Director: Peter Collis
Year: 1996
Time: 6 mins
Music: Peter Collis
Eye of Sound: In this beautiful short film, Peter Collis contrasts footage of the natural world with its disintegration under digital manipulation processes. Using stills as his main source material, Collis creates illusions of movement by splitting the screen in different layers of clarity and distortion, by using the traditional rostrum camera, and by contrasting high definition black and white pictures of flora with their corrupted or glitched avatars. Collis' beautiful visual compositions are supported by a haunting digital soundscape in which field recordings and elusive sonic sketches are craftly combined and edited in order to produce a somehow unsettling aural drift. A very beautiful film.

SANCTUS (1990)

Director: Barbara Hammer
Year: 1990
Time: 18 mins
Music: Neil Rolnick
Eye of Sound: Sadly reduced by hype machines to a pioneer of "lesbian cinema" (whatever that means), Barbara Hammer has a long career in creative and critical filmmaking, constantly trying to find new narrative forms and technical possibilities to offer the world a personal view on such themes as physical disease, media, gender, sexuality, age or health-care. In her 1990 short Sanctus, the main point seems  to be the time-honored dictum of the body as a temple, or, as the author put it, of a body in need of skeletal protection from a corrupting and diseasing environment. Hammer used old x-ray footage, rearranged, colored and orchestrated through optical printing, in order to reveal hidden bodily movements and rhythms in its constant juxtaposition. Rolnick's soundtrack is a characteristically hectic electronic piece in which choral (probably religious) music excerpts are mutilated, stretched, rephrased and rebuilt in ways that sometimes allow us a glimpse of the original materials but more often than not chop them beyond recognition. Its highly artificial and surreal timbres should be known to anyone familiar with Neil Rolnick's synth antics, although it could be said that this piece is perhaps more complex and rich than most of his works from this period. Although frequently returning to their sources, both Hammer's images and Rolnick's music seem to make a gradual progression from more or less discrete shapes to progressively more abstract territories in a movement that sometimes could be said to lead us further inside the authors' subjects and themes. In all its beauty, enchantment and delirious dynamics, Sanctus is a truly overwhelming piece.


Director: Frank Scheffer
Year: 1995
Time: 81 mins
Karlheinz Stockhausen
Arditti String Qaurtet
Eye of Sound: Dedicated to all astronauts, Helicopter String Quartet was composed for a very classical formation, the string quartet, in a very unusual setting: four players in four different flying helicopters, synchronized by means of voice signals and click marks. Stockhausen once had a dream. He was at some high-class party where he didn't feel welcome, and he just wanted to fly away from there. He suddenly starts flying in the air and through the objects, performing an elegant flight that mesmerizes the tuxedo-clad party guests who had snubbed him before. This was, the composer says, the very origin of this controversial piece. And throughout this fascinating documentary we see Stockhausen joyfully narrating the many signs, premonitions and supra-rational events that lead him to compose the piece. Many ideas merge in Helicopter: the dream of flying, music as a flying object, the double goal of translating the helicopter floating pitches into a score and integrating them in the recording, or the spiritual connotation of the flight. There is an overt spiritual quest in Stockhausen's composition, but this modern mystic must come to terns with his earthly dimension and become entangled in the mundane details of material reality in order to achieve an approximate translation of his dream. We thus are presented with a sample of the painstakingly meticulous rehearsals with the Arditti String Quartet and the immense technical challenges posed by the extravagant idea of putting four musicians playing together in four different helicopters. Stockhausen's joie de vivre and childish enthusiasm is evident throughout the film. There is, however, a key moment in the film in which the composer betrays an enormous inner angst: asked, during the dress rehearsal, to compare his dream to its practical fulfillment, Stockhausen doesn't fail to notice the obvious contrast between the freedom he felt in his dream and the heavy burden of technical and practical issues that surround him and somehow keep him from enjoying the moment. A grimace of sad resignation is then briefly allowed to take over his face. This is perhaps one of the strongest points about Scheffer's film: more than a simple documentary about an unusual avantgarde performance, fascinating as it may be, it is also a narrative about a man driven by  messages from the unconscious, sticking to his vision by means of premonitions and rigorous hard work, but finally recognizing the vacuity and failure inherent in his attempt to make his dream come true.


