By Andrew Connor
As I have a particular interest in audiovisual compositions, I’ve approached the idea of reviewing ICMC performances from a slightly different angle. Instead of reviewing concerts in their entirety, I have specifically focussed on individual audiovisual pieces shown in the concert halls and in the listening rooms.
Starting with the listening room works, we had three audiovisual pieces on show today: Louise Harris’s Fuzee, Andrew Hill’s Perpetual Motion, and my own Study No. 2 (which I cannot really review objectively).
Fuzee relates to a clock mechanism, a cone-shaped pulley with a spiral groove. As the screen fades from black, it is perhaps then surprising to see a jumble of what looks to be thin straight plastic strips in layers fading into an unfocussed white background. However, the sound immediately establishes the context with clock chimes, ratchet clicks, and winding noises, and the lines quickly move in response, twitching in sympathy with the clicks and curling into tight spirals with the chimes. The piece progresses through an exploration of the sounds of clocks, initially quite gently with chimes dissolving into and out of harmonics, and gradually introducing ticking clock mechanisms. The mood moves from a gentler introspection into a greater, relentless drive, particularly fuelled by the ticking, with the lines now curving and tightening into small, thick circles. The detail of the ticking sound is also mirrored visually in striations within the curled lines, an internal skeleton also moving in quick, jerky but regular rotations. The pressure builds with the increased ticking, noisier ratchet sounds, more insistent chimes, and the spirals on screen lock into ever tighter and smaller circles until, with a final decisive click, the tension is released and the lines straighten out gradually to the return of a gentle clock chime.
This work is well structured, taking enough time to establish the correlation between sound and vision. Just at the point where the connections have been made and the piece could have outstayed its welcome, the increasing tempo and building of tension as everything speeds up and gets more constricted draws the audience in, with the release and relaxation providing a satisfying ending.
Andrew Hill’s Perpetual Motion is also very satisfying. The work starts with an indeterminate meeting of three lines and a gradual introduction of a repetitive mechanical noise. It develops into upwards movement in screen and sound, an ascent to an apotheosis of white and an introspection of high frequency rising notes and highly processed upwards movements on screen. The following middle section is stable in pitch, with horizontal movements on screen – here the reality of the source material bleeds in, with the delicate texture of wood offering an optical interest against the mechanical noise of machinery moving against itself. The sounds start to move downwards in pitch, and the visuals change to match for the final section, a descent downwards to a final resting state of full inertia.
Both the video and audio materials were recorded from a single source, a paternoster lift. The processing of both elements allow for a highly ambiguous interpretation as the piece starts; it is difficult to even establish what the base material is behind the manipulated colours, changes in focus and the processed sounds. The development into an identifiable visual source does not detract from the sound world; rather, it adds the interest of a definable texture, but retains an ambiguity about the exact image source, again allowing for a variety of interpretations. The final descending sequence feels never ending, with constant downward glissandi implying an eternal decline, yet the disappearance into a reverberant emptiness still offers closure. The entire piece is extremely well realised, with each section contributing to a very engrossing whole experience.
In the lunchtime concert (2a), two audiovisual pieces were programmed, though we were able to see three due to an unfortunate plane delay for one of the performers.
Chikashi Miyama’s Quicksilver tantalised with its programme notes – organic unprocessed audio accompanying a very artificial animated rendering of liquid mercury. The visuals were definitely stunning; having used Blender a few times, I am very impressed with the skill shown in creating a believable world of heavy liquids, a succession of images of mercury droplets being thrown up from a main body, scattering through the air, and merging back into slow-moving reflective rivulets. On the visual side, this work delivered big time.
However, the audio, for me, really did not stand up to the video element. The majority of the sound was quite light in tone—a sequence of fairly high pitched vocal noises—apart from a single much more satisfying episode of growling and throaty gargling. Miyama notes that he is investigating contrasts, so it may be that the lighter audio tone is a bold move to contrast with the heavy visual movement, but the resultant mix is imbalanced, and I ended up feeling that the piece might actually have been better presented as silent video—a strange sensation in such a sound and music rich environment.
Due to Alexander Schubert’s unfortunate plane problem, Jean Piché had the opportunity to introduce his programmed piece AUSTRALES with its antecedent BORÉALES. Both pieces had highly intricate video elements, delicate ever-mutating and highly defined particle streams based on underlying video footage.
In contrast to others I spoke to after the concert, I found BORÉALES a slightly more interesting experience than AUSTRALES, although I found both to be highly engrossing. The shifting, shimmering sounds in BORÉALES seemed to me to fit more closely with the images, giving a more satisfying overall experience, while the voices heard in the audio element of AUSTRALES came across as a bit intrusive, too ‘real’, seeming to divorce an otherwise equally appropriate soundtrack from images which actually seemed more engrossing than the earlier work. However, both impressed with their overall composition and retained full interest throughout.
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.