Director: Oliver Rauch & Ingo Rudloff
Year: 2000
Time: 82 mins
Oskar Sala
Max Eastley & Thomas Koner
Eye of Sound: There is a key moment in this documentary that sums up its general tone and drive. During a live performance with Eastley and Koner in Berlin, Oskar Sala's megalithic electronic instrument, the 1930s Mixtur-Trautonium, fails due to transportation issues. It's not clear whether the other musicians continue, but after this event Sala decides never to perform live with his Trautonium again. Interviewed, Thomas Koner expresses some ambiguity toward Sala's music: respectful but also labeling it as a dated product, in what seems to be a somewhat cruel attempt to demystify the director's fetish. Sala is later blamed for having monopolized the instrument and not leaving any disciples to continue the art of the Trautonium: an unique case in which a composer is so closely connected to his instrument that one's death implies the other's as well. Rauch & Rudloff accept these later turns in the plot, and they may even be narratively welcome after a long detour through Sala's early career, his collaborations with filmmakers like Durniok and Hitchcock, his apprenticeship with Hindemith, his rather quick dismissal of his group's connections with Goebbels and the Third Reich, a very strange section about the connection between homosexuality and electronic music, etc. Oskar Sala would expire 2 years later, at the age of 91. But the film offers the composer a dignified, almost glorious exit: in the last scene we see an energetic, lucid and critical musician making it clear that he's not impressed with a fan's ridiculous tricks with samples and dance beats at a bar; the young man's uninspired music slowly fades out as Sala's Trautonium emerges in all its glory, complexity, exuberant technique and harmonic richness, thus successfully making the point that modern technology need not imply better music and that indeed the world has lost an unique musician of the 20th century. Dated? Certainly; that's a paradox that all forms of futurism risk. But only a few succeed, like Sala's music, in surpassing their own temporality. 

COIL - ANS (2004)

Director: Peter Christopherson 
Year: 2004
Time: 61 mins
Music: Coil
Eye of Sound: Released as a companion to Coil's ANS box-set, Christopherson's ANS (also known as Coilans) is divided in four different movements, each corresponding to a different, but globally coherent, visual approach to the band's music. The whole project is intended as a tribute to the ANS synth, sometimes described as the first synth in the history of music. Simple and soft sine-waves float in the acoustic sea, resulting from Coil's very brief experiences with the synthesizer in Moscow, which operates by transcoding visual information into sound patterns. Thus, the animation successfully completes the cycle, now translating the synth's music back into visual form. Christopherson's work explores the subtleties of synesthesia by restricting itself to simple, elegant and subliminal chromatic exercises, while the music translates, in its pristine simplicity, the glorious reaches of analog sound. The slow modulations in the sound/image relation eventually defeat perception and synaesthesic thought processes start expanding, tuning our cognition machinery into the mysterious waves of analog and analogy.


Director: James Broughton
Year: 1981
Time: 8 mins
Music: Antarjyami Muni
Eye of Sound: A more typical Broughton film, The Gardener of Eden was shot and written in Sri Lanka in 1981 by Joel Singer and the director. The poem celebrates fertility, nature and sexuality, treated here as synonyms, as well as the "seeds of perennial affection" planted by the "gardener" in one of his dreams. Images of Bevis Bawa, the most famous horticulturist in Sri Lanka, portray him as the gardener or "the old dreamer who never sleeps". Footage of Lanka's luxurious nature merges with the faces of anonymous Lankans, thus placing them as a component of the garden itself. Antarjyami Muni's music,  played on twin conch shells, sounds much like a modern drone composition: hypnotic, continuous but with beautiful shifting tones and textures. The question Broughton asks is simple: if we had a vision of this perennial garden, "where the beds are laid for love", could we "wake to the innocent morning" and join the dance? As Broughton argues, the garden is just here, so the decision is ours.

