Category Archives: Works by Me

back to school // back to reality

Summer is over, and it is time to go back to school. I graduated from Carleton last spring (an event, oddly enough, about which I continue to have recurring anxiety dreams), but while I am now something like a real adult with a Bachelor’s degree, I am back-to-school as well, in that I am working as the Educational Associate (also known, colloquially, as “5th Year”) for the Carleton’s Cinema and Media Studies department. This is a one-year position, and basically entails managing the filmmaking, audio, and media equipment, assisting the faculty in a variety of ways, and (hopefully) expanding a series of evening technology and cinema studies workshops, labs, and seminars that I am calling “CinemaTechs.” So at least for my first year of frightened post-collegiate existentialism, I am somehow lucky enough to have gainful employment in my field (and in the exact department where I became relatively qualified in my field!). That’s a lot to be excited about — and on top of that, there are some pretty awesome film-art-related opportunities coming into my life as a result of my role in the CAMS department (which I will write about in due course, as they arise).

Brief back-pedal to summer. In a (completely non-exhaustive) list, Summer 2012 for me as a perceiver and a creator consisted of: reading and listening to John Cage, discovering the joys of collaboration with a non-filmmaker artist (my sculptor friend Eliza), interpreting Debussy on film, revisiting phenomenology (David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous), shooting an indie feature called Lucidity, studying sound design//ProTools, finally watching Lar’s von Trier’s Melancholia and feeling no particular sadness in response to it, and developing a debilitating addiction to the song “Payphone” by Maroon 5. All that, and the privilege of slowing the pace of my often overcommitted and crazy lifestyle to explore Minneapolis with my wonderful girlfriend Gwen.

Reading David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous on the set of our indie film, Lucidity.

But to return to this idea that my job at Carleton is presenting me with some pretty sweet opportunities — one such is to continue to audit courses at the college, and I have jumped at the chance to take CAMS 286: Animation.

Thus far, Animation is taking me completely out of my depth, in a way that isn’t scary, but is rather enthralling and full of potential — we’ve begun the course with a return to the physicality of media, a thing that sometimes gets lost in the digital age of cinema. Our first exercise was to create a 5 second hand-made film on 16mm. I did mine on black leader, using pushpins to scratch Japanese kanji characters into the malleable, dust-producing, physical film itself, beginning what I hope will be a love and fruitful love affair with the medium. (Digitization forthcoming, I hope!) Our second exercise was a hand-drawn cel animation that linked together 48 transforming frames by each member of the class to create a minute’s worth of metamorphosing images, which (in my capacity as 5th Year) I compiled into a little video which you can check out on Vimeo!

As a filmmaker who fancies herself an ‘artist’, this return to the physical stuff of the world in my creation is suddenly and palpably addictive; and something about listening to Murakami Haruki’s A Wild Sheep Chase at 3am, drawing cel after cel of a squirrel transforming into Sir John Cage puts me in a delicious post-modern meditative state. There is a strange balance struck between a clearing of the mind and a productive fixation of the mind on certain ideas and feelings that such a repetitive, detailed activity allows.

Perhaps animation, or any more physical, slow-paced form of filmmaking (like handmade 16mm scratch films) is a perfect mode of production for an artist who also wants to be a theorist — a way to create physical real art and to think abstract complex//simple thoughts at the same time, through finding some synchronicity between these thinking and making processes.

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manifesto one: unfinished from the vaults

 

I’m getting nostalgic and graduating soon, beginning to transfer emails and the like, and I discovered this in my Drafts box of my Zimbra account.  I vaguely recall having written it in Microsoft Word, but then sending it (as yet unfinished) to myself so it would be accessible on my Dad’s iPad.  It was, I think, for the purposes of referencing it in my impassioned justification to my parents, in a small cafe in SoHo, of my intentions to become a professional psychogeographer.

Re-reading it, I’m reminded of how quickly I fall in love.  And that it really is fun to get lost and wander on occasion — or perhaps that this is what makes life worth living.

