Simultaneous Opposites. Flicker video.
Formal cinema, as evidenced by structural filmmakers in the fourth quarter of the 20th century, was an expression of the mechanical tools that were available to them: the film camera, the optical printer, the splicer, the A/B rolls. Today’s formal practice recalibrates the practitioner as a cinematician: neither fixed as cinematographer or editor, special-effects artist or projectionist. The cinematician of today spans the entire cinema gestational process in a single gesture: digitizing, processing, analyzing, playing, editing, presenting, deconstructing, discovering and experimenting without the imposition of hardware and processing compartmentalization. In this developing environment, the experimental cinematician programs a cinema engine that defines a new relationship to post-mechanical cinema, and spirals into a truly experimental and developmental relationship where the medium and the self can no longer be differentiated. The cinematician develops both the sensible experience and the generative media with every new piece.
The cinematician is an adaptation of independent cinema to the speed and power of 21st century digital media.
I create and employ software engines to examine mediated artifacts forged at my zone of proximal development. My Simultaneous Opposites engine (2008-present) is a performance/navigation system for real-time traversal of existing video files, sorting through the audio and video a single frame at a time, in a arrhythmic spiraling motion. The center frame between the two ends of the spiral becomes a temporal focal plane, with the length of the jump a temporal depth of field. The navigational path is the result of a preprogrammed algorithm interrupted during traversal by triggering and modulation by computer keyboard, mouse, and MIDI guitar.
On my website (www.robertedgar.com) are over 50 examples of the output of the developing Simultaneous Opposites engine. Each sequential video file exemplifies a stage in the ongoing experiment I’ve undertaken. During early work at Synapse Video in the 1970s, I integrated strategies of experimental filmmakers with those of the newly developing medium of post-television video. In the early 1980s, I sold my 16mm Beaulieu camera and bought an Apple //e. Teaching myself programming, I produced Memory Theatre One, an early seminal work of interactive computer art. Supported by the positive reaction from the small but developing group of artists who programmed, I set about to develop systems for extending Eisenstein’s montage categories to include the attribute of real-time cinema generation.
The first of these was Living Cinema, which blended video footage collected diary-style on video discs, texts from musings, audio recordings, cells to create short animation loops, graphics etc, and programmed software supporting the selection and combination of all the elements in real time in performance. I was also able to save the performance decisions and cursor moves, and re-inject them into the system later during the same performance, for a spiraled revisitation. Living Cinema had performances throughout the United States.
After a stint as multimedia specialist with Commodore Business Systems working with the video-oriented Amiga, I programmed and integrated a new system, SAND. From my website:
“The central theme of SAND: OR HOW COMPUTERS DREAM OF TRUTH IN CINEMA comes from a well-known quote that Cinema is truth 24 times a second. I grabbed stills (and sometimes generated images using 3D animation programs) of a sequence 6 frames long. I changed things in front of the camera between the shots. I then took the separate images and allowed the computer to imagine what happened between the frames–I did this using a morph program. Usually morph programs are used to change one object into another, but in SAND I used it to create an explanation (a visual one) for the changes that happened between the information that the computer had (it had only the separate stills). Of course, it didn’t always guess right: things may move from left to right, when they actually were pulled apart, etc.
“The mistakes–the artifacts from the morph–create their own poems, from their difference between what actually happened and what it “guessed” happened. My goal in the piece was to invent a new poetic space, which I believe I succeeded in doing here. And of course, there are parallels among all the media channels in the piece, as rememberances, arguments, occurrences, repeating riffs appear and advance in time”.
Unfortunately, soon after a working system was completed, I had to sell the Amiga-based system in order to purchase a business-oriented computer for my new Silicon Valley-based company Iconceptual. Only a few examples of the SAND exist.
At that same time, my video camera was stolen. I used the next few years to focus on music and musical systems. My next compositional system—consisting of software, MIDI-guitar, looping pedal and computer—generated a single piece. My “Duchamp Examination” is a demonstration of how a composer can dissect, examine and re-produce a precomposed (but not prerecorded) piece through a combination of analog and digital mastication and redigestion, in real-time solo performance before an audience. The Duchamp Prelude is a kind of electronic alapana, in which I explore the chordal sequence of the source piece “If Duchamp Drew Beautifully” through an overdriven TM-2 bandpass filter. I performed The Duchamp Examinations live online for an international audience through Electro-Music.com, as well as performances in California and New York.
Simultaneous Opposites, then, is itself the current evolution of a series of performance systems that I’ve programmed and integrated. A specific precursor is found in my 1972 16mm film of the same title. The 1972 Simultaneous Opposites was single-framed from a single tripod position. A second exploration incorporating this same approach, Intersticies, blended similar footage into video manipulation, and was produced at Synapse in 1975. Digital videos of these earlier works can be seen at www.robertedgar.com.
Here’s the kick: those people who stole your money? Under cover of the culture of illusion, and through the products they sold you that delayed your own self-creation, they stole your lives.
-First in a series-
With the deflation of the consumer culture that is happening all over the world today, Americans have a chance at adapting for the resulting environment.
Americans (and certainly other cultures, but certainly Americans) have for years accepted the practice of delaying the construction of a self, by spending their money—and lives—purchasing distractions. Art has been capitalized and made into objects for purchase, created by a small and distinguished tribe of specialists.
With the loss of purchasing power—so people have less ability to purchase distractions—preceded by a surge in the availability of low-cost media production tools (video and audio production, post-production and that folk-art distribution system the web) we have a corresponding surge in art making (with a lower-case “a”).
