Aphids Reel Music Festival
Spectators attending the Aphids Reel Music Festival at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) were offered a rich and multi-layered sensory experience. The artistic director of Aphids, David Young lets his fascination with the interplay between live music and film be the inspiration and central focus for the festival.
The two events that I attended, Ghosts Before Breakfast and d.v.d explored some of the possibilities born out of such an interplay.
Without a doubt, accompanying film with live music creates viewing experiences distinct from regular cinema spectatorship. An interesting mode of spontaneity and interactivity occurred between the musicians, films and audiences which was akin to the early days of cinema. In this era films were always accompanied by live music: The musicians, if they sensed the audience to be bored, would mock the film with sarcastic music. Thankfully at no point in time did the audience express boredom but it is interesting to note the advancement of the role of sound, images and technology in collaborative artistic productions.
d.v.d., a group from Tokyo comprising two drummers, Kenji Ito and Yu Ojima, and the composer/video artist Takashi Yamaguchi, colluded with the audience throughout their playful performance. d.v.d. performed a number of animated visual music “songs”, using their drum kits and game-controller interfaces to control and respond to animated sequences. Most of the animated sequences drew on early video game aesthetics, invoking and playing with the audience’s nostalgia for these games and their basic graphics and sound effects. The most engaging of these sequences was d.v.d.’s reworking of the classic arcade video game Pong. The sequence begins with the drummers playing Pong, moving their bar up and down depending on the drum they hit and then explodes with colour, movement and sound.
In addition to the obvious references to early video game aesthetics and sounds, d.v.d.’s performance also draws on various art genres, including Action Painting. In one of their songs spots of different colours appear on the screen according to the drummers’ playing. The drummers’ marks on the screen are mediated by technology and the video artist effectively undermines a concept central to Action Painting, that the individual artist creates a natural expression of their subconscious. That the spots drip upwards also cheekily plays with the idea of painting with animation. Eventually Takashi begins to destroy the drummers’ creation by introducing black spots to the screen.
Visual music, which refers to both the use of music structures in visual imagery and the translation of sound into visual representation, has a long history including experiments with colour organs dating from the 18th century. The history and contemporary practice of visual music was recently celebrated in a season programmed by the Australian Cinematheque in Brisbane.
While d.v.d. represents a new manifestation of visual music, the Ghosts Before Breakfast program begins with the work of one of the pioneers of visual music on film, Hans Richter. Hans Richter’s silent short Ghosts Before Breakfast is visual music in the sense of visual imagery embodying musical structures. This film is also historically significant as an early surrealist film.
The mischievous Ghosts Before Breakfast was accompanied by a score composed by Maurizio Pisati, performed by Genevieve Lacey on recorder and Geoffrey Morris on guitar. The original score was destroyed by the Nazis as degenerate art. The film is introduced by a title stating, “Even objects revolt against regimentation” and commences with a man trying to tie a bow tie that doesn’t want to stay tied. Other revolting objects include flying hats and pistols. The Pisati score provided a suitably otherworldly accompaniment.
Two other short films were included in the program, Over Endless Resonances and Spiegelensemble. Over Endless Resonances was created by Pisati with the principal aim of leading performers of the instrumental score in a possible direction for interpretation. The video features handwritten pieces of score and graphs of sound waves and some sound. Over Endless Resonances brings to the fore creative and collaborative processes, prompting a consideration of the role that Pisati, the two musicians and the visual representation have in final composition and performance of the piece. Spiegelensemble is the result of a collaboration between Pisati, visual artist Salvatore Zito and video artist Max Bertolai and tells the story of Spiderman, “avoiding his everyday context and stereotypes as well as his painting and frame…” The video consists of black and white, close-up footage of crowds in the metropolis and animated drawings of Spiderman. The video and the accompanying music create a melancholy resonance that differs from other treatments of the Spiderman story.
The eclectic Aphids Reel Music program provided inventive explorations of the interplay between live music and visuals. The success of the Aphids Reel Music program lay in privileging this interplay rather than either element.