—– Original Message —–
From: “Anna Swanson” <swansona@carleton.edu>
To: “Anna Swanson” <swansona@carleton.edu>
Sent: Thursday, 23 June, 2011 11:08:26 AM
Subject: psychogeo rant

INTRODUCTORY THOUGHTS

I am undeniably enthralled by the world of potential that is this ‘psychogeography’ – a slippery term, at once very specific in its historical implications, yet expansive as we apply it in a backwards glance to all manner of artists, drug addicts, authors, wanderers, theorists – many (the vast majority) of them male.  But while it is a historical practice, it is exploding as I write, largely because, it seems to me, post-modern theory and art is obsessed with place and space and the dichotomy and interplay of those concepts, obsessed, to an extent with ourselves, and the data we generate, seeking theory and art in daily practice, the epitome of which could be said to be walking.  On one level, this is incredibly silly, to say that simply taking a walk is suddenly critical or artistic, but it speaks to the smashing of this boundary between low and high culture – the introduction of the idea that perhaps everyone, even without knowing it, can be an artist and a theorist without even realizing it, simply by carrying out their daily lives.  Perhaps, proof that life and art are no longer separate, or never were, and have finally been seen as the simultaneous processes that they are.  For me, life and art feel like the same stretch of sidewalk; it is simply a matter, I think, of changing one’s shoes and, yes, going for a walk.

But here is the thing: psychogeography is not simply walking.  Yes, walking is a big deal, historically, but when we look back at this so-called original definition of the concept, the words of Guy DeBord in 1955, we simply encounter it as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”  Not, of course, that this is the be-all and the end-all of the field – quite the contrary as we observe its rapid proliferation and thrilling transformation into all sorts of crazy and critical manifestations.  But psych geography is just that – our emotion and behavior in dialogue with our environment.

I think that on an entirely personal level, this is fundamental to my own interest in psychogeography.  It appears as a coping mechanism for my mental processes, a means of combating inertia, because it insists on movement, to some extent.  Even when it is concerned largely with mapping or physically stationary labor of interpretation, the mind is on a journey that is noble but not inert, following paths that in themselves are the creation of meaning.

But I began this meditation with the intention of clarifying, somewhat, the (vaguely) exact nature of psychogeography in this very moment and the approach that I might prepare to take to it, as an artist, explorer, theorist, and lost little kid.  In many ways, psychogeography speaks to the college student on the cusp of adulthood, to the Peter Pan in all of us, because it makes okay our natural tendencies towards uncertainty about the future and our sense that anything can happen; it takes the fear we have of this looming ‘REAL WORLD’ and gives it credence as art and theory.  It makes noble our existential angst.  Uncertainty about the future is by this estimation the norm, and is therefore, most certainly, quite certain in our lives.  It is a beautiful and natural thing, like sex and war and photography and dance.

Phil Smith has been drawing a distinction between ‘psychogeography’ and ‘mythogeography’ – which, for his purposes, is probably a good thing to do, and is an important step in outlining the psychogeographic vocabulary that I believe needs to be laid out, to a certain extent.  This is one of the many aspects of psychogeography that I see as something worth sinking my teeth into, as it were – things that need doing, for my own personal understanding, and perhaps for the coincidental benefit of a few other individuals.  Who knows?

By my reckoning, psychogeography (and art, and theory, and perhaps all things) should be grounded (or sky-ed) in intellectual and/or visceral notions, but should never forget LIVED EXPERIENCE – which should prove impossible if psychogeography is practiced in a ‘proper’ manner (although I am also of the opinion that, as psychogeography is at heart the practice of taking an interest in the self and the world, it is near impossible to do so improperly, except perhaps by being non-existent aka dead, in which case the point of practicing anything is likely moot).

[Just as a side note of interest, in the first draft of this manifesto, the length of this document after typing the word ‘moot’ was exactly the length in word count of the year AD of the Battle of Hastings.  I find this intriguing, although not necessarily ontologically meaningful.  Simply of note.]

CONTINUUMS

Psychogeography is taking all sorts of forms in this modern moment.  Some undeniable trends are the integration of new technology into the understanding of our (particularly urban) environments, such as GPS, Foursquare, Smartphones, Google Maps, and a host of other technological (almost all internet-based applications).  But this, for me, begs the question: what about those of us without Smartphones?  Is it really the case that we can’t engage with our environment without the aid of such constant technology, such constant integration with the virtual?  There seems to be either a deep and unsettling irony to the necessity of using virtuality to explore our relationship with place and space and movement, things that are arguably very much grounded in the ‘real’, or else a need to accept that this is simply another facet of the modern urban landscape.  The latter seems to be the easier option, as rejecting technology, luddite-like, is not surprisingly a significant challenge in this day and age, and it seems to be what we are doing as a broad psychogeographic community.

