By Andrew Connor
It is the halfway point in the Conference. My body is beginning to remind me that sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Due to the keynote speech and conference banquet, the schedule contained fewer concerts than the other days, but there was still plenty of audiovisual work on offer.
In Listening Room 3b, I came in halfway through the cycle to start my day with Joseph Hyde’s Vanishing Point, a work that from the start established a frenetic pace in sound and vision. Although the composer notes in the programme that the colossal number of images seen are deliberately wide ranging, my abiding impression is of a train ride through memory, with some of the rapid, speeded up video elements appearing to me as snapshots from a train window. The monochrome images pass by and morph into each other at high speed, with recognisable elements such as a child’s face, or a sea shore, juxtaposed against the pattern of light on waves, a white noise snowstorm, and an insect’s view of long grass, amongst many others.
Accompanying this visual array, the sound all stems from a single noisy source, processed only using comb filters. However, this process has been exploited to the fullest, allowing a high degree of correlation between noisy images and the noisier sound, while harmonic and inharmonic chords mingle to good effect, particularly in a late sequence where low noise and harmonics accompany what looks to be smoke passing across the screen. Overall, the time and care taken to select the images and the appropriate manipulation of the sound source add together to create a very satisfying whole.
The next audiovisual work to pass through the cycle was A Cancelled Glow by composer Stephen Stanfield with visuals created by video artist Matthew Stafford. This also had quite a busy, frenetic pace in both visuals and sound. Here, the intention behind the piece is given as an expression of oppression, with the images and sounds getting darker as the light fades.
For me, the sounds and visuals were individually good and striking, but I didn’t feel the sense of connection between the two that the creators intended. The music does indeed progress through discordances, lowering of frequencies, as if everything is closing in, and the video also uses recognisable objects and animated painted sequences (I appreciated the nod to The Scream at one point) to then break them down, overlay and re-reference them as a closing in of kaleidoscopic images. However, apart from the occasional moment such as a match between pulsing microbes on screen and a beat discernable in the sound, there was little synchresis or synchronisation in the work. That’s not necessarily a problem, but in this case it seemed a necessary part of the experience that was somewhat absent.
From the frenetic video and sound of these two works, Pranayama III by Elliott Grabill (sound) and his father Vin Grabill (image) headed into much calmer waters. Here, Elliott has based the sound around a single note, D, mainly using piano harmonics with some added vocal and synthesised elements. The work starts with a low, resonant harmonic chord, which continues in a cyclic, modified form as successive chords pulse against the onscreen, highly abstract visuals. These progress from colour saturated processed images, possibly based on landscapes, through interacting horizontal and vertical ripples, to slightly busier (though still fairly abstract) scenes. The music is low, soothing and contemplative. The images possibly come across slightly busier, but still also lead the viewer into a meditative state.
The fusion between sound and vision seems to have worked better for this work, and it does exactly what it sets out to do: provide a relaxing, contemplative audiovisual immersion.
At lunchtime, Concert 8 featured only one audiovisual work, but it was an excellent choice. I have to admit to a familiarity and appreciation of Bret Battey’s work in general, and welcomed the opportunity to see Sinus Aestum in such a suitable venue.
Earlier in the conference, Battey had outlined the creative process behind the design of his sound in this piece, using SuperCollider and Max/MSP to apply a large number of control parameters to an expanded recursive comb filter (for details, please refer to Battey’s paper in the proceedings). By manipulation of the parameters, he has created an immersive composition of shifting pitches and noise, all stemming from a single source input. Against this, he has also created a highly detailed visual experience, made up of thousands of swirling and shifting points of light, warping and transforming to create waves of patterns sweeping across the screen in sympathy with the audio. As with his sonic creation process, Battey has translated an animation process initially created using the Processing environment into a bespoke plug-in for Apple Motion 2.
The resulting amalgamation of crafted sound and vision is intensely attractive to watch and hear, and has so many passages of fascination, I will only highlight my personal favourites to give you a flavour of the whole. A few minutes in, the swirling patterns stop, coalescing into a into a delicate spiral filigree of particles, seen from the side, hanging and rotating slowly in space as the sound holds and expands on a richly augmented humming pitch. Suddenly, this spiral starts to rotate at speed, creating more patterns from its own interference trail, culminating in a sudden stop and freeze into a new position as the sound then takes its place in the limelight, rising or lowering in pitch until a new equilibrium is reached, at which point the cycle starts again for the visual element.
A later sequence has a high-pitched skittering frequency, reminiscent of a bow just skipping on top a high violin string, as the patterns on screen form a minimal swirling set of curves along a central horizontal line. With even higher crystalline white noise behind the main pitch, I had an impression of alien hieroglyphs corresponding to a form of radio broadcast. This then rapidly disintegrates into a sea of noise and descending pitches, against images of light blue and green clouds battling against each other and pouring across the screen.
This work is richly detailed in both media, and is best served by its presentation in a multi-speaker format with a large screen. With the added bonus of the earlier presentation giving us some of the secrets of its construction, this has to be my favourite audiovisual work at ICMC so far.
Andrew Connor is currently undertaking a PhD in Creative Music Practice at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. His research and practice examines the intersection of electroacoustic music and abstract animation.