Audiocentric cinema at SoundFjord

Martin Clarke performance at Soundfjord. Photo: Helen Frosi/Soundfjord.
By Helen Frosi

Sonic art gallery SoundFjord's new AudioKino project presents work in which film, video and sound meet. SoundFjord's Creative Director explains the ideas behind AudioKino, and looks back at her earliest film inspirations as well as current exciting examples of sound and film practice.

In 2011, SoundFjord, the UK’s only gallery and research unit devoted to sound art, began in earnest to present an ongoing series of film and video works under the banner AudioKino: a platform to interrogate the nexus between sound and image (its concept and articulation) within cinema and new media practices.

Taking place in a variety of venues including art house cinemas, galleries and living rooms, AudioKino is an ongoing dialogue between cinematic and private space, and audience; and conceptual impetus and technology. Through this programme, SoundFjord endeavours to present adventures in ‘audiocentric’ cinema – a journey through objectivity and abstraction, documentary, fiction and everything in between. And at every step, paying particular interest to sound and score.

 

Backstory

Rewind to when I was an insomniac teenager, back in the late late 1990s. Most nights I’d be up, noodling about, silversmithing or obsessively drawing. At that time I was an avid music fan, although for some reason I got into the habit of listening to the TV into the early hours. In fact, it was almost a ritual.

There was something about the endless late-night, independent and experimental films and horror B-movies that fed my curiosity and also kept me amused when whiling away the early hours. I also had a father whose collection of VHS was seemingly endless, yet so incredibly well ordered that I could dip in at will to all manner of popular culture and middlebrow films. Because most of the films were home recordings, I’d often choose the cassette with interesting writing on the side – Dad would give a résumé in black or blue ballpoint of each film – or the video that had been most watched, trusting my family’s judgment.

Early on I became fascinated by the dislocation of the sounds within the films simply through listening; then the power of the soundtrack or score itself to impart emotions such as fear, hysteria, mirth or sadness, without the visual stimuli being attached to the soundscapes that rolled before my ears, captured my attention.

So every night, I’d creep quietly to the snug – where the videos and records were kept – and steal away an armful. On the reels would be shorts by the likes of Laurel and Hardy, fantasy and war films – Conan the Barbarian, and Where Eagles Dare, through to Paris, Texas, The Conversation, and even Koyaanisquatsi. My evening’s listening was sorted. It was certainly through the films I watched (and mainly listened to), that I grew such a strong appreciation of the score and the sound behind a successful film.

It was only later on that I found earlier works that fully articulated the power of sound. A great example would be Walter Ruttmann, who created the experimental  film work Wochenende (Weekend) in 1930. It’s a sound collage, or as he called it, 'blind cinema', for it had no visuals and relied on sound only to construct a narrative of sorts.

By 2010, I'd instigated a number of ‘screenings’ of sound works, including pieces selected by Adam Asnan, a contemporary sonic artist and practitioner in the music concrète tradition, from the Entr’acte Label. The audience sat as if at a film screening and listened to pieces that were highly cinematic. If I had to describe the pieces in a few words, I’d say they were works that contained narrative – sometimes snippets of dialogue or voice – and were bombastic, emotive and had duration and a flow, conjoining sonic elements and then dispersing them. Click on the link to listen to Adrián Democ's Dve Prosby (Two Prayers) (Entr’acte E84).

Still from 'Monochromes', TU M' 2008/9

 

Listen in

Thinking about my history – my fascination with the sound of film; the concept of ‘blind cinema’, and my frustration with what I saw as a frequent disregard for sound in film making – I decided to open up a call for artists and filmmakers who use sound equal to, over and above the visual. I was seeking film works with fascinating or experimental scores and a general sensitivity to the use of sound; as well as ethnographic films highlighting alternative ways to create music and modes of listening; and documentaries that highlighted the science or politics of sound, and the daily lives of those using sound consciously – musicians, scientists, sound artists, phonographers, etc.

I was also interested in looking beyond the world of cinema into the realm of the Fine Arts and time-based media. As a curator I’m always fascinated with sensory crossover and I was curious about what I’d seen when working with sound artists: how they regularly engage with the visual, often picking up a camera themselves, working to construct new realities through computer programmes or simply collaborating with filmmakers and photographers to create works that contain visual and sonic elements that lead one another simultaneously, and in some cases where the sonic leads the visual.