Still, to explore this need for technology through the means of psychogeography itself would be a very interesting piece, although one with an expiration date, because soon I myself may have a smartphone, and as the ubiquity of such technology exponentiates, the applicability of a critique may become less and less.  Who knows.

But, in true consideration, virtual life/technology/internet is itself becoming so much a part of both our psyche and our landscape (even the physical landscape – just step into Times Square and you have all the proof you need) that integrating new technologies into our exploration of how our psyches interact with those landscapes makes complete sense, and perhaps to the point that failing to integrate such technologies is a sort of blindness in itself.  Who knows.

But , to return to the thought that was intended to begin this section, psychogeography is almost anything right now.  This is both daunting and thrilling.

To drift, something has to be at stake – status, certainty, identity, sleep.
In a drift, self must be in some kind of jeopardy.

“the streets are full of lost and lonely texts”
Assemble a street poem.  Chalk it on a wall.  Curate your graffiti for ten years.  Photograph it regularly.

Say a mantra or read a poem, every time it ends turn left/right, take a picture
Find all of the words of a poem in order in the city, photograph them
Draw with chalk
Stalk someone
A street poem of chalk

Whenever I see someone taking a picture, ask them to take a picture of me, and take a picture of them (or take a picture together)

THEMES // METHODS

 

and now for something comprehensive

As I have undoubtedly mentioned at some point in the last several months, I’ve devoted a lot of my filmmaking efforts in the first portion of 2012 to my senior thesis film (also known as comps at Carleton).  It’s an experimental piece called when you wish upon a star, essentially a mash-up of Lady Gaga music videos and Marlene Dietrich films with footage of myself, a (perhaps overly?) complicated and problematized exploration of persona, celebrity, gender performance, and the performance of identity in general.  It tries to be a film theory and critical analysis through film-making, a sort of “filmed theory” as I have termed it, asks questions about whether comparisons I have made and wanted to make were even acceptable.

It was truly a labor of love, and after more than four months of such loving labors, I finally completed and presented it two Fridays ago in the second round of the CAMS comps film symposium.  (For those of you who were there, thank you thank you thank you; I am of a mind that comps talks are a bit like funerals, in terms of attendance, so it was wonderful to see so many faces I love in the audience.)

Then, coincidentally, I discovered later that evening that the blog Marlene Dietrich: The Last Goddess had just published a post entitled “Lady Gaga, Marlene Dietrich, and…Anna Swanson?” — and aside from the immediate fact that it’s a massive ego-sweller to have my work as a filmmaker analyzed for the first time, I was also struck by the (for lack of a better word) accuracy with which Joseph, the blogger who wrote the piece, perceived exactly what I had intended to be taken from the film, meaning-wise.  Or rather, not ‘exactly’, but approximately, since the film is so much about the difficulty of pin-pointing meaning, and is very much intended to be interpreted through whatever lens each new viewer brings to the work.

I was particularly thrilled by Joseph’s reaction to how I was wrangling with whether to ascribe to Dietrich the mantle of queer iconography and feminism: “I can’t help but wish that all the folks who ever professed that Dietrich was their feminist icon would watch Swanson’s piece!”  And the comment thread that his reaction to my comps sparked was similarly intriguing and satisfying.  It even gets around to touching on the question of whether Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” is reductive in its treatment of gender/identity/sexuality/etc. — to which I would respond that ‘reductive’ is relative, and that this song may perhaps be the most effective (or at least the catchiest) example of strategic essentialism to be found today.

Lately, I’ve also been thinking seriously about how to exhibit and control the distribution of my work; I’ve been jokingly taken up the motto that I will require a second screening of a film immediately after its has ended, and force my audiences to watch it twice.  And in a somewhat related vein, I’ve been wondering about whether to make my work completely and publicly accessible online, which has been my M.O. for all my work in the past.  To that end, I recently decided to make the online version of when you wish upon a star private/password-protected, which I have been interested to note has been noticed by the blogger(s) at The Last Goddess — the entry on my work has a new heading:
EDITED MAY 7, 2012 TO ADD: Looks like the video has been made private. What a pity!