Younger generations who have grown up with computers create media easily, without a clumsy “always learn before you do” approach that was so helpful to the mechanical universe. Those at ease with computers jump right in and probe, trying one thing, learning its effect, and then trying another, burrowing into the web to find what it has to offer, or the software to find what they can produce. Alan Kay has rightly despaired of the loss of pre-planning, of an architectural approach to problem solving, in this dive-right-in approach. But the computer environment is one that rewards digital spelunking.
Instead of simply watching television for hours at a time like their parents and grandparents, a larger group is able to make their own and share it in online society. The online sites for displaying one’s own videos, or the thousands of sites for distributing one’s own musical tracks—these are the real killers of the music companies and movie theaters. That which had been the creative domain of Artists now have the floodgates open and the artists pouring their creations into them.
It is important to note that once someone has a minimal set of equipment and software, one can create for only the cost of one’s time. While every audio and video professional will argue that the quality that consumer and prosumer products can’t match that of the truly professional (and hugely expensive) equipment and software, it is absolutely the case that with today’s prosumer equipment one can produce media of higher resolution and lower noise levels than could be professionally delivered in the 1960s. Compare a HD video on Vimeo.com with a playback of Bonanza on any CRT.
What is more important than the resolution of the new technology is the ability to produce in media iteratively. As a film student in the mid 1970s with a disabled father and a mother who was an art teacher in a public school, I didn’t have money for multiple answer prints. Filmmaking was a process of trying something, then trying something ELSE. Even editing in video, which could be done for free where I was studying, was a long and painful process involving grease pencils, two reel-to-reel decks and multiple reels of video tape that had to be wound and rewound to start points for each edit. I worked in film and video with every moment of my free time (and still do), but today the ability to revise as one goes is incredibly supportive of quick learning and quality improvement, especially when combined with a distribution and social review system that allows the creator to obtain informal and instant feedback on work in progress. And all work is work in progress.
What happened, though, was the domination of the culture of the specialist, the pouring of money into huge Hollywood projects where, by concentrating the work of hundreds of people into the production of stories of individuals, we have a slight-of-hand that further supports the unobtainable hero. Hundreds of minds and specialists are not one mind, and we addict society to watching the magical existence of screen stars to appear to make their own decisions, and overcome their own problems.
It’s not that I don’t like Benjamin Button or even Hollywood films in general. But the illusion that it has always used as its attraction has created the illusory economy and culture that is now, for a moment, shown its real structure. Here’s the kick: those people who stole your money? Under cover of the culture of illusion, and through the products they sold you that delayed your own self-creation, they stole your lives.
The aging generations who now have time but no money will logically experience mostly their loss. But a child who doesn’t have paints will scribble in the dirt. And before aboriginals were taught to paint on canvas, they painted on sand.
The desperate need this culture has, as we head into this darkest of times, is for art (small “a”) education.
I was looking through the foreign section of Frys’ DVDs when I came across the Stan Brakhage DVD released a year ago, not long after his death. I had just asked Robert Polidori if he’d seen it, and coming across it in Frys was something of a surprise. I’m still surprised at times when I find something out here that I think of as east coast.
They did a wonderful job transferring the films to DVD, I’m surprised that DVD would handle the single-frames so well. The compression work is exceptional, as it should be for such a set of images.
I hadn’t seen Brakhage’s later directly painted work…God knows how many hours of Brakhage films I’ve sat through–possibly more hours than I’ve spent sitting in Greyhound busses. And I’ve done Greyhound busses.
The transfer was good enough for me to be absolutely transfixed by the images on my monitor. Brakhage films I always hear more than I see, even though they’re silent. I guess there isn’t much more for my eyes to bring to the images, my body instead reacts synaesthetically, and I settle into hearing the rhythms, pitches and timbres of the images as they pound past. What I get out of it, besides the sensual pleasure of the experience, is the sense that THERE IS SOMETHING PRESENT. There is a referent, somewhere between Brakhage, the painted film, and my self, that is present like a spirit, that, for moments at a time, while I experience the film, exists.
Not all art form provide that presence. Usually songs don’t. Not for me. They aren’t sensual enough, there’s too much pre-agreement to the rules of the game. But sometimes there’s an articulation that reminds you of the inner muscles in the throat, or a timbre that suddenly modulates from scratchy to smooth and hard, or a counterpoint that has you parsing the phrasing one way, then shifts and forces you to parse the same notes differently. Something happens between the form you hear and the ability to hear at all, and suddenly you glimpse into the interstice between the surfaces, as they shear and suddenly there is a depth there, a dimension that wasn’t there an instant ago. And ya know I could fall into that depth, and so it isn’t just another aspect, it’s one that I have purchase in, and yet this is just sound. How can I have purchase in sound? But here it is, and I don’t just hear it, I care about how it evolves, even though its only a sound.
So the Brakhage images remind me: there is this place, a place that has always attracted me, where for brief moments at a time, I am sensually aware of my immediate existence in a way where there is a break in time itself, which I recognize as an a-priori necessity for such a perception to take form. A fissure in the sensual stuff that is composed, a fissure that appears unexpectedly and invites my scanning senses to fall in, and at that moment I feel a vertigo that has nothing to do with the physical material of the composition except that I’m present. Because all that occurs in the presentation is a change: it is my self that supplies all the vertigo. And that is the moment I feel my existence, with its own texture.