Director: Larry Jordan
Year: 1978
Time: 6 mins
Music: William Moraldo
Eye of Sound: I confess that I'm not a fan of Moraldo's music, though it does have a soothing effect after a few minutes of Visions of a City. But I'm a big admirer of Larry Jordan's work, and I'm especially fond of most of his non-collage works (which I absolutely adore, of course). Visions of a City was shot in 1957 but was not edited till 1978. Using beat poet and playwright Michael McClure (Ike in Kerouac's Dharma Bums)  as a "guide" and visual counterpoint, it is a short portrait of San Francisco shot almost entirely through reflections of all sorts: mirrors, shop windows, car windows, bottles. The mirror trope, obviously, has endless theoretical and philosophical possibilities. Suffice to say that the sepia tinted images, the powerful editing and the distorting effects of mirrors make this one of Jordan's most beautiful films.


Director: Stephen Beck
Year: 1973
Time: 28 mins
Music: Warner Jepson
Eye of Sound: A classic in audiovisual experimentation, Illuminated Music was a series of live performances by Stephen Beck (visuals) and Warner Jepson (music) in which the artists reworked pre-made compositions directly before an audience. While electronic video adventures were still a novelty, live experiments, both in the visual and musical arenas, were even rarer. Beck used the Direct Video Synthesizer, designed by himself, which - so the narrator claims - allowed him to "control precisely" the visual output in the performance (the myth of control in electronic media) and, still noteworthy at the time, to create pictures without a camera. Jepson used the now famous Buchla audio synthesizer, first explored by Subotnick in his 1963 piece Silver Apples on the Moon. Though I'd that say that Jepson's music is far richer and more engaging than the visuals (perhaps as a result of the greater possibilities of the Buchla synth and the deeper theoretical and practical range of electronic music at the time) Illuminated Music is unsurpassable in its historical significance as an early experiment in live electronics. I never could get hands on Part I, nor do I know if there are further installments in the series.

ENERGIE! (2007)

Director: Thorsten Fleisch
Year: 2007
Time: 5 mins
Music: Jens Thiele
Eye of Sound: Fleisch exposed thousands of sheets of photographic paper to an uncontrolled discharge of 30.000 volts sent through a cathode tube. The exposures were then rearranged to produce a chronological progression, suggesting a narrative of radiation emanating from a celestial body, possibly the sun. Jens Thiele provides a soothing but intense drone soundtrack, potentiating the effect of this powerful stroboscopic flicker excursion into the heart of the body electric.


Directors: Guy Marc Hinant & Dominique Lohlé
Year: 2005
Time: 52 mins
Luc Ferrari
Jean-Philippe Collard-Neven
Vincent Royer
Eye of Sound: Shot shortly before Luc Ferrari's demise, Facing his Tautology has the fundamental merit of avoiding the temptation of a sentimentalist epitaph mode. Indeed, the fact that the film's subtitle alludes to this sad coincidence may perhaps, given the general tone of the picture, be more of an imposition by the producing label than a decision by the directors. Facing his Tautology was recorded in France, during the initial stages of a new Ferrari production, a new version of his 1969 piece Tautologos III. The score is actually nothing more than a set of rules, whose results are to be decided by the musicians' inspiration and Ferrari's sensibility. The film allows us an intimate glimpse of the composer's methods and centers on his relationship with the performers (which, in this case at least, amounts to the same). The picture we are presented with is one of an active, sagacious, good-humored and open-minded man, miles away from the stereotype of the composer-dictator in complete charge of his output (as seen in, say, documentaries on Stockhausen or Boulez).  In fact, Ferrari allows himself, and concomitantly the directors, to demystify the concept of the composer itself: although never declining his position, Ferrari assumes the role of a guide, someone who is steering the wheels and coordinating efforts and sensibilities to achieve a result in which all participants can claim a finger of their own. What is perhaps more rewarding in this fascinating documentary is the human confirmation or translation of the composer we hear in his pieces: such generous, transgressing, humorous, intelligent, sarcastic, joyful music does indeed stem from a man with all those qualities.


