what was formerly the soundtrack area of the original negative. This provides not only a larger image, but one that is already in wide-screen ratio. Thus, Super 16 requires less magnification when blowing up to 35mm, and hence there is a much smaller loss in quality.” link
Some films I love shot in Super 16: Clerks, Chasing Amy, Party Girl, Raising Victor Vargas. The Ballad of Jack and Rose, The Squid and the Whale, The Constant Gardener.
We watched two Martin Arnold films in class today as an unsurprisingly divided audience. One woman said she hates these kinds of films and after a while, once you figure out what the film-maker is trying to do it gets repetitive, and so uncomfortable that she has to look away. Another girl said she loves narrative so this felt really flat for her. There were some other comments made along the same lines, while I tried to piece together in some order why this film captivated me more than most things I have ever seen (in my life even!)
To me, the film’s choreographed explosions are constantly rewarding the viewer. You wait for what Arnold will do and how far he deconstructs and re-constructs the minutiae of movement (I wish you could see the facial gestures in this shitty rip). Explicit digging into Being and action to expose the obscured/repressed or ostensibly taken-for-granted is something I am really fascinated by. You just wait to see how far he will go, and then he goes and goes….. I could just listen to this without even watching the video. GAH! WOW! Here is a great article about him by Akira Lippit.
This is all done analog with found footage and with his own rig, in which he used a homemade optical printer.
If you know of more work like this, send my way please!
postscript: listening to this on three different browser windows now.