More flattery.  Goodness.

So, for now, while I wrestle with my (cough) burgeoning fame and (cough) burgeoning ego, I would just like to insert a shameless plug for an upcoming LIVE screening of this work of mine.  For anyone who missed my comps talk but is in the Carleton area this weekend, we will be hosting a screening of all 10 senior comps films in the Weitz Cinema at 8 pm on Sunday, May 13.  It will be a truly beautiful extravaganza of moving image pieces that have had the hearts, souls, sweat, blood, and tears of we brave artistic souls who are the graduating Carleton CAMS seniors of 2012.  I personally guarantee a good time shall be had by all.

gaga-madonna-reversibility

As soon as Lady Gaga’s new single “Born This Way” came out last February, comparisons (and accusations of plagiarism) began to be made with respect to Madonna’s 1989 hit “Express Yourself.”  Along with discussions of controversy, the Internet was flooded with mash-ups of the two songs, generally attempting to prove their similarity — and admittedly there are some striking similarities between the two pieces (Gaga has gone on record saying that she is heavily influenced and inspired by Madonna).  But neither the accusations nor the mash-ups have extended beyond the singles themselves to their music videos, which leaves, for the sound studies scholar interested in such, an alluring lacuna.

As a final project for one of courses this term, Sound Studies, I delved into a lot of really fascinating music video theory, and ended up creating the piece “Express Yourself This Way” (above).   It plays with this opportunity for both visual and aural mash-up in order to interrogate, empirically, how sound and image in music-video map onto one another in a such a way that “the inherent qualities found in the sound and the moving images are interchangeable, so that the audio resounds the moving image, and the moving image visualises the audio”(18, Strand) — namely, to test ideas around the concept of aural visuality.

As Carol Vernallis says, “music video editing is strongly responsive to music”(xi, Vernallis), and Andrew Goodwin, Strand, and Vernallis all agree (as do I) that unlike film, sound comes first in music video as the song precedes the the creation of the clip.  Each of them makes similar but slightly differently-nuanced arguments for how it occurs, but the general consensus is that the sound of the music (not necessarily lyrics) inspires the image, finding aural-visual corollaries in things like color, visual microrhythms (as termed so by Michel Chion), form/flow, and contour that bring the image and sound together a particular ‘joins’ — almost reminiscent of Walter Murch’s metaphor of the dance of the edited lines of a film.  Thus, according to Strand, “by using the song and the aural qualities inherent within its audio space as a starting point, visuals are created that correlate to the phenomenological qualities of the sound in such a way that the images become the sound, undulating and streaming around the viewers, pulsing and reverberating through them”(39, Strand).

Thus, one of the primary questions asked by the video I have crafted: if arguments about aural visuality and the expression of image through music from the starting point of sound, hold true, should the images of the songs resonate similarly if “Express Yourself” and “Born This Way” sound so much alike?  My methodology in exploring was therefore to match the audio of each song with video from the other’s music video (they were both, minus the expository ‘para-song’ section at the beginning of Gaga’s video) almost exactly five minutes.  Even at this stage it was a bit uncanny how well the new image/sound pairings seemed to ‘work’.  In music video, Carol Vernallis has identified “the fundamental unit [as] the musical section, rather the scene or the shot”(170, Vernallis), as it would be in film.   Thus, “treating the form of the song as the analytical ground for the video better reflects its semantic and formal structure”(171, Vernallis), so I proceeded to segment each of the new aduio/visual pairings into their segments (intros, verses, choruses, bridges), and then created a hybrid ‘standard song form’ which I used as a framework to reconstruct a total music video by alternating sections from each in order through the framework, which is textually highlighted at the beginning of each major cut in the piece.

As I mentioned, there is an uncanny workability to the overlaid image/sound pairings that suggests that there are indeed aural similarities, and that because the theories of aural visuality seem to hold true, this creates a similar intertextual reversibillity between music videos themselves, over and above the intratextual reversibility (in the Sobchack sense) of image and sound.