Director: Ross MacGibbon
Year: 2005
Time: 66 mins
Music: John Cage
Eye of Sound: The second part in a trilogy recently concluded with Wild Cursive, Cursive II is an entrancing and meditative exercise on elegance and austerity. Inspired by Chinese calligraphy, this acclaimed piece by choreographer Lin Hwai-min offers an hypnotic lexicon of gestures that seem to draw both from Tai-Chi and martial arts, driven by an unshakeable desire to reach some sort of ecstatic nothingness. Movement is both fluid and tense, delicate and vigorous, slow-paced but charged with vibrant energy; and the visual composition is stunning, rarely abandoning asymmetry but always focused on scenical harmony. The selection of Cage's music for such a piece might seem odd for those less familiarized with his repertoire and theoretical apparatus. But the choice of such ethereal, mediative pieces as Ryonaji, Five or Sixty-Eight is more than appropriate as the guiding light for the dancers' mesmerizing gestures as it seems to draw the viewer closer and closer to the unreachable stasis that both the choreographer and the composer want to achieve.


Director: Guy Girard
Year: 2003
Time: 41 mins
Misha Mengelberg
Mary Oliver
Tristan Honsinger
Ernst Glerum
Ab Baars
Michael Moore
Wolter Wierbos
Thomas Heberer
Tobias Delius
Han Bennink
Eye of Sound: Sometimes Duke, sometimes duck. A broken ballad will quickly morph into a spinning waltz of dissonant melodies and then build into harmonic skyscrapers that were not made to last. Fluid, fast, seductive, sometimes even glamorous cascades of sound; intensely psychedelic, fractal patterns of bliss that are nevertheless human and soulful; radiant and joyful as the few happy sundays we have in our lives - the ICP will settle for nothing less. As for the film, it is filled with liquid effects distorting the image, a welcome "innovation" in concert-films that adds to the fractality of ICP's music (although the excessive focus on Bennink is rather unjustified, given the Orchestra's philosophy and the abounding excellency of the remaining players). An excellent concert displaying some of the best jazz music in Europe today. And watch out for an incendiary hyper-textual take on Monk's Criss-Cross.

LIVE IN PARIS 1.11.1984

Director: Frank Cassenti
Year: 1984
Time: 91 mins
Music: Art Ensemble of Chicago & Cecil Taylor
Eye of Sound: I think it was Matthew Shipp who once said that jazz is like a curse for black musicians. The Art Ensemble of Chicago would probably be one of the best examples of this. Throughout their long career, the Ensemble has explored uncharted sonic territories, creating a world of their own where contemporary sensibilities, tropical rains and otherworldly research joyfully share the same boat. No doubt, they have frequently invaded the ever-expanding jazz provinces but mostly as a stop on their way elsewhere. It could be argued, then, that except for these jazz interludes, the only thing that separates them from being considered as an experimental or contemporary ensemble is the color of their skins. But skin is thicker than water and the Ensemble is mostly thought of as a jazz outfit. This excellent concert in Paris will, I think, prove this point. There are jazz sections throughout the performance, but they rarely fail to crumble and are frequently guided by a desire to reach unsafer waters and explore possibilities in sonic abstraction. Cecil Taylor's intense performance unsettles this wide spectrum even more, turning the tables with his piano, vocal and percussion agitation. And maybe Taylor, in his incredible ability to switch codes and move from lyricism to broken rhythm and atonality in one second, is the Ensemble's best possible accomplice.

VERTIGE (1969)

Director: Jean Beaudin
Year: 1969
Time: 41 mins
Music: Serge Garant
Eye of Sound: Many films were produced in the 60s, both emic and etic, documenting the violent and sometimes silly ideological revolutions that swept Western middle-class youngsters of the time, producing a fascinating an apparently endless vault of cinematic experimentation and increasingly conventional audiovisual tropes. Far more interesting, for instance, than The Invasion of the Thunderbolt Pagoda, is Jean Beaudin's debut work Vertige. Though its point is somewhat vague, it is both visually and sonically one of the most compelling exercises in the tradition of lysergic films of the 60s. Sympathetic but subtly critical, Vertige presents itself as a psychological portrait of the escape and/or contestation tactics of the decade's youth: while war, violence, famine and poverty continue to devastate the planet, these youngsters seek refuge in the hedonistic haven of sexual liberation, lysergic research and communal fictions. Richly textured visuals and bold scenic montage are some of the key elements in Vertige, but it is Serge Garant's fine contemporary soundtrack, and its intimate rapport with the scenic rhythms, that catapult the film beyond the conventions of psychedelic cinema. Famed as a pioneer of contemporary music in Canada, Garant provides am eclectic score that ranges from atonal symphonic exercises to psych-rock, concrète and electroacoustic soundscapes. Such diverse approaches, and their powerful connections with the screen, give Vertige a highly nuanced and refined cadence, and render it one of the finest and most compelling examples of the genre.


