Director: Ruth Lingford
Year: 1994
Time: 5 mins
Music: Lol Coxhill
Eye of Sound: Entirely produced with an Amiga 1500 computer and supported by a haunting solo sax performance by British stalwart Lol Coxhill, What She Wants is a powerful and disturbing reflection both on the contradictory challenges of womanhood in capitalist societies living under the banner of sexual revolution and the increasingly dominant equivalence of status, commodity and sexuality. Using a starker design than the one applied in her famous 1997 work Death and the Mother, Ruth Lingford violently condenses some of the contesting anxieties, fears and aspirations that swarm around contemporary models of femininity, often short-circuiting efforts at completeness and integrity, while drawing a subtle critique of the growing intrusion of capital in the constitution and exercise of desire. Images of erotic abandonment clash with fertility demands; advertisements that explore the commodification of romance and monogamy co-exist with over-sexualized models of status, fitness and public desirability; motherhood threatens sexuality much in the same way that a fellatio becomes an act of infantophagy and a suckling baby is transformed into a raping wolf. Desire is thus besieged by circles of violence, as if conscience and psyche are under constant rape by capitalist courtship, so that a coin purse can be morphed into a bright red vulva or an ejaculating phallus. However, as "the market" has taught us, there is a price for everything and, where pleasure and cashflow can be equated, poverty can be a symbol of detumescence. 
Dedicated to NMM
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Director: Bernard Wilets
Year: 1983
Time: 22 mins
Music: Jean-Claude Risset, Douglas Leedy, F.R. Moore, Stephan Soomil, Rory Kaplan, Geral Strang
Eye of Sound: Arriviste documentaries and manifestoes on "new" forms of art (or knowledge) run the danger of quickly losing the aura of novelty and, by virtue of their overstressed temporality (inherent in their claims to freshness), of soon becoming objects of mere historical curiosity, scorn or simple antiquarian pillaging. When such forms are related to technology, the source for all our illusions of progress, the danger is even stronger since, in the context of modernity's own myths of techno-humanistic evolutionism, yesterday's revolution is inevitably today's conservatism. Wilets' Discovering Electronic Music is a strangely perverse example of these self-constructed traps in that it talks and acts as if describing an impeding revolution while sounding - for its own time - tremendously outdated and, even stranger, hugely conservative in its scope and intent. Granted, this is an overtly educational film, aiming to "instruct" an audience allegedly weary of electronic possibilities in aural construction. But one may ask if such efforts didn't work in the opposite direction, reinforcing fears and resistances by its chosen strategies. The fact that Gerald Strang, one of the most tedious and uninteresting composers to have ever touched a synthesiser, was chosen as the "advisor" for the film may explain part of this conservatism. Throughout the documentary, we are slowly shown the basic tools and functions of the synth - such as oscillators, wave forms, envelopes, filters, etc. We see the fairly novel Fairlight CMI synth and the already outdated Moog modular. The purpose of these, however, is never to create new musical possibilities: what we see instead is several synth-renditions (or shall we say asphyxiations?) of Bach's beautiful "little" Fugue in G minor and many examples of the fortunately forsaken dream of making those huge and expensive machines sound like traditional instruments (such as the Japanese koto or the trumpet). The year was 1983. Many seminal works in academic electronic music had already been produced, pushing aural abstraction and depth to new levels; popular music had already been irrevocably taken by the electronic virus; and, consequently, avant-garde and fringe artists had been working with the medium for a long time. It is thus very difficult to understand the place and strategies of this inadvertidly retro approach to the electronic soundscape, even if we consider that this is a "revised" version of a 1970 homonymous documentary. The joint efforts of Wilets, known for his moron-paced educational docs, and Strang, (un)known for his generally uninspired compositions, have produced a film whose main interest lies in its strange juggling of different pasts, and in which the presence of such luminaries as Jean-Claude Risset and Douglas Leedy does not take the viewer beyond the museologist's pleasure of gazing at the future ruins of these historical monuments: giant synthesisers, ugly knobs and oversized diskettes. 