Although my experiment doesn’t yet address what can be determined culturally from this more formal, critical aural-visual interrogation of a widespread accusation of ‘plagiarism’, it does also allude to the question of whether there is perhaps an inherent synchronicity of cultural concern between the two artists and their intended meanings in the songs that supports their ultimate similarity, in both sound and music video.  I am certainly not passing judgment as to whether Gaga has paid an extended homage or has completely ripped off Madonna — both artists operate within highly post-modern practices and discourses, where traces abound and ‘true originality’ is impossible.  Borrowing, both deliberate and inadvertent, is bound to happen.  But while the songs seem clearly intended (on Gaga’s part) to have some similarities, the interchangeabillity — the similar aural translational qualities — of the two music-videos suggest that an inadvertent similarity has emerged in the flow of images, precisely because Strand, Vernallis, and Goodwin are right: sound is always the impetus for the music-video, and aural visuality (and cinesthetic montage) entails that images that “work” for one song will “work” for a song that has been almost objectively determined as sounding the same.

Works Referenced

Goodwin, Andrew.  Dancing in the Distraction Factory.  Taylor & Francis, 1993.
Lady Gaga.  Music video. “Born This Way.” dir. Nick Knight.  2011.
Madonna.  Music video.  “Express Yourself.” dir. David Fincher. 1989.
Strand, Joachim Wichman.  Thesis, MCA in Screen Arts.  The Cinesthetic
Montage of Music-video: hearing the image and seeing the sound
.
Submitted to the Department of Media and Information Faculty of Media,
Society and Culture, Curtin University of Technology July 2006.
Vernallis, Carol.  Experiencing Music Video.  New York: Columbia University
Press, 2004.
Vernallis, Carol.  “The Aesthetics of Music-video: an analysis of Madonna’s
‘Cherish’.” Popular Music (1998) Volume 17/2.  United Kingdon: Cambridge
University Press, 1998.  p. 153-85.

some shameless plugs

I am once again taking all Cinema and Media Studies courses this term (including Comps), so it’s been pretty CAMS-y up in here.  On top of that, my friends Sam and Jack and I decided to submit to the annual Carleton film festival/competition, the Golden Schillers — which meant that two weekends ago, facing an 11:59pm submission deadline on the same day, we began shooting a minor masterpiece entitled The Perfect Hipster.

First of all, let me just take this opportunity to thank my fellow filmmakers for getting behind on this conceptual project — it’s a brainchild of mine that’s been gestating for about 2 and a half years, ever since I had the happy coincidence of finding Jorgen Leth’s short film The Perfect Human and the blog Look at This Fucking Hipster sharing space in my mind for one perfect moment.  It probably had something to do with the fact that I had a) just written a final paper on The Five Obstructions and b) was at that point going through an existential crisis regarding my own identity and whether to apply the term ‘hipster’ to myself, which resulted in my spending a lot of time exploring the Internet’s conception of hipsterdom.  Anyway: I’ve wanted to do this for the longest time, never have, and when I casually mentioned it to Sam one evening during a break on our radio show, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one who found it appealing as a project.  Sam told Jack, we formed a team (team name: Unicorn something something…), and the rest is history.

Appropriately, The Perfect Hipster is a film based on a film you’ve probably never heard of, unless you are a CAMS major, a hardcore Lars von Trier fan (the continual reworking of The Perfect Human is the centerpiece of his film The Five Obstructions ), or, I don’t know, Jorgen Leth.  It combines Danish existentialism and infinite white rooms with contemplative, probing voiceovers with too much irony and a healthy dose of plaid and PBR.  And it stars campus hip-stars Alex and Chisa — they are phenomenal and so understated.  It’s uncanny.

Here is the original basis for our film: Jorgen Leth’s masterpiece.  So good.

But the most amazing thing, to me, is that we produced it in less than 10 hours, from the moment we turned on the camera to the final moment when we finished exporting and submitted the piece with roughly 90 seconds to spare, and we’re pretty fucking proud of it.  A lot of work goes into the filmmaking process, and a lot of it requires processes that in turn require SO MUCH WAITING, or just time invested, so our adventure two Mondays ago was one of those experiences that makes me so excited for the real world — the possibility of finding a workflow and a creative team that just jives and gets really interesting, aesthetic, challenging filmmaking DONE.  So, props to us.  And watch out, real world.

