It occurs to me that the loss of tactility in the computer helps to increase in me a sense of disorganization. I can have objects in real life and these objects may be strewn without organization. I can grasp them and stack them, see immediately the space they take up. The space of a computer hard drive exists, of course, but as far as my interaction with it, it seems to be nowhere. No configuration seems perfectly neat enough and I always end up duplicating and recompressing files and forgetting what’s a copy of what. Naming things improperly. It is not an organization of objects. An organization of names. Everything must be named but besides the name and the file extension which may affect the icon, there is no distinguishment until opened. Consequently, organizing computer files seems to be infinite especially since they can proliferate so easily especially for a compulsive listmaker such as I. And yet, where would we be without our computers and the plane of the digital which translates all things into the same (in a sense).

Some classic Rene Clair. I didn’t realize this was online. The last time I saw Entr’acte was as a special feature on a Criterion Collection DVD of A Nous La Liberte I rented. It really shows the experimental spirit of early film, before anyone knew what film was going to become.

A question I have that remains still unanswered for me is on the necessity of human characters in film/video texts. As I have discussed before, I am especially interested in finding a way towards accessibility that is beyond the logic of a narrative book-film. I have thus proposed the sound-film based on the logic of music, however, I am bothered by the question of character identification. What is it that produces commitment to a temporal text? Identification with characters is often one of the factors described. How many times has someone criticized a film for producing cheap and hollow characters that made them want to stop watching a film halfway through due to lack of investment. To be invested is to allow affect to come into play in relation to the text so that the question is ultimately one of how affect is managed and produced.

Narrative logic manages affect through its characters who are placed into circumstances that produce the story of interest and this is the commitment of the narrative film. The commitment of music is generally based on several factors which include the literal text of the lyrics if any are present and the affect produced from the sounds themselves including the base of rhythm if any is present. Thus, one could say that music is a more direct path towards affect production while a narrative film must first establish itself in certain ways to do this. If one is to attempt to produce an affective work of film or video without people and without anthropomorphizing other entities (such as in nature films) then what is necessary? One can produce a complex soundtrack that engages with images but how does one escape the sense of arbitrariness in the montage without humans or a contextualizing overarching text? The non-visuality of music allows for a more open montage but also produces a higher sense of arbitrariness. I believe this was one of the main problems of Koyaanisqatsi and one of the reasons why, despite only being 86 minutes long, it felt like one of the longest films I had ever seen. Perhaps there is no escape from this in a pure sound-film and the only solution is to produce hybridized texts that include some modified narrative structures such as the “isolated affect” which I describe as a decontextualized shock of highly charged emotional energy. In other words, it is a climax without context, working towards the goal of affective engagement without having to produce a highly elaborate narrative edifice; supported instead by other means.

We must go backwards in time as a radical step forward in our production of media. It seems that the history of special effects has been a history of making due with what has been possible at that time and thereafter moving forward towards a greater realism allowed by high technology. Those who produce independent cinema seem to have decided in advance that since they cannot afford to create a modern movie with modern special effects they must forgo it and focus on subject matter that does not require it such as the personal drama. Some, however, have begun to reclaim archaic special effects and compositing for their own purposes. That which was a technical marvel in the 60s, 70s, and 80s is now trivial in the age of Final Cut Pro yet obsolete with advanced CGI. Let us not be fooled by the Hollywood high technologists into being pushed into this ghetto. We must use the old effects, the cheap compositing, the camera tricks and so on and so forth in order to produce our art and take back these effects from the past and from the space of simple irony. The special effects of the past must return to the present in the independent media community. If people could once and continue to accept the conceits of a Star Trek or a Doctor Who then we must not limit ourselves by money but make use of our technology and take advantage of its aesthetic peculiarity. I propose that the methods of Star Trek: TOS, vintage Doctor Who, classic horror and so on be utilized once again for serious work and not just in comedy such as in Tim and Eric: Awesome Show, Great Job though that is one avenue for their effective use.