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Director: Takashi Ito
Year: 1988
Time: 8 mins
Music: Takashi Inagake
Eye of Sound: Up jumped the devil, in this case an imposing skyscraper somewhere in Tokyo, Kyoto, or any given Japanese metropolis. Maybe Takashi Ito decided to demonise the building for its brute ugliness, or maybe for deeper symbolic reasons. But the fact is that the filmmaker pays homage to this devil, performing a riveting circumambulation around its concrete body without ever losing sight of it; and, indeed, Ito's original idea was to honour not an anonymous skyscraper, but Mount Fuji itself - a massive physical body with strong religious resonances in Japanese culture. The idea is as simple as its execution is brilliant: having identified the object of worship, Ito elected it as the centre of an imaginary radius of about 500 metres which was then divided in 48 sections; Ito then photographed the building from these 48 spots, on different occasions, and edited the photos, frame by frame, into a hypnotic, accelerated cityscape carrousel. The result is not only a beautiful study on the overarching presence of this building across the city, but also a richly detailed map in which the evil skyscraper is consistently contrasted with and contextualized against different or similar forms of urban landscape. Inagake's soundtrack, with which the stills seem to be synched, is a soothing but somehow bleak embrace of soft electro loops, as if Tom Dokoupil had woken up in a particularly good humour before joining up with the Laughing Hands for a good healthy breakfast. Silly framings aside, Inagake's atmospherics do manage to soften the Devil's experience, for which a more predictable accompaniment would be a noise assault so typical of contemporary reflections on modernity and the city. One of Ito's most impressive works.


Director: Phil Hopkins
Year: 2009
Time: 56 mins
Music: Eddie Prévost, Evan Parker, Fennesz, John Tilbury, Keith Rowe, Michael Moser, David Sylvian, Otomo Yoshihide, Sachiko M,  Toshimaru Nakamura, Werner Dafeldecker.
Eye of Sound: The subtitle for this suspenseful documentary, An Introduction to Free Improvistation: Practicioners and their Philosophy, could perhaps be criticised for being misleading or, at least, for failing to deliver its promise. But it would probably be unfair to blame director Phil Hopkins for all its shortcomings: Amplified Gesture was commissioned as a visual companion to David Syvian's Manafon and, as such, the director was forced to interview all the musicians participating in the project. Strangely enough, improv is not an area in which "practitioners" have developed an acute sense of theoretical and critical creativity: except for Tim Hodgkinson, whose theoretical polemics sometimes draw close to absurdity and fundamentalism, and a few others thinkers, the "scene" seems not to have an articulate spokesmen to explore its mysteries, dilemmas and "philosophy". Nevertheless, there is a clear generational divide in the cast for Amplified Gesture: on the one hand, old-school British giants such as Evan Parker, Eddie Prévost and Keith Rowe; on the other, younger Japanese luminaries and miscigenators like Sachiko M, Otomo Yoshihide and Toshimaru Nakamura. It is perhaps sad to note that the old folks win by a landslide, discussing pertinent issues on the politics and practice of improv, while the kids usually have nothing to say but such platitudes as "I wanted to do my own thing" or "I started playing because I wanted to get a girlfriend". John Butcher rightfully comments on the progressive standardisation and narrowing down of improv musical practices, but also notes that this is concomitant with a more detailed analysis of materials. Prévost discusses the political implications of technique and composition, and briefly alludes to the art of listening in playing as well as to the creative role of audiences and their input on performance. Evan Parker, perhaps the most solid thinker in the cast, explores the dynamic "bio-feedback" relation between musician and instrument, the wills and destinies of the instrument when in charge of the musician, and the need for "estimation" abilities in the context of the ideals of control over the improvised event; he also touches on the humanist dimensions of music communication, and tries to place improv in the context of a continuing resistance to commodification that also extends to other fields of expression. Overall, as an essay on the art of memory and forgetting as condensed in the always expanding field of "free improv", Amplified Gesture falls short of the expectations it creates. Nevertheless, it is a enticing work for anyone interested in improv or the musicians involved.
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Director: Dariusz Kowalski
Year: 2006
Time: 8 mins
Music: Stefan Németh
Eye of Sound: Although perhaps cruder in gesture and less lyrical in effect, Kowalski's Elements shares many technical and thematic affinites with Elke Groen's Nightstill. The protagonists are the same: the snowy uninhabitable landscapes, not of the Alps, but of the Alaska; the unflinching winds that daily sweep its vast plains and push cloud formations to their inevitable dissolution; the monotonous light cycles that cast an illusion of change on an unchanging eyescape; and the sometimes disturbingly illusory permanence of man-made and natural scenic objects immersed in a tumultuous and violent wash of transformation. The technical means used to articulate this beautiful study on landscape also bear similarities to Nightstill, resorting to an impressive application of time-lapse in order to inflict violent temporal dislocations on an otherwise placid picture. Unlike Groen's work, however, Elements does not venture into the field and uses footage taken from a website designed to observe the weather in Alaskan airfields: this lends it a much rougher quality but also a starker, unembellished perspective on the ice deserts. This starker approach is also reflected in Németh's soundtrack: grainy particles of sound that seem intended to emulate the violent clash of wind and dust against the camera only briefly give in to more "musical" drones that are immediately followed by figurative allusions to aeroplanes, wind hisses and control-tower voice-cracks.


