Tag Archives: documentary

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:

observation the first

As part of my Nonfiction course, we are currently doing several exercises in observation, miniature studies in perceiving the world that will, hopefully, help us observe and render the world as we perceive it, through the medium of film.  Taking our cues from the untutored vision and searches for “the tree with lights in it” of Stan Brakhage and Annie Dillard, we are supposed to look and listen and hopefully have transcendental experiences.  This is the first in a series of writings on these observational sessions.

“Find something that is hidden and observe it.”

I am entering the girl’s bathroom on the third floor of Burton residence hall.  I am brushing my teeth with the toothpaste on my finger, washing my face with foam from the soap dispenser, drying my face with rough recycled paper towels.  I am the only one in the bathroom, alone with the sounds I am making and some room tone, most likely the ventilation.  I look in the mirror to assess the level of exhaustion revealed by the strain under my eyes, quiet with myself, and to my left I discover a sound that is persistent, but distinct, not of the over-riding ventilative hum of the linoleumed space, but its own strain of sound waves.  At first it is a bit annoying, because it is quiet, but just so as to pick at my attention even as my other senses (or rather, my eyes) are focusing on the mirror.  But I look for the source, an exact point, bring my ear close to this spot on the partition and feel the relative volume swell as the distance between me and this hidden sound is traversed with the shifting of my shoulders.  At first, I think of it as a buzz.  It intrigues me.  I stand on my tip toes to bring my ear flush with the source.  I feel a tiny push of particles against the top of my earlobe, the movement of space around this border between the sound and its perceiver, the air moving with perhaps the sound itself, or at least some rush of air that is perhaps the reason for the sound, a pent up microcosm of swirling gaseous potential within this wall that is spitting itself out through the tiniest of punctures in the partition.  It is no longer a buzz; I give it the word ‘hiss’.

I come back two days later, and stand in the bathroom, leaving the lights off deliberately in order to sense the sound of this hissing wall spot as if I am just a pair of ears.  Standing in the center of the room, it is faint, among the other steady noises of the space, among the external bangs and creaks and footfalls and uttered words that pass through the walls from the hall beyond.  I go directly to it, listen with my right ear pressed against the wall, turn my head to let the left ear have a turn.  The hiss passes through my sensory perception as if subject to a Doppler effect, but one created simply by the slow turning of my own sense of perception in relation to this hissing sound, the constancy of which is growing to be a comfort.  There is a story of a Russian cosmonaut who goes into space, alone, and there in the cockpit of his spacecraft, begins to hear a steady clicking noise.  It is driving him insane, he tears up the dashboard in search of the origin, hoping to alleviate his growing madness, but he can find no source.  Knowing he will be alone with the sound for weeks before his return to the Earth, he is convinced he will go crazy; he will surely die.  But then, instead of succumbing to the agony of the sound, he decides to fall in love with it.  It becomes the most beautiful sound he has ever heard — it becomes music.

I make this decision from the start.  After some minutes with my hiss, I begin to understand that it was not one sound but many; it has a layered quality where different lines take on tonal qualities, one soft high pitched sailing along above a rhythmic central hum, with fluctuating strains of midtones and a bass buzz below.  It is a chord, the dynamics of which were subtle and shifting with the slight tilting and turning of my skull beside the cold linoleum wall.  I fall, bit by bit, in love with this sound.  I do not care that I am uncertain what it is, although a physics major who discovered me in releve with my ear against the wall suggested that it might be electricity or the like.  It may be electricity to a scientist, but it is also music hidden in the walls and in the daily workings of our lives.

in which i fully embark into the world of art

Perhaps I am a glutton for…productivity (as opposed to punishment), but I would like to announce that I have now signed on to a second internship, and a pretty sweet one at that.  Last week, I sent an email out into the ether in response to a perfect-sounding video-streaming/new media/networking/psychogeographic-sounding internship call, and was pleasantly surprised to hear back on the same day with an offer to be taken onto the project.  So last evening, I met Andrew Demirjian at Rags-a-Go-Go, an awesome vintage shop on west 14th street, where part of Andrew’s latest video installation piece, Scenes From Last Week, is just getting set up.  The set-up is pair of video streams in opposing store-fronts, which record and play back in real time, but also play back the synced footage from previous days.  As days pass, the installation goes from being simply paired shots of today/yesterday to arrays of 4 or 6 or more days, inviting passersby to glimpse the past and notice patterns in the daily life of two sections of urban space in Chelsea.  Andrew has also put out a call to performance artists or anyone interested in being featured to engage the repetitive nature of the media by returning daily and performing for the camera, or sharing a series of words, or whatever might strike one’s fancy — the project is very much about the social engagement and reaction of its viewers and participants, the interaction between past(s) and present, as well as the patterns of the urban setting and the interaction of the physical and psychological aspects of our environment.  It is very much, I think, a form of psychogeography that keeps the psychogeographer as a practitioner of stationary surveillance, getting momentary glimpses into a sort of always on-going but unrecognized psychogeography of the collective commuting community of Chelsea.