We must not be obsessed with a production of realism but with other things. If the goal is a narrative diegesis than consistency and not realism is what matters and consistency can be produced with cheap special effects.

The sense of transparency and self-evidency in any text is usually misleading and often rife with problems. That which is self-evident is usually that which has been able to naturalize itself sufficiently to appear beyond politics. In other words, it is ideological. There have been many strategies employed historically in cinematic texts to produce a sense of the artifice that one is viewing and to produce productive disjunctions such as the detournement of the Lettrists. This was, of course, in opposition to the seamless, immersive structure of the narrative film. An attempt to produce radical form itself.

In this project, the soundtrack served an important function, especially the spoken text as far as structuring and contextualizing images towards a purpose. If we imagine the standard cinematic text as structured according to the logic of self-evident unfolding through the well set up context and plot then the spoken text must be seen as messengers for all this. What is spoken contains information necessary for the reality set up. Action and image are significant but they are usually conditioned by the speech surrounding them so that it may be said that opening up significations of images can be done through a disturbance of the speech that usually contextualizes it. If one is interested in producing work where the images are not subordinated by a monovalent speech whether through voiceover or dialog then, I believe, the best options are excess or absence of speech.

In other words, speech can be subverted either by its minimization or by a deployment of it that is polyvalent and excessive thus destroying control. Absence is used in many of Tsai Ming-liang’s films such as Goodbye, Dragon Inn and you can see the use of excess in Godard’s Passion. The excess of speech was a conscious strategy by Godard meant as a binary inversion of the Hollywood film. In an interview Godard said that after realizing that Hollywood films often had very simple sound and highly complex imagery that he would invert the formula and produce films  with simple images and highly complex soundtracks. This excessive approach to speech is especially well done in the segment of Passion where factory workers are gathered together to discuss their desire to unionize. This is all to say that the goal of destroying the hold of the text over the subordinated image and allowing free play to occur on a flattened plane requires the use of such strategies.

Film has been around for a while now, nevertheless, not as long as music, painting, or literature but longer than new media art. Is this significant? I think so.

New technology has certain possibilities qua itself but also in service to a master. In the development of the art of film (and its cinematic continuance through video) I believe that we have largely developed film’s servile potential more than any sort of autonomous being of film and that this has to do with its novel technological being and temporal character. In other words, the few films produced that really investigated the filmness of film or the videoness of video led to formalist experimentation such as Serene Velocity. These experiments, while theoretically interesting, can in no sense be described as being highly accessible to a mass audience and I think this is because of a few special qualities the most important of which being the temporal aspect of film and video. Why is temporality important? Because it requires futural commitment. Any non-temporal art such as a painting does not require this. Hence, heavy abstraction in painting is more acceptable from the standpoint of consumption. A painting exists in what I call the infinite-instant by which I mean that you can imagine it eternally or momentarily and that both are valid and supported by the artwork. Temporal art which I define as literature, film/video/animation, and music are works that require commitments over time. Heavy abstraction or experimentation becomes much more difficult to deal with when it must be sustained with in such a way and when there is technological novelty which we are not yet accustomed to added on top of it, the end product may be extremely alienating.

My contention is that, in film, this problem was dealt with by looking to literature and making film into a derivative art for it. Not just literature, really, but any writing that includes descriptive imagery or plot as an important structuring feature became the basis for most films produced outside of the highly inaccessible experimental film circuit. The sound of a film, in turn, becomes a slave to the action of the film as an affective support. So the standard narrative or documentary is constructed hierarchically with the textual master at the top and sound at the bottom. The style and genre of film thus became organized analogously to the style and genre of fiction and non-fiction with the exception of forms too abstract or too plot-less such as high modernism (Finnegans Wake), poetry, or high theory/philosophy. The films that did attempt to map these usually were completely unrelated to what they adapted (such as Naked Lunch) or became too textual, merely being talking heads or voiceovers (such as Waking Life). There have been more productive experiments, of course (such as Godard’s radical period, nevertheless, many of these still resolve in essay film texts), but I am trying to look at general tendencies.