Director: Erkki Kurenniemi
Year: 1971
Time: 12 mins
Music: Erkki Kurenniemi
Eye of Sound: Recently rediscovered thanks to Mike Taanila's Dawn of Dimi documentary, Erkki Kurenniemi is a true visionary of the electronic age. His war games left no territory untouched: music, film, robotics, dance, philosophy, photography, artificial intelligence and what not. DIMI Ballet was conceived as a demonstration of his DIMI-O electronic performance device. This video controlled instrument pursues an ancient sound-eye dream: the direct translation of image into sound. To demonstrate DIMI-O's possibilities, an unidentified dancer moves along some kind of sensor to create a wash of analogue tones and colors.


Director: Ira Cohen
Year: 1968
Time: 31 mins
Angus MacLise
Sunburned Hand
Acid Mothers Temple
Eye of Sound: There is, at the beginning of this hippy-trippy cult film, a vague promise of a vague narrative line. But soon the acid starts kicking, and all hopes or fears of a plot of some sort disappear. The Thunderbolt Pagoda starts in a proto-ceremonial setting. Actors dressed in pseudo-Oriental clothes gather around a human corpse (Cohen himself) and perform a ritual burial in the muddy ground. Slow ritualistic movements lend the scene a dignified, if otherworldly, tone. Then the corpse rises from its grave, and the psycho-court rejoices in this mystical rebirth. The music changes and the setting and colors make it clear that such a rebirth is but an entry into an acid-drenched dimension. Actors from the Universal Mutant Repertory Co. (including Tony Conrad, MacLise, Ziska Baum and many others) are now living in a world of incensed perception, distorted mirrors and blurred colors. Except for opium smoking, action is no longer perceptible: the screen has been taken by distorted shamanic visions of elves, princesses, snake-men, nymphs and other creatures from the 60s fairy-tale psyche. Appropriately, MacLise's soundtrack is an acid soup in which ingredients morph into one another beyond recognition, and in which less is not more. Building a continuous racket of fast-beat tablas, minimalist sitar, distorted vocals, free-wheeling flutes, etc, it recalls the primordial, monotonous and saturated drive typical of everything MacLise ever recorded. While there are certainly more accomplished emic documents of the 60s lysergic culture, one could argue that the reason Thunderbolt Pagoda attained cult status was not so much its hypnotic, languid and somewhat mind-boggling visual and aural rhythms, but the ability to portray and reflect a collective druidical dreamscape that can be evoked or imitated but never truly restored.
Note: The file includes recent alternative soundtracks by Acid Mothers Temple and Sunburned Hand, as well as audio commentary by the director.
 - links removed by request - 


Director: Charles Dekeukeleire
Year: 1932
Time: 13 mins
Annelies Van Parys
Els Mondelaers
Hermes Ensemble
Eye of Sound: The camera approaches its object carefully and it takes some time before we can have a glimpse of the site itself. After some shots of the sky, the mountains, and plenty of water - perhaps not entirely devoid of religious significance - we finally enter the Grotto. But we won't spend much time there, for Dekeukeleire is more interested in the surrounding social and psychological scapes than in the original site of the Virgin's appearance. Dekeukeleire was himself a catholic, but this visual documentary on Lourdes is rather ambiguous as to his position regarding the most important pilgrimage site in Europe after the Vatican. There is a focus on the diseased who come praying for cure, on the peasants who lay offerings everywhere, on the selling of religious articles around the site, and on the "temporal" aspects of faith - but it's not easy to grasp a clear position from the director. Knowing whether Visions of Lourdes is intended as a piece of criticism on such practices or not is a question that entertained critics for decades, so much so that it obscured the film's' beautiful cinematic composition, its sense of spatial and temporal movement, and especially the strange recurrence of some elements apparently alien to the site - namely, the constant presence of water in all its forms. Van Parys' beautiful soundtrack perhaps adds to the ambiguity, although I suspect that ears less accustomed to contemporary music can hardly fail to associate its occasional dissonant lines with the idea of the sinister. Effusive, almost ecstatically candid games between Els Mondelaers' voice and the wind and string sections are interspersed with more sombre and reflexive passages verging on dissonance; but the score makes use of some common religious themes and recurrent, almost lyrical phrases lend it a sense of lightness that is increasingly rare in contemporary composition. Literary critic William Empson insisted on the creative and cognitive virtues of ambiguity. Visions of Lourdes is indeed an ambiguous film, but maybe part of its compelling beauty lies precisely there.