Director: Stéphan Aubé
Year: 2004
Time: 15 mins
Iannis Xenakis
Pedro Carneiro
Eye of Sound: A very short but interesting documentary following the recording of Pedro Carneiro's interpretation of Xenakis' Okho, Psappha and Rebonds, three highly demanding pieces for percussion. The first part is a recording of a performance of Rebonds B in a Parisian church. The second section offers a brief insight into the recording process of such pieces, exploring technical and artistic issues surrounding the production of Carneiro's interpretation. Differences between recording and performing are briefly addressed, centering on the need for the creation of dynamics and contrasts that are unreachable in the performance hall. The figure of the producer, so often neglected outside the field of pop music, is highlighted before turning on to short statements about Xenakis' music, its mathematical apparatus and its profoundly physical nature.


Director: Pierre Huyghe
Year: 2006
Time: 23 mins
Music: Joshua Cody
Eye of Sound: One of the reasons why we travel (and why we so easily fall prey to the lure of travel literature and its many current avatars) may be, as anthropologist M.J. Ramos once said, sheer disgust of urban sedentarism or, to go a little further, of home and the self it tends to define. Bringing the journey back home, of course, is as old a trick as it gets, but it's the only known way to surpass its sadly narrow temporal limits while clinging on to our domestic comforts and egos. Huyghe's A Journey that Wasn't was a musical show staged in Central Park, NY, conjuring memories and representations of a trip to Terra del Fuego in Antarctica. The purpose of the journey was as modest as it was classic: to discover an unknown, un-topographed island and, with luck, an hitherto unknown species. But this was not as quixotesque as it sounds: in fact, global warming has been melting away the poles' ice shelf and revealing previously unchartered islands and ecosystems, and there were even rumors of a strange new elusive white animal living on its shores. Huyghe and his crew eventually found the island and set up a research station in order to translate this virgin land's shape into sound by means of morse code. The animal, an albino penguin. was indeed located and recorded on camera. Later, in 2006, Huyghe set up a "multimedia" show in Central Park evoking this pioneering journey and recreating its icy landscapes: a spectacle of light, ice and music, which is partly documented on this film. Joshua Cody, renowned composer and student of such heavy-weight names as Boulez, Murail and Andriessen, offers yet another entrancing musical translation - this time, a translation of the topography of the island, recorded through sound-probes during the expedition, and here recreated as a contemporary musical score. Unknown islands, unknown no more.

CHUMLUM (1964)

Director: Ron Rice
Year: 1964
Time: 23 mins
Music: Angus MacLise with Tony Conrad
Eye of Sound: Somewhat reminiscent of Cohen's Thunderbolt Pagoda, but more refrained, compounded and elegant, Chumlum was shot during the making of of Jack Smith's Normal Love and features such "stars" from the Factory/NYC underground as Beverly Grant, Mario Montez, Tiny Tim and Smith himself. As in Thunderbolt Pagoda, actors are depicted in pseudo-oriental costumes, engaging in orgiastic feasts and general dolce fare niente hammock ethics, in what seems to be an endless opium sea-trip under the signs of sensual imagery and gender ambiguity. Chumlum's forte is, as you may have guessed from the pictures, the constant superimposition of images, veiling each actor and scene behind another and fragmenting the screen's integrity to a point in which background and foreground are often no longer discernible. Limbs and faces pile up in disruptive forms, creating collages we thought possible only in animation films. Dimensions accumulate layer upon layer, and even individual layers often comprise several levels of visual depth, actions being constantly hidden behind a translucent object of some sort. This intensive nesting of dimensions could well be like a sea-sickening trip, and part of the reason why it isn't may be found in MacLise's soundtrack. Unlike his contribution for The Thunderbolt Pagoda, where more was thought to be more and the final result sounded like a huge soup bowl where any ingredient could be added without altering the global flavor, MacLise's journey into exotic tunings and instruments is here very focused and restrained. Played with cembalo (and barely audible tablas) under the musical direction of Tony Conrad, MacLise's Chumlum is a solid take on minimalism in which micro-change makes dissonance and consonance lose their significance. Strange as it may sound, it is perhaps MacLise's pattern-repetitions that hold Chumlum together and render its dangerously vertiginous multi-layered movements a soothing experience.