Director: Richard Kern
Year: 1990
Time: 11 mins
Music: Foetus
Eye of Sound: Known to be an autobiographical film, The Evil Cameraman playfully narrates a transition in the life and career of NY cult filmmaker Richard Kern. Shot between 1987 and 1990, the film is divided in two pairs of two segments, each pair depicting a different historical, geographical, social and artistic context in Kern's trajectory. The first two segments, set in a bleak, low-lit past, introduce us to Jap Anne, an emaciated girl possibly to be included in the increasingly popular "barely legal" category, and Ice Queen, a lusciously cheap-looking blonde. Both are mercilessly subjected to the violent whims of this cameraman - none other than Kern himself - who seems to use his camera as a pretext for acting out his SM fantasies rather than the inverse. Though far from shocking by today's standards, these segments have a psychological - rather than scenic - realism that can be disturbing for viewers less tolerant of erotic violence. The last two segments, explicitly set "two years later", present Kern in a different context. Having moved out of the Lower East Side area, Kern abandons his leather-junky looks and virulent environment and moves in into a cleaner, brighter, more bourgeois ambiance. The women Kern is working with (Little Linda and Jacqui O) now look healthier, prettier and certainly more assertive about their right to reject the filmmaker's debauchery: they are, as John Rocco pointed out, "photographic models" - not partners or acquaintances ready to join Kern's previous porn play. As a result, Kern is repeatedly rejected and sent back into a professional or/and voyeuristic position. It could be argued, however, that there are some important continuities as well, and Foetus' soundtrack seems to underscore them. Indeed, the same combination of slow-dance "industrial" syncopated throbbing and controlled noise bleeding (characteristic of this hugely underrated band) permeates all the four segments, together with the SM imagery, suggesting that despite all those changes and the resigned frustration in Kern's face, the cameraman is just as evil as he ever was.


Year: 2008
Time: 30 mins
Music: Otomo Yoshihide
Eye of Sound: To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Intercommunication Centre in Tokyo (ICC), one of the leading experimental art locations in Japan, organised a free-entrance series of concerts featuring several cutting-edge performers from the local scene. The main attraction was Otomo Yoshihide, who delivered a tremendous 30 minutes performance on his prepared turntables. Almost completely rejecting the use of vinyl surfaces, Otomo uses amplified microphones and distortion devices to explore the possibilities of the turntable - not the record - as an instrument. The result is an impressive construction in which Otomo masterfully oscillates between serene, placid designs (refined in other projects such as Filament) and  the violent feedback bursts for which he became known, all created in the electric interstices strategically placed between the record-player, the needle and the deck.


Director: Jacques Goldstein
Year: 2008
Time: 42 mins
Ernst Reijseger
Larissa Groeneveld
Frank Van De Laar
Eye of Sound: Some artists choose, or are forced, not to jettison whole portions of their selves in the course of their work, embracing seemingly contradictory strands and sometimes succeeding in integrating them and diluting their apparent contrasts in a continuous spectrum of beauty. Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger stands out as a musician who manages to go down this road the hard way: without resorting to collage, counterpoint or wasted irony. The fact that he's worked with such opposite visions as Derek Bailey's and Yo-Yo Ma's, not to mention his regular excursions into musical fields lazily stringed together as "world" music, is perhaps the best possible description of his music: lyrical but fractured, his work disrespectfully transgresses the borders of jazz, improv, avant-garde, contemporary composition and popular music - all in a single note, with a single stroke. Jacques Goldstein's Do you Still? is a beautiful homage both to Reijseger's music and genre ambiguity. Though based on a trio live performance that focuses mostly on the lyrical side of the musician's soul (from his homonymous 2008 Winter & Winter release), it tries, and mostly manages, to balance the picture by capturing private solo improv sessions, both indoors and outdoors, that display Reijseger's mastery over different colours and tones - with the same astounding technique and soulful commitment. Interspersed with beautiful country- and city-side footage that evokes his ever contemplative music, Do You Still? also features intimate and sometimes bitter-sweet statements by Reijseger on his early years, "career" choices, mannerisms, anxieties and shortcomings. These different approaches, however, are seamlessly integrated into a serene, contemplative whole: neither a live-film nor a bio-doc or a visual essay, but all that and more.