Of this latter interest, Martin Clarke, a filmmaker, phonographer and sound artist often collaborating with Alicjia Rogalska, also a filmmaker, has created narrative works with her that not only contain enchanting cinematography (reminiscent of Sergei Paradjanov), but also highly sensitive phonography, that intermingles beautifully. Martin has a highly acute ear for the musical in the everyday – as in the warm timbre of the voices, the landscape and townscapes seen in Contos do Paiva (Paiva Tales), a work that was conceived of and filmed during a Binaural residency in Nodar, Portugal.

As part of our AudioKino season, Martin recently performed a live 8.1 diffusion of Slides. We also screened his gentle and dream-like work voyager, which was filmed and recorded in the UK, Shetland and Poland.

voyager from Martin Clarke on Vimeo.

Another favourite is Esther Johnson. Esther is a filmmaker, photographer and curator as well as a highly competent sound recordist. Her film work in itself often has a bent towards sonic interests such as Tune In, a film exploring the world of HAMS, or amateur radio enthusiasts whilst also investigating the politics of space and social communication. This work was screened at SoundFjord in 2010, at our grand opening. Esther will be showing more work with us later in the year.

Still from 'Tune In', Esther Johnson 2006

As an example of an artist working on the documentation of individuals using sound consciously, I’d like to introduce Helen Petts. She is a photographer and painter, and predominantly a filmmaker working distinctly with sound entwined with vision. What I find so engaging about her work is that it is so distinctively unassuming and intimate. As Helen states herself, her work 'explores rhythm, texture, sound and chance events and often involves long, intense, close-up images'. Helen has recorded numerous names in the improv music scene and others such as German voice artist Ute Wassermann, who in the video below explores the acoustic qualities of a railway bridge at Walthamstow Marshes.

We are currently working with Helen to show works including Sea Shanties,a piece made with musicians Roger Turner and Phil Minton for TAPS - Improvisations with Paul Burwell (Matt’s Gallery), at SoundFjord later in 2011.

Ute on the Marshes from Helen Petts on Vimeo.

Finally it’s a pleasure to talk about two sets of collaborators who constantly delight and inspire within the audio-visual and sonic art worlds: TU M' and Mem1. (I’m having to be restrained here as I could also quite happily talk about mimosa|moize, Robert Crouch, Tom White, Clinker and many more emerging artists blending experimental music, sound art and vision into a heightened reality.)

TU M’ are Emiliano Romanelli and Rossano Polidoro. The duo transverse the fields of music, photography and video seamlessly, revealing 'a complex universe made up of present and past, closeness and distance, where seeing and listening become a meditative contemplation.' Using duration and indefinable landscapes (of the earth, of the mind?) they use both analogue and digital media to articulate their concepts in sophisticated undulations within a territory of reverie.

Laura and Mark Cetilia make up Mem1, a collaboration between control and chaos, improvisation and controlled systems, music and sound. Laura Cetilia is an orchestral and chamber musician, concert presenter, electronic musician and cello teacher, while Mark Cetilia is a sound and media artist working at the nexus of analogue and digital technologies. He currently examines the potential of generative systems in art, design and sound creation. In Visiting Hours (a site-specific audiovisual composition created for the Laptopia #5 exhibition at the Museums of Bat Yam, Israel), Mark and Laura worked site-specifically, processing video and sound material from the site of the exhibition space. As examples of how both sound and visuals may be used to inspire one another, Mark created a video from the materials gleaned within the space, and Laura made a sound work. The two then gave over their finished material for the other to work on. Mark constructed a video for Laura’s sound work (West), and Laura created a sound work for Mark’s newly constructed video work (East).

Visiting Hours (East) from L + M Cetilia on Vimeo.

Visiting Hours (West) from L + M Cetilia on Vimeo.

Mem1 will be exhibiting at SoundFjord in January 2012. Their work will be created on-site from materials gleaned from the gallery and its environs. TU M’ will exhibit at Oboro (Montréal) in an exhibition called Sublimation: An Exercise in the Immersive, curated by Yann Novak, France Jobin and myself, in April 2012.

 

 

Helen Frosi is an artist and freelance arts professional, working in sonic arts curation and administration. She is the Creative Director at SoundFjord, a not-for-profit arts organisation based in north London that she co-founded in July 2009 with sound designer Andrew Riley, to redress the lack of exhibiting space for sound art, and to raise the profile of sound practice within the Fine Arts and beyond. SoundFjord is the UK's first contemporary gallery devoted entirely to Sound Art.

Soundfjord will be presenting an audio screening of works selected by Constantine Katsiris of Panospria on 3 May. Find out more about the event at soundfjord.org, and book tickets here.