Directors: Evelina Domnitch & Dmitry Gelfand
Year: 2007
Time: 47 mins
Taylor Dupree & Richard Chartier
Alva Noto
Evelina Domnitch & Dmitry Gelfand
Alexander Kaline
Asmus Tietchens
Kenneth Kirschner
Carter Tutti
Eye of Sound: Another essay on the eternal synesthetic dream of translating sound to image. But Domnitch's and Gelfand's project is far more ambitious, for it attempts to forfeit any representational, symbolic mode to achieve a "natural" - as far as possible - visualization of sound waves. There have been several experiments, of course, many of which artistically rewarding, but most have been focused on virtual exercises of some sort. On the contrary, Camera Lucida is presented as a "sonic observatory" in which musicians are allowed to visualize sound waves transformed in light by means of complex utilization of the natural phenomenon of sonoluminescence. The above picture of the Camera Lucida prototype depicts a transparent chamber, filled with a gas-infused liquid, on whose walls there are ultrasonic transducers that generate frequencies which are then rendered visible by the chamber's contents. A pre-made interactive composition is the chamber's sound source, by which the performer can produce and modulate sonoluminescent events after its translation into ultrasonic sound waves. Several musicians were invited to explore the Camera Lucida, producing a surprisingly diverse array of soundscapes which somehow reflect each artist's sensibilities and aesthetic inclinations. The most interesting pieces are, for my ears, Dupree's & Chartier's Specification, a calm but intense exercise on metallized artificial timbres and windy hisses, and Tietchen's Camera Lucida, with its multi-layered subtle echo palette. The remaining works manage to stand as engaging adventures with this sonic observatory, focusing on static noise, crystalline sonic-lines and decayed aural detail. The only exception is Alva Noto's Sonolumi, which somehow manages to be as boring and uninspired as most of his works - which is, perhaps, a relief: despite working within a limited set of acoustic possibilities, the Camera Lucida experience is rich, flexible and human enough to allow talent to emerge where it exists.


Director: Gunvor Nelson
Year: 2004
Time: 9 mins
Music: Gunvor Nelson
Eye of Sound: Born in Sweden, veteran filmmaker Gunvor Nelson was one of the leading forces in the San Francisco avant-film scene of the 60s and has over the past 40 years erected a very personal filmography solidly dedicated to studies on image and sound. Trace Elements is a short formal exercise in which the camera moves around a room, exploring the almost tactile surfaces of a decaying wall with a constant sense of bewilderment and restless hesitation, as if the camera never does find, as John Sundholm has said, its target. Nelson's own body is constantly present, its shadow insisting on merging with the other shadow-forms reflected on the walls, perhaps as a mark of a self-reflexive stance. Such shadows are compositionally juxtaposed with excessive light, creating in its relation with movement and editing multiple surfaces that constantly elude a clear spatial resolution, the only exception being brief intermissions in which the distorted colors of flowers almost violently erupt into the screen. Nelson composed the soundtrack herself, a flickering and spacious electroacoustic soundscape in which low-key field recordings, synth color tones, voice fragments and quasi-lyrical instrumental events are quietly made to flow into and out of the walls, allowing silence to punctuate the piece's movement and introduce subtle nuances in the aural rapport with the images. Both visually and sonically, Trace Elements stands as a work of both immense maturity and daring experimentation, a combination possible only to artists who have reached higher levels of control over their selves.