Director: Piotr Kamler
Year: 1971
Time: 12 mins
Music: Robert Cohen Solal
Eye of Sound: Polish animation giant Piotr Kamler is one of those artists who seem to obsessively return to the same themes and problems regardless of the necessary outer diversity of their work. In Kamler's case, the obsessions revolve around issues of existential and cosmogonical significance: time, repetition, fracture, creation, nothingness and the nesting of worlds within worlds. Délicieuse Catastrophe is one of his most intriguing and narratively hermetic works. Once again, Kamler collaborated with a GRM electroacoustic musician - Robert Cohen Solal in this case, whose beautiful soundtrack, oscillating between moments of sheer throb or repetition and deranging passages of freewheeling sonic burst, is as essential to the unfolding of the narrative as the director's enigmatic eyescapes. There's a pulsating rhythm that animates the world, a pounding ball that punctuates existence in its most monotonous cycles of repetition and apparent meaninglessness. Inside the ball lies the dimension of temporality and existential isolation, as if time is the condition for the breaking up of reality and the multitude of sensible forms. Once we have crossed diverse worlds, we reach an isolated platform in which our "character" lives, suspended over a red liquid of some sort. He moves back and forth, immersed in a series of repetitive tasks he himself probably doesn't understand, but of which he seems to want to escape. But he fails, alas, as there's no obvious escape from this dimension, and eventually returns to his monotonous existence. All of a sudden, however, a break occurs: something apparently created out of dirt is cast through the looking-glass and the mechanical cycle of repetition is shattered; the music of the spheres is now out of tune and we see our hero flying through a series of forms which quite clearly suggest female allures. An intruder, of the same shape we had initially seen encompassing our character's world, is now living in his previously lonely platform. He picks a horn to entice the mysterious intruder with its music and something unprecedented happens: they now both delight in its beautiful tones, and monotony has been broken. As if commanded by a higher voice, the man tries to return to his quotidian pointless tasks; but the intruder won't let him, craving for more music and delight. The hero complies, initially unaware that he is undermining the order of things. In the frolic of this newly-found meaning, the clock he carries on his neck is replaced by the same red liquid that now seems to boil around his platform. A deluge will follow, on which the artist will float, creating with his magical horn countless new worlds. The mechanicity of the cosmos has collapsed, and the thaumaturgical horn player now delights in his own creations. Whether through the presence of the previously encompassing female figure that invaded his platform or through his own creative power (which may, after all, be one and the same thing), he has escaped from the servile cycle of repetition that defined his vain existence.


Director: Paul Spencer
Year: 2005
Time: 59 mins
Music: Ivor Cutler
Eye of Sound: Perhaps it is appropriate that a documentary on Ivor Cutler shouldn't focus exclusively on what made him relatively popular: his music. And, in fact, Looking for Truth with a Pin does not pay particular attention to any of the other fields through which Cutler mischievously exorcised his inner demons and dreams: drawing, poetry, film, radio, children's literature. Although these are all briefly touched upon, Looking for Truth is, first and foremost, an attempt at a psychological sketch vaguely veiled in the conventions of biography. His childhood traumas, including a now humorous fratricidal attempt, are revisited once and again by Cutler himself and several artists and companions (like Robert Wyatt and Paul McCartney), all of them trying to understand the "terrifying sadness of the comedian" and the sources for his sometimes bitter joie de vivre. Critical moments are discussed at some length, such as his teaching years in an alternative school for misfits of all sorts, his Magical Mystery Tour flick with the Beatles or his long-time partnership with poetess Phyllis King, but the easy temptation of linear life-narrative, in which A explains B, is fortunately avoided. What is offered instead is a multi-layered, direction-free diagram of Cutler's psyche, interspersed with live footage and archival material - one that seems to run in circles instead of dishonestly pretending to have found the truth. His pythonesque humour and and child-like mischievousness are gayly portrayed but there are also some snippets of the unforgiving ageing process and its effect on the artist and the man. Several excerpts of live and TV performances displaying his unique brand of surrealist folk and existential humour are presented, making Looking for Truth an invaluable document for Cutlerologists and a fine introduction for newbies. It may be true that "a Scottish jew is an unbelievably heavy thing to be", but not if you truly believe in bugs.