Directors: Fernand Léger & Dudley Murphy
Year: 1924
Time: 17 mins
George Antheil
Paul Lehrmann
Eye of Sound: It's difficult to make a brief description of such a historically charged film, so I'll just mention a few facts about the version presented here. Ballet Mécanique was jointly conceived by Dadaist painter and filmmaker Fernand Léger and Futurist composer George Antheil. Legend has it that Antheil's score was technically impossible to execute at the time: among other "oddities", it demanded sixteen synchronized pianos when there was no technology available to synchronize so many instruments at a time. Antheil rearranged it and added live piano players, but its American première turned out to be a disaster, with riots and all. The score was abandoned and for many decades every attempt to perform it bumped into the problem of synchronizing the pianos. Finally, in the 90s, after the discovery of the complete cut for Ballet Mécanique, Paul Lehrmann used modern MIDI technology to synchronize the piano section, thus "restoring" the score and allowing today's viewers to watch Ballet Mécanique as it was conceived. As far as I know, this is the only version which included the original George Antheil score.


Director: Peter Liechti
Year: 1989
Time: 40 mins
Music: Voice Crack with Knut Remond
Eye of Sound: Legendary "cracked everyday electronics" Swiss duo Voice Crack created a nook of their own in the rich panorama of European adventurous music in the 80s. Exploring the debris of industrial culture, the duo refined an improvisation language and method based on the literal deconstruction of everyday materials, releasing ghosts from vulgar machines and objects till their disband in the 21st century. Composed in the noble tradition of sound-film, Peter Liechti's Kick That Habit is a beautiful, grainy, wordless documentary on Crack methods, performances and, appropriately enough, everyday sonic surroundings. The way in which Liechti allows common aural experience surrounding the duo to breathe throughout the film, alternating footage of private performances and common "real life" events, is a fundamental aesthetic strategy and accounts for much of its immersive and contemplative, quiet force: finely amplified banal events, like the cracking of an egg at a restaurant, are located within the same experiential dimension of the duo's experiments with a long thin wire - and perhaps in a more fundamental way than classic concrète tactics. Liechti's amplified realism prevents him from indulging in conventional illustrative plays with sound-image dislocations, so that the chosen soundtrack for the duo's train travels is not the duo's recorded music but the duo's train travels. Kick that Habit resounds as an immersive experience in cracked everyday industrial soundscapes, as if sound has been, like in some early experiences already shared here, scratched onto the film. That would probably be the finest way - the only sane one - to make a documentary on Voice Crack. But Kick that Habit is not really a "band documentary". It is rather a documentary on sound itself.

ATMAN (1975)

Director: Toshio Matsumoto
Year: 1975
Time: 12 mins
Music: Toshi Ichiyanagi
Eye of Sound: Atman is a Sanskrit term signifying something similar to self or soul. Yet such a self implies a whole range of metaphysical and anthropological dimensions unknown in Western languages and, therefore, Western intellectual traditions. It's an ambivalent concept denoting two distinguishable, but not opposed, realms of being: the individual self and the cosmic self. The degree to which these two levels of existence can be assimilated differs according to each school of thought or sectarian line. As an essential concept in Hinduism, the term is present in all modern Indian languages, but it's also a central tenet in several Buddhist strands and other religious configurations in the East. Matsumoto's 1975 short Atman is a rigorous and entrancing technical exercise whose "meaning" can only be hinted at by its title. A masked human figure is standing on an open landscape. The camera(s?) continuously encircle(s) the figure, in an anti-clockwise movement, approaching and abandoning the figure in stop-motion steps and varying, sometimes vertiginous, speed. Ichiyanagi, a regular collaborator of Matsumoto, offers an excellent, richly textured electronic score that is essential in sustaining interest in this constant merry-go-round: occasional bursts of of rhythmic mayhem, brilliantly synched with the picture's stop-motion, give way to swarms of orbital noise and back again. The masked man could well stand for the relation between the two levels of self implied in the film title, but the significance of this particular horned mask can only be explored by someone versed in Japanese iconography. But fear not: with or without a clear meaning, Atman is a magnificent exercise in cinematic vertigo, an outstanding film in an outstanding filmography.