Director: Sharon Lockhart
Year: 1999
Time: 39 mins
Music: Becky Allen
Eye of Sound: One of the most aesthetically rigorous and fecund artists in contemporary experimental filmmaking, Sharon Lockhart has been confounding boundaries between cinema and photography for over three decades, complementing her tight formal exercises with an ethnographic sensibility rarely found on the screen. Teatro Amazonas is undoubtedly among her most radical and intriguing works. The setting is an opera house built in Manaus during the rubber exploration boom of the 19th century. The audience in this Fitzcarraldo utopia, presumably unacquainted with the kind of music to be performed, was personally selected by Lockhart herself. comprising locals descending from both native Amazonians and Europeans. Hidden and fixed, the camera records the audience watching a performance of a musical piece by Becky Allen, specially commissioned for the event. Allen's piece is a powerful minimalist work for choir in which acoustic space, initially overtaken by the singers, gradually gives in to silence - or, to be more precise, to the audience's own choral noise. A sound mass initially emanates from twelve invisible groups of five musicians intoning one single note in vowel cycles, vanishing imperceptibly till only one of these groups is left, therefore allowing the audience's presence to slowly emerge in all its boredom and discomfort. Lockhart thus forces a series of identifications on the part of her "ideal viewer": on one level, of course, it is a matter of observers observed, of viewers viewing viewers, both probably restless to the same degree; but on another level there is also a perhaps uncomfortable identification of the urban bourgeois viewer with the director, the composer, the (secretly local) choral group and the camera, somehow mitigating the previous identification. The way in which this strange triangle, composed by the artists and the two spectators, is designed to shift between such identifications endangers some of the most basic and unconscious notions of gaze hierarchy and fixity which are at the very heart of both the ethnographic and cinematographic enterprise, forcing us to reconsider, if only for a while, our own place in the trinity.


Director: Tom Hovinbole
Year: 2004
Time: 119 mins
Music: Francisco López, Otomo Yoshihide, Jazzkammer, Merzbow, Toshimaru Nakamura, Supersilent, Tore H. Boe, David Cotner, Lasse Marhaug, Deathprod, Nordic Miracle, John Hegre, ARM, Hakon Kornstad, Alexander Rishaug, Fe-Mail, DEL, Helge Sten, MBD, Michael Duch, KA, Kai Mikalsen, Jan de Gier, H.C. Gilje, Arne Borgan, Ivar Grydlland, XYZ, Ingar Zach.
Eye of Sound: Noise, live, stomachs, history, silver, pop culture, texture/structure, Dada, limits, typos, politics, Schaeffer, found objects, ego, Ground Zero, detachment from sources, individualism, vultures, human/non-human, chaos, Koenig, aggression, sex, concrète, Varèse, improvisation/composition, birds, Painkiller, Futurism, catharsis, consciousness, process, ISO, punk, overload/minimalism, frequencies, name dropping, Throbbing Gristle, decisions, John Cage, phenomenological immateriality, lineages without contact, heavy metal, sampling, academic/popular, AC/DC, definitions, indefinitions, Sonic Youth, spoken-word, no voice for Merzbow, conflict, Link Wray, rhythm, little knowledge of history, Cologne, Russolo, industrial stuff, Boyd Rice, collage, Origami Republika, physicality, pretentious kids, jazz, surrealism, Xenakis, quotations, perception, Velvet Underground, Japan/Europe, performing/listening, Schoenberg, psychedelia, melody, Non, Francisco López seems to have more to say than all the rest put together, happy noise, Tony Conrad, bourgeoisie, analogue/digital, Fluxus, cut-up, Pierre Henry, we have no theory/we just do it, Stockhausen, equipment, cassette culture, Boredoms, accuracy, representations of space, Sachiko M, repulsion, Boulez, sound objects, fetishism, feedback, silence, music.


Director: Egbert van Hees
Year: 1993
Time: 90 mins
Frank Zappa
Ensemble Modern
Eye of Sound: Recorded in 1992 in Frankfurt before an ecstatic audience, The Yellow Shark features a less popular facet of Zappa's repertoire. His commitment with avant-garde and "modern classical" composition was evident since his first albums with the Mothers, but chance, market cruelty, and questionable aesthetic options by Zappa himself condemned him to be remembered mostly as a prankster and a "guitar-hero" for stoners with a penchant for difference. But Zappa was much more than that, of course, and this concert, combining new compositions and new arrangements for older material, must be considered as essential as his first Mothers adventures or his 80s incursions into synth-based musical utopias. Tremendously difficult to play, Zappa's compositions are here performed with an alarming ease, rigor and focus by the renowned Ensemble Modern: just have a listen at G-Spot Tornado, composed for Synclavier and part of the magnificently surreal Jazz from Hell synth-album, and see how technically demanding changes of tone, breath and color are dealt with by this strangely swinging Ensemble. There are (only) two typically Zappaesque takes on brechtian satire, but throughout the concert it is rewarding to see a contemporary music ensemble that not only knows how to swing but also to tackle Zappa's theatrical antics. More lively, organic and "real" than Boulez's take on FZ's universe, this Yellow Shark just might be the definitive orchestral Zappa experience.