Director: Elke Groen
Year: 2007
Time: 9 mins
Music: Dietmar Schipek
Eye of Sound: Groen spent two winters in the Dachstein mountain range in Austria, collecting footage of the unfathomable succession of nights, fogs and shades and the impalpable flow of the freezing Alpian winds. Built like an impressionistic poetic documentary, Nighstill explores the frailty and isolation of these apparently quiet snowscapes, elegantly using time-lapse to capture the invisible movements that imperceptibly sweep the mountain ranges every day: the moon rushing through the sky in an arch; winds oozing like fumes from the rocks; bright stars rapidly sinking into the ground; or the bulky cliffs being traversed by the thinest clouds. Against this seemingly unchanging cycle, a few scattered remains of human existence emerge: the ever-shining winter hotels, abandoned huts, cable cars and a human figure that manages to retain an illusion of permanence in the midst of the constantly shifting landscape. Subtly built into the screen, Schipek's soundtrack is a serene but dynamic montage of fragile organic drones, grainy but hi-fi crackles and processed field recordings that mute the violent wind blows into condensed sonic shivers that create the illusion of replicating the filmic action. Nightstill may perhaps be a misleading title for this hypnotic work: for, in all its beauty and serenity, it emanates an overwhelming sense of untamed motion and violence that stillness can't encompass.
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Director: Egbert Mittelstadt
Year: 2002
Time: 4 mins
Music: Fatagaga, Genom (Satori Hype)
Eye of Sound: German filmmaker Egbert Mittelstadt's Unfolding explores the beauty of motion and the way it can be seen to break the boundaries of the space-time axis. July Snow performs simple movements against a dark background. Her body does not move from her original place but, as time unfolds, it is seen to be spectrally spread over the scenic space. Future and past movements slowly parade through the dancer's body, a body that incarnates a sharp definition of the present in contrast with the temporal blurs that surround it. A vapourous soundtrack, punctuating a hissy drone with unsteady low-frequency rhythm events, supports the dancer's slow motion through time. A simple idea delivered with technical accuracy and beautiful results.
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Director: Ikue Mori
Year: 2007
Time: 21 mins
Music: Ikue Mori
Eye of Sound: Loosely based on a section of the great Indian Mahabharata epic, Mori's Bhima Swarga (The Heaven of Bhima) is a riveting audiovisual exercise that uses mural paintings from the 18th century Kertha Gosha court in Bali to create a beautiful jigsaw of colour, glitch, figurative exoticism and plastic abstraction. The "original" Bhima Swarga tells the story of Bhima's excursion into hell (naraka) to rescue the souls of his father and co-mother and escort them to the gods' heaven. After fighting hosts of ill- and good-natured demons, Bhima and the remaining Pandava brothers must face the violent opposition of ill- and good-natured gods, who, though respecting the hero's resolve to fulfil his promise, cannot tolerate such an inversion in the established order of things. Bhima eventually dies in heaven but is restored to life and glory and given the amrut, the elixir of immortality. Pregnant with philosophical and eschatological significance, the Mahabharata narrative is not Mori's primary focus and is understandably sacrificed in the name of her aesthetic concerns; though these narrative elements are vaguely recognisable, someone unacquainted with the story will hardly grasp these basic guidelines and will instead be overwhelmed by Mori's impressive computer-genrated visuals. Bhima Swarga focuses on the on the beautiful mural paintings of the Kertha Gosha court, which are animated in ways that recall some sections of Paley's brilliant Sita Sings the Blues. But unlike Sita, Mori's Bhima is interested in the uses of visual distortion and glitch for the creation of new aesthetic possibilities. Source materials and backgrounds are corrupted, degraded and pushed to the limits; their integrity is not to be respected and even their figurative nature is often lysergically distorted beyond recognition. The soundtrack features Mori's trademark laptop gimmicks, proving how much the author has matured since her early adventures in electro-foam. A rich sonic palette evolves over the 21 minutes of the piece, ranging from dizzy-ambient sections to her more characteristic crystalline-yet-hectic rhythmical panning. There are a few short takes on the Balinese gamelan and raga traditions, but these fortunately turn out to sound more like respectful tributes than any form of exotic pillage or, even worse, new age pseudo-reverentialism. In the end, Bhima Swarga could hardly stand as a companion to the original Mahabharata story, but would certainly feature among Mori's most rewarding works.
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