Director: Pierre Hébert
Year: 1968
Time: 16 mins
Music: Pierre Hébert
Eye of Sound: Canadian animation genius Pierre Hébert started his career with studies on pure shape-driven abstraction and the limits of human perception. Around Perception is a groundbreaking experiment on computer-based animation, consisting of 11 audiovisual events designed to baffle cognition and unrest comfortable notions of reality. Unlike most of his later films, Hébert chose not to collaborate with top-notch experimental musicians and created the soundtrack himself. In this, he followed a method also used by Norman McLaren: to scratch sound directly onto the film itself. The relation between sound and picture, however, is not as symbiotic as in McLaren's Synchromy: although there are organic reactions between the two domains, one is not a direct translation of the other. This, of course, need not be seen as a weakness. Indeed, with its fast-paced changes of color and geometrical patterns, and the employment of Columbia-like richly crafted electronic tones, Around Perception works as a tremendously hallucinatory exercise in trompe l'oeil (and l'oreille) techniques. Or, as stated by Hébert himself at the beginning of the film, an exercise "for the mind and against the mind".


Director: Ken Jacobs
Year: 2004
Time: 67 mins
Music: John Zorn & Ikue Mori
Eye of Sound: Ken Jacobs flows with a sense of history. As a septuagenarian artist, Jacobs is himself a human inscription of history. But it is through his works that this temporal depth goes beyond a youngster's banal recognition of a veteran's memory of things past. Many of his latest films have been exploring the memory of cinema, that insidious instrument that single-handedly defined the 20th century and forever changed our cognitive and mnemonic habits. There is thus something simultaneously paradoxical and redundant in exploring the history of cinema as an art in itself; the memory of memory is more than a meta-exercise in remembering, it is a thrust as twisted and potentially deranging as the tale of the woman who gave birth to herself. Jacobs has been making extensive use of found-footage, but with an unique approach that somehow leaves the integrity of his materials untouched: rarely there's a juxtaposition of sources, and the used footage is given he privilege of standing on its own, distortion and corrosion coming from within the film itself. Another approach has been the use and reinvention of projection machinery that cinema history forgot. The magic lantern, which Jacobs has been developing in the past few years, is a precursor to the slide projector and represents nothing less than the essence of cinema and photography: the capture and projection of light for the creation of visual illusion. With the addition of a hallucinatory stroboscopic effect, Jacobs "invented" the Nervous Magic Lantern, a device which allows him to further complicate our notions of cinema: film here becomes an improvisational material, and the session is indeed a performance as irrepeatable as any other. Celestial Subway Lines/Salvaging Noise, selected from four performances, is Jacobs' most notorious exercise with the Lantern simply because it's been released through the renowned NY label Tzadik. John Zorn and Ikue Mori provide a suitable soundtrack for the Lantern's unreal visuals. Dreamy but haunting, these electronic soundscapes add different layers of intensity to an otherwise stable visual input, ranging from destructive industrial noise to distorted vocal samples, concrète recordings and abstract electronic tones. In such circumstances, of course, the soundtrack is highly intrusive and determines much of the understanding of the visual projections. The final result is a tremendously disturbing hallucinatory experience in which the illusion of tridimensional depth is a constant challenge to perception and the eerie soundtrack adds an element of danger and nightmare to what could well be a psychologically neutral event. Watch this at your own risk, but do watch it.


Year: 2009
Time: 75 mins
Ken Vandermark - reeds
Dave Rempis - saxes
Steve Swell - trombone
Tim Daisy - drums
Michael Zerang - percussion
Mark Tokar - bass
Waclaw Zimpel - reeds
Mikolaj Trzaska - reeds
Per-Ake Holmlander - tuba
Magnus Broo - trumpet
Eye of Sound: Vandermark's popularity outside the usual circle of modern jazz consumers is something of a mystery. Unlike Zorn, Vandermark never produced a single record that could attract surf guitar, thrash, klezmer, or pan-music lovers. His work has been tightly focused and circumscribed and yet, despite his uncompromising stance, his name remains as one of the most popular in modern jazz music. The Resonance tentet project, although fairly accessible for KV's standards, will not provide any answers. The compositions seems to draw inspiration from a desire to contrast two worlds that we all tend to think of as opposite: the so-called "free jazz" tradition, and the classic big band heritage, perhaps most notably in its suite form (cf. The Duke). Pushing forward the method of knitting together different structures for improvisation, KV's Resonance compositions are based on "modular pieces" - modules that can be rearranged and reassembled for a given performance, thus extending possibilities on the eternal struggle between the call for structure and the need for ample improvisation room. This concert features the tentet in top shape, building muscular but lyrical sound-cascades. Although dominated by a strong horn section, rhythms are never swallowed by its frenzy, Zerang and Tolkar being given the responsibility to keep the locomotion swinging and palatable. The result is an intense but delicate music, powerful but never inform, warm but always aloof from the easy, cheesy, boring antics of mainstream jazz. Still, despite this odd combination of attributes, there's no clue as to the aforementioned KV mystery.