Director: Robert Mugge
Year: 1980
Time: 60 mins
Music: Sun Ra & His Arkestra
Eye of Sound: Just when A Joyful Noise is starting, the Helio Lord appears in a museum Egyptian exhibition and states that "knowledge is laughable when attributed to a human being". This could be taken as a wise, humble remark, but remember that Sun Ra claims not to be a human being. The film focuses on Ra at his most eccentric. There are many excerpts of live shows, private performances and rehearsals, but Mugge's intention was to tap into the Ra ideological framework rather than attempt a conventional musical documentary. From this point of view, it's not easy to assess Mugge's success in documenting that strange force called the Ark Myth. Ra presents himself as a catalyst, an agent who changes everything without being changed; he prescribes himself as a therapy against modern day alienation and proposes a personal mythocracy to transcend the vices of democracy and theocracy. Quite clearly, there are signs of acute megalomania - at least if you assume that he's indeed a human being. And sometimes we are left do decide if his whole cosmic narrative is a joke, a statement/performance, or plain simple pathology. Like any prophet worthy of the name, Ra has his retinue of followers and disciples. Musicians like John Gilmore, Danny Thompson and James Jacson narrate some episodes from their interstellar adventures with Ra and justify their surrender to their leader's idiosyncratic rules and visions - some with epiphanies, others with a humbling recognition of Ra's mystery. Like any good apostles for a higher being, these men seem to revel in their submission and proximity to the Helio Lord, and the Ark crew is portrayed like a bizarre mixture of trippy commune, spaced-out religious cult, and plain good old jazz orchestra. We don't get a clear picture of this uncanny cult, but it's also unclear if a more complete or coherent portrait was possible. Ra insists on eluding us; as he says, he's not a part of history, he's a mystery.  


Director: Takeshi Murata
Year: 2006
Time: 11 mins
Music: Robert Beatty & Ellen Molle
Eye of Sound: Bound to annoy those who believe that modern art is nothing but a load of easy-to-do-you-can't-fool-me crap, Takeshi Murata's video works could be seen as the visual counterpart of the "glitch" slide in the music of the late 90s. Murata corrodes works by well-known directors, digitally corrupting their integrity and figurative nature to construct a mass of visual distortion in which the original material's screen action is sacrificed in the altar of plastic abstraction. In Silver, Murata drafts Mario Bava's gothic horror classic Mask of the Demon and submits it to his digital corrosion procedures so that we have nothing left but an ectoplasmic ghost of the film's heroin wandering through the dark pixel chambers of the haunted castle of computer corruption. Robert Beatty, known for his Three Legged Race and Hair Police projects, joins Ellen Molle to immerse the film in an bubbly electronic swamp charged with immersive drones, vapors and echoes, highlighting the screen's lysergic potential and drawing the viewer away from the original's horror intentions. There's nothing wrong with your screen, it's just a ghost in the machine.

SOUP (1974)