It seems to me that it might be useful to categorize types of film according to how they relate to other artforms. According to this, narrative films can be viewed as book-films and I would argue that many other forms also base themselves on older artforms so that installation work with a heavy video or film component are sculpture-films and video or films consisting of short loops meant to be displayed in galleries are painting-films. Formalist experiments then may be considered film-films or video-videos.

In addition, there is the possibility of the sound-film (distinct from music video but related to it), poem-film, and philosophy-film. The question is how to map what is not a visual or quasi-visual medium onto a visual one. How can moving images be structured according to musical, poetic, or philosophical logic? And how can this be done in a way that has some accessibility that allows for commitment? What has traditionally held this commitment in cinematic history has been the plot and drama of some sort of story.

Because of sound’s special relationship to the moving image, I believe it stands in the most opportune position of providing the primary logic and basis for commitment for a film. What has been the failure of so many music videos is their arbitrariness in relation to the music and vice versa. But this is because of their lack of cohesion. Films produced simultaneous with sound cohesively driven forward by the logic of the sound free the montage while providing affect and an object for commitment, namely, the audio texture. However, the image must not become subordinated to the sound either and the sound must play with the image. I am not proposing songs made and then mute videos produced with these songs over them as music videos but an integration. The binary should be dissolved rather than switched and the strict division and hierarchy of sound in audio mixing should also be flattened and played with. What I am proposing is the integration of the speech track, the effects track, and the soundtrack so that there is no easy separation or distinguishment between effects, music, and speech towards one cohesive sonic structure that is taken and integrated with the images displayed. Not only this, but with a new base logic of structuration in place that loosens things from a text and provides temporal commitments, there is more room for the experimentation of hybrid films. What I mean is that, free of narrative, we can now try and see what a poem-film, film-film, or philosophy-film might mean combined with a sound-film environment as the base of it. Experimentation inside of a narrative is more difficult because the montage must still serve the basis of a story and is not wholly free. By allowing the sound to provide the driving commitments, the montage is free. This is not to completely eschew all literary mappings on film but with a different driving logic, there is more freedom to bring it in or out at will while still maintaining a certain degree of accessibility. This is what I want to investigate now.

Incidentally, I realize now that I have already made a film like this without knowing it. An old college film I made called “Drive Through” used a lot of field recordings from the video shots in the soundtrack but they were processed and combined with more musical elements to create a soundtrack that flows between music and the environment creating an undecidable aural space not completely attached to the image nor completely divorced from it. This sort of openness is what I think is compelling.

As I have started to think about visual practice again and its important relationship to sound, I have started to watch music videos again. They are flawed, of course, but this is usually born of the fact that music videos generally flip a binary over. Standard cinematic practice makes sound the slave of the image which is, in its turn, usually slave to a text. You thus have a hierarchy of text over image over sound. Or, you could say, both sound and image serve the master of plot and story. The music video is not tied to a text and instead makes the image the slave of the song but as music videos are usually produced for lyrical music, the tendency is often towards a simple representation of the music’s performance. When this is eschewed, we begin to see more interesting experiments. Nevertheless, the images often seem hollow and I think this is because of the lack of cohesion. The song is made, then a video is made for it as an advertisement for the record. The music video is seldom conceived as a unified whole because it cannot be, otherwise it would be an A/V work but these are less available.

Anyway, the point is that the music video is interesting because it flips the standard cinematic hierarchy over but, in this, results are limited in interest and scope. A/V style work is more interesting as it attempts to flatten the plane and allow a temporal movement where sound and image needn’t exist in a strict hierarchy. This is something to consider in temporal artistic practice and I hope to find things like this as I begin to look into all this more deeply again.

This is all to say that last night I watched some music videos and here are three I liked.