A previous incarnation of the current installation, from the perspective of the camera watching people watching themselves in real-time.

Andrew’s current work and interests seem to align pretty perfectly with mine, and also with the summer projects and obsessions that I already have going: documentary/non-fiction film, psychogeography/algorithmic art production that engages the urban space.  From the sound of it, I will be fairly involved in helping him create a second installation at Eyebeam, where he is an artist-in-residence, from the footage gathered by the current installation — this installation will deal more directly with Andrew’s main research there, which is in exploring the viability of algorithmically-edited non-fiction film as an interesting alternative to standard narrative approaches to filmmaking.  We will be experimenting with different ways to combine the footage, and to take this vast database of days and days of recorded sidewalk happenings to create patterned combinations of footage, drawing on Andrew’s interest in the rhythms of music and perhaps my interest in the syllabic patterning of structured poetic forms such as haiku or the Shakespearian sonnet.

Basically, I am incredibly stoked about this internship, although it really seems more like a cross between an artistic partnership and a private independent study, with Andrew even offering to give me some articles on new media by Lev Manovich to read, in response to which I enthusiastically told him that “I dig theory!”  (And having already read a little of Manovich’s work, I definitely don’t mind getting some reading assigned — it’s really fascinating stuff on databases and surveillance and modern incarnations of Foucault’s panopticon and whatnot.)  More and more I am realizing that I want to marry my love for film with my broader artistic and academic interests in psychogeography, and more and more I am realizing that within film, what I really love making is non-fiction: documentary, experimental, non-narrative, what-have-you.  Doing so algorithmically is almost like engaging in a psychogeographic exploration of the filmic medium and a given set of footage, which is totally cool, and perhaps exactly the sort of direction I’ve been looking for.  I think I said it recently, but it’s no less true: Living the dream.  Living the dream.

The official opening reception for Andrew’s installation is this Friday, July 15th, at 218 W 14th St (Rags-a-Go-Go in Chelsea) from 6 pm to 8 pm, and the installation will run from July 15th to August 15th.  If you happen to be in the Big Apple this weekend (or in the next month!), come check it out!  I’ll be there taking documentary footage, like I do.  Quite probably WITH A CANON 7D!  O___O

playing catch up!

It’s been a while since my last post, I know.  And a lot — I mean a LOT — has happened in the interim.  My parents visited, my girlfriend (whoa, my non-heteronormativity is revealed at last!) visited, her mom and sister visited…there was much visiting and rejoicing and theatre and good food to be had by all, for about two glorious weeks.  In that span of time, I also worked my first film festival and saw a fantastic documentary about Bill Cunningham, I experienced an astounding amount of great theatre for pretty decent prices and apparently survived the hell that is Times Square, I enjoyed some Super 8 experimental film by Rachel Rahme at Microscope Gallery in Bushwick (a block from my house, literally), I lost my internet but gained a smart phone, and I turned 21 in style after seeing the opening night preview of Hair at the St. James theatre and watching the sun rise from the window of Yaffa Cafe in St. Mark’s Place.  A great deal of visual culture that I will re-muse on when I have more ample opportunity. 🙂

But now the visitors have all gone home, and I am back to the daily grind of interning at Anthology and the other things that I like to do with my time here in the cultural capital of my rapidly expanding world.  And what, you might wonder, do I do in my ‘spare’ time?  When I’m not traipsing around lower Manhattan picking up Brakhage 35 mm films at the Filmmaker’s Co-op or delivering new Anthology Film Archive calendars to various coffee shops and bookstores, I’ve been spending a number of hours hanging out with the awesome kids who are Mother’s Favorite Pictures.  We are making a (shockingly low-budget, please donate here!) feature film this summer, and I have been honorably tasked with the role of official meta-videographer/documentarian/assistant rush-editor/extra-who-drunkenly-throws-a-Solo-cup, which means I get to be around the set of Tick Out of Time pretty much allthe time, gathering footage for my meta-movie (AKA making-of feature).  After swearing that I didn’t want to do production, I am plunging into in the guise of being a documentary filmmaker…and I’m kind of loving it.

Joey shows Dan, one of our lead actors, our IndieGoGo page; Dan is duly impressed.

Today was our first day of rehearsals with the three main actors, and their utter commitment to the project is incredibly inspiring.  They spent a lot of time discussing the back stories of their characters, read through the whole screen play, and rehearsed one of the opening scenes a number of times.  The attention to their craft was really exciting to have the chance to capture on film — I’m fully looking forward to more amazing shoots in the weeks to come.

In the mean time, you can check out what we’re doing on Facebook and IndieGoGo — we’re making a movie, and a meta-movie, kids.  Watch out!