Director: Zbigniew Rybczynski
Year: 1974
Time: 8 mins
Music: Eugeniusz Rudnik
Sound of Eye: It seems that paranoia is one of the main features of a totalitarian state; let us hope that it is also a sign of its imminent fall. Apparently censored by Polish authorities, Soup (Zupa) appears to be a surreal piece with no overt political criticisms of any sort. A man enters a building which we've seen collapsing and re-erecting in the beginning. Once he gets in, he opens the door again and sees himself outside, drowning in a beautiful blue sea. It's just a dream, fortunately. Getting out of bed, he takes care of his oral hygiene and catches an annoying fly, which he grinds and serves as breakfast. A woman who lives with him wakes up; she carries obvious signs of sensuality, which seem to define her. While having breakfast, she apparently refuses the meal and prefers to chew the man's face. In return, it seems, she offers him her carnal self. They get, or got, married, an union which is suggested to represent her dissolution (alienation?) in him. Soup now enters into a series of repetitions: he keeps hunting flies (for their nourishment, I suppose), eating his soup and licking stamps; she keeps opening and closing a widow, undressing and smoking a post-coitus cigarette. The repetition of these gestures suggests the tedium of domestic life. And something is wrong with it: there's a wrecked train in the soup (not a fly...) and we see an image of a broken railroad, leading to disaster. Finally, the woman tries to take the soup outside the house (read it as you wish), but she falls into the abyss that awaits her in the outer, non-domestic space (and which we had seen in the dream sequence). Visually, Soup is, like most early Rybczynski films, stunning:  stark color contrasts seem to have been painted over black & white photos which were then set in motion, creating the illusion of a collage. The electroacoustic score offered by Eugeniusz Rudnik - legendary Polish sound-engineer and composer, but hardly celebrated outside Poland and minuscule circles in France and Italy - is equally impressive and very appropriate for the screen action: a fast-paced collage of everyday bruit, distortion and chopped melodies that highlights both the surreal and the too-real of the Soup experience. It does seem strange that the film was banned, apparently for an unfavorable view of Polish reality. If my reading is correct, however, Soup is rather a reflection on the aporias of modern life, in which we are often forced to chose between the unbearable tedium of Fordian repetition and the dangers of a psychic or moral abyss that lies outside. That's just human, perhaps too human, but I don't think any censor would ban that.

GHOST (1984)

Director: Takashi Ito
Year: 1984
Time: 5 mins
Music: Yosuke Inagaki
Eye of Sound: One of the most important names in Japanese experimental film, Takashi Ito has built a long and rich filmography that (and this is increasingly rare in experimental arts) bears a clear and unmistakeable signature. In Ghost, as in many of his films, Ito explores some of the most basic dimensions of cinematic illusion, such as space depth, lightning and movement, to create a visual feast that seems to touch on the horror genre. But it's not quite so, for the Ghost we are allowed to see is not designed to frighten but to mesmerize the spectators. Bulb shutters, long exposures and time-lapse are used to dazzle perception and insinuate the presence of floating life-forms in a closed space. Inagaki's soundtrack kicks off with a steady electronic ambiance but soon descends into a hellish world of rhythmical distortion and mutli-dimensional lo-fi mayhem. I don't think your children will be scared with this extraordinary piece, but if you do have them, please make them watch this in a closed dark room and report the results.


Directors: Cabaret Voltaire, St. John Walker, Peter Care
Year: 1983
Time: 90 mins
Music: Cabaret Voltaire
Eye of Sound: After claiming that this was "one of the first independent long form videos ever made" and trying to establish it as a "collectors item", the back cover for the 2004 DVD reedition of Cabaret Voltaire's Double Vision Present feels free to state that the audio and visual quality offered "may be" of "slightly lower standard than it is usual today". Part of this lower quality may be due to, or heightened by, the fact that much of the footage derives from a camera filming a TV, which may well have been a new trick by then (despite Yalkut's and June Paik's 60s and 70s experiments with TV). In fact, the recent 80s fad decided, as usual, to occlude some elements in favor of others, allegedly more digestible by 21st century consumers, and VHS glory was not fortunate enough to be included in the recycling bin - although its sometimes hysterical color blots and far from sharp lines are certainly among the most important cultural marks of the decade. Double Vision Present did attain legendary status within the "independent" popular music of the 80s, not so much because of its visual aspects but mostly it was one of the first video products to emerge from the "underground" and penetrate (mostly through illegal copies, of course) less obscure regions. Before (and shortly after) losing Chris Watson (who would become one of the founders of The Hafler Trio), CV had actually something to say in the burgeoning British synth scene, with their tamed and sometimes dance-tinged blend of electro-gloom and militarized dubby rhythms. The videos presented here document some of the most interesting music they have made (with classics like Obsession, Photophobia, Eddie's Out, Diskono, and others) before their later irritating commercial take on electro-pop. Perhaps more significantly, the collection aptly documents the corrosive pre-MTV Double Vision aesthetics, based on raw cut-ups of contemporary and archival footage of violence, war, fascism, decay, interference, and pop culture - a formula that was extended to other seminal names like Clock DVA, Chris & Cosey, The Residents and TG, substantially contributing for the creation a video aesthetics for the 80s.