Of course, with respect to the awesomeness of what we produced, you don’t have to take my word for it.  If you are on the Carleton Campus, the Golden Schillers are tomorrow (FRIDAY!) night in the Chapel at 8 pm, and obviously this is where all the cool kids will be.  After attending Sam’s CAMS comps talk in the Weitz — 4:30, room 133, be there or be square.  I would say what it’s about, but you probably haven’t heard of it.

videos from the vault

I’ve been doing some management of my digital assets, and came across two videos I made last spring while abroad in Europe on the CAMS New Media Roadtrip, which never made their way to the internet — but here they are now for your viewing pleasure!  Proof positive of what treasures a little cleaning (virtual or otherwise) can uncover.

From Berlin:

From Copenhagen:

the rapture is finally here!

I’ve been working on my final film (rapture) for Nonfiction over the past few weeks, and here it is, in all its “final” cut of glory (this is to say, I will be continuing to tweak and perhaps totally re-do over the coming week, and a more final version will make its way to Vimeo as well).  With that in mind, please watch, read my discussion of the work below, and please please please give me feedback!!!  Why bother being alive in the 21st century if we don’t take advantage of our ability to crowdsource-workshop our work?

rapture. a film by anna swanson.

A modified version of my project proposal, for the provision of context:

In keeping with the fairly personal, autobiographical work I have already done for the course, my final project will be a piece that delves into my personal archives. While I was abroad in the spring, I shot a decent amount of video on my Nikon D5000, which I had on my person at pretty much all times between March 15th and June 3rd. Because all of my archival footage was shot on a Nikon D5000, it isn’t the highest quality that it could be, but it has a great value in its digital-indexical referencing of lived (and remember) experience for me. This specific aesthetic is in the tradition of the autobiographical avant-garde’s “simplification of the recording apparatus”(13), which I think allows for a greater premising of the indexicality of the footage as holding as its referent the lived experience of the filmmaker. Many of the filmmakers Lane references “shot by themselves in available light and recorded sound at some time other than the moment of shooting”(13) – the former which I did, over the course of the spring, and the latter which I intend to do this fall as I edit the picture. I want to work in this “artisanal form of autobiographical expression”(13).

The piece, rapture, is about a great number of things. On one level, it is about a specific incident of personal injury that I incurred while walking along the former Berlin Wall, but it also seeks to more broadly address the sort of transformative experience of being in Europe this pass spring, and to that end, to address the very manner in which I remember/glorify/conceptualize that part of my (recent) past. It is psychology as well as abstract expressionism. It is about the subjective and constructed nature of history and memory, the way that always having a camera changes the world, the very real psychological strangeness of going from normal existence to suddenly being in shock with blooms of fatty tissue exploding from one’s palms. It is both a visceral experience and my own mediation and historicizing of that experience.

For those of us who regularly document our lives on film or video, the footage that we take is in some ways a visual manifestations of the thoughts we think when we are alone among the crowd of the world, and these thoughts compound to make up the history of our selves, our memories. So, because of my interest in film as an analog for and an exploration of memory, I employed the formal constraint of only using footage that was shot while abroad, restricting myself to a bank of personal archival footage that I am equating, conceptually, with malleable pieces of memory. The re-composition of these is itself an experiment in the construction of the past, through the literal process of editing this past into something of varying degrees representational and abstract.

The voice over is likewise restricted (as a further analog for drawing on memory) to selections from automatic writings I have done while in Europe and over the summer, rather like prose-poems; a means of furthering the psychological mimicry and individually subjective form of the constructed memory, drawing on my supposedly-subconscious mind’s outpourings, the products of experiments in extreme sleep deprivation.

The selections from the writings are each voiced by different people in my life, each narrator corresponding to a specific piece of writing, which I then intermixed in a way that again approximates the reconstruction of memory, but also invokes the way in which we as people are constructed by those that we love, and are moreover never the same person at any given point in time.

In terms of the editing style, I attempted to mirror the free-association of these patterns of thought, with occasional clear connections, and occasional moments of seemingly totally random mental jumps – varying degrees of jarring and fluid.

Three areas of inquiry that were central to the process:

What is the nature of memory? How do we construct it? How is it shaped by the records we take (personal photographs and videos, for example)?

How self-specific and revealing can I be without totaling confusing or alienating an audience, or on the other extreme, making them uncomfortable?

How can I add voice-over without over-determining the images or robbing them of their power to speak, and without speaking to them either too literally or too abstractly?

participant observation

Another video piece by me!  This one was made for an observational assignment for my nonfiction class; we were charged with the task of ‘observing a place or process’, and my observation was of both the rehearsal process and unique rehearsal space of my a cappella group, the Carleton Knightingales.  I am including my artist statement as an explanation of the theory behind the practice, but I would watch the video first, and then read on.  (Although if you choose to read my statement first, no one will know…it’s really up to the extent to which you will allow me as an artist to control your experience of meaning…)

a watch of gales in a chapel

artist statement

Although we were given the directive to capture a place or a process, I feel that my observations in a watch of gales ended up falling somewhere in the liminal space between the two – at once an observation of the process of a Knightingales a cappella rehearsal, and an observation of the rehearsal space itself in Dacie Moses house.

Unlike my previous video, I started out with much more of a theoretical concept for this piece, rather than simply beginning to experiment with the camera and discover in those very experimental forays the actual content of the piece.  I knew I wanted to document in a fairly subjective way, because the subject of my observation is too close to my self to even consider being objective about, and I wanted to communicate my sense of my cappella group.  I had also just read a lot of Balasz (preceded by Eisenstein), as well as history of the early abstract films by Fischinger, Eggeling, and company at the time when I was outlining my concepts, so I thinking quite a lot about abstraction, the close-up, the physiognomy, the idea of using music as an organizing principle for the moving image, and ‘harmonics’ of ‘lines’ in editing.  While I don’t think that the piece is a completely direct reflection of this theory and history, I have (like many artists, I think) taken the elements of it that appeal to me in a poetic and philosophical way and tried to let them take a practical form.

Wanting to abstract the rehearsal as a means of capturing my subjective experience of it, I began with the definition of abstraction from one of my readings, “the separation of qualities, aspects, or generalizations from particular instances” and decided to literally separate the audio from the video by deliberate making it non-sync, and even recording it on different days.  I then further separated the audio into five different “lines” based on conversational content, an idea that draws very loosely from Eisenstein’s later theories of harmonic, musical editing.  These five lines I have titled the “self-reflexive,” “business discussion,” “actual rehearsing/learning,” “gossip,” and “general chatter/laughter” tracks, which I layer over one another in an attempt to mimic the form of a cappella, but in the form of spoken harmonies.  The goal was an interweaving of chaos and occasional moments of clear statements.

The visual abstraction relies on the Balasz-derived ‘poetic potential of the close-up’ and synecdochic qualities of focusing on hands, feet, only parts of faces, cellphones, watches, and bracelets.  I filmed hand-held, attempting to make everything from my point-of-view, and preserved this subjectivity by simply editing the image based on what appealed to me aesthetically, creating a sort of loving subject gaze that hopefully captures my strong feel for the harmonic (and dissonant) social community of my group and my close attention (in literal, abstracting close ups) to the unique features of the members.

The fact that most of the audio is not what one might expect to hear in a piece on an a cappella rehearsal is very key to how I wish to represent the group – as one where the social harmonies are as important as the vocal ones, but where ironically we often end up spending more time talking than singing, although the video does finally emerge from the chatter and poetic close-ups into actual singing and two intercut self-reflexive, visually ‘quiet’ shots that want to point at the deep personal significance and actual beauty (and productivity in rehearsal!) that exists in this rather whirlwind environment.  My goal was to insert myself into the piece, to give way to the desire to actually hear singing, to create a sense of the collective echoing into the individual.

To speak, then, a little, to the title, which has some sort of arcane significance that I find kind of clever and worth noting, as it may be another aspect (like the conceptual constraints on the audio) that escapes the ‘uninitiated’ viewer.  The title, a watch of gales in a chapel, has several puns and allusions at work – my group is called The Knightingales, so we call ourselves the ‘gales’ for short; the birds nightingales come in groups called a ‘watch’ (like the equivalent of a ‘murder’ of ravens) but the piece itself was, as an observation, very much about watching; the etymological root of ‘a cappella’ comes from ‘in a chapel’, but the space where we rehearse and the ritual and music that is associated with it takes on a sacred meaning for me personally, and also functions rather like a communal confessional, a religious practice and place of sorts, in the totally secular living room of a cookie house where eleven girls meet and gossip and sing three nights a week.