MAX (1967)

Directors: Phill Niblock & Dave Gearey
Year: 1967
Time: 7 mins
Music: Max Neuhaus
Eye of Sound: Many of Niblock's early films are "portraits" of fellow artists from different fields of expression. In his 1967 Max, Niblock films performances of Max Neuhaus, uncelebrated pioneer of live electronics, percussionist, installation artist, etc. Niblock's shots are juxtaposed and craftily edited by Dave Geary so as to create a strange sense of constant change within repetition. The soundtrack is provided by Neuhaus himself, who mixes five simultaneous recordings of Stockhausen's Zyklus (which the percussionist recorded in a more conventional fashion recently) and a feedback device called Max-Feed. The result is a noise assault in which the percussion is hardly audible under the shifting layers of distortion.

OSSUARY (1970)

Director: Jan Svankmajer
Year: 1970
Time: 10 mins
Music: Zdenek Liska
Eye of Sound: Often described as a "horror documentary", Ossuary explores details of the macabre church of Sedlec. A craftsman is said to have used about 60.000 corpses of Plague victims from the middle ages to furnish the church, a task that took him a decade and was finished in 1870. A century later, Svankmajer visits the church in an attempt to understand the reasons for the work. And the answer lies in a popular poem by surrealist writer Jacques Prévert. The poem is beautifully set to music by Svankmajer's usual collaborator Zednek Liska, who presents us with a strange mixture of light jazz, quasi-lyrical female vocals and contemporary music intertwined with the image's alternating rhythms. Prévert's text sung in this grim context seems to reflect on the only known way to defeat death: to tame it in a painted cage, locked behind a painted door. And if death can still be heard once caged, only then you have a work of art worthy of your signature. To defeat death while encouraging it to sing is not, of course, a privilege of painters: it is a secret known to poets, musicians, filmmakers, craftsmen and all great artists alike - a secret beautifully disclosed in this unforgettable film.  


Director: Pat O'Neill
Year: 1989
Time: 55 mins
 George Lockwood - Composition and Sound Design
John Bergamo - Percussion
Greg Johnson - Percussion
Robert Lloyd - Piano
Kurt Festinger - Piano, Flute, Saxophone
Vivian Miller - Alto
Eye of Sound: Pat O'Neill, one of the most interesting filmmakers in America today, offers a dazzling reflection on the conflict between nature and man in Los Angeles, or the desertification of the city's surroundings due to its enormous water consumption. More interestingly, it is also a film in the age-old tradition of city symphonies: a film about LA's foundation myths and the dreams it embodies, about its history and (grim) future, its topography and ethnography. O'Neill uses footage from several classic films to recreate the several layers of meaning emanating from the city, juxtaposing images and fantasies and hardly ever allowing one picture to go untouched. George Lockwood's swarming soundtrack is likewise composed of conflicting languages, an elaborate work of plunderphonics in which snippets of sound stolen from movies collide with electronic soundscapes, contemporary chamber music, improv, and what not. The final result is an immersive experience into which the spectator is irresistibly drawn,  and a brilliant film in which the profusion of signs does not occlude the construction of clear meanings.

FUGUE (1998)

Director: Georges Schwizgebel
Year: 1998
Time: 7 mins
Michèle Bokanowski - Composition
Gerard Frémy - Piano
Olivier Bokanowski - Piano
Virginie Simonean - Harp
Eye of Sound: The hand that draws the hand that draws the hand. Schwizgebel, creator of some of the most beautiful films in the history of animation, explores possibilities of recursive time and space in this structurally astonishing work. Worlds inside worlds, mirrors reflecting mirrors, windows into windows: dimensions are nested in one another, juxtaposed, merged, creating a cognitive vertigo that challenges our every day mundane categories. Similarly, Bokanowski's music revolves around loops, repeated piano and harp phrases that progress into one another, sometimes concealing its own inner movement. The art of the fugue, Hofstadter said, consists in crossing from one tonal level into the other by means of a twist - a "strange loop". Both musically and visually, like an audiovisual Moebius strip, Fugue builds upon such strange loops: we are constantly moving into other levels of reality though we seem to be running in circles.   


Director: Ebba Jahn
Year: 1984
Time: 112 mins
Peter Kowald Quintet
Peter Kowald Trio
John Zorn & Wayne Horvitz
Billy Bang's Forbidden Planet
William Parker & Patricia Nicholson Ensemble
Charles Tyler Quintet
Don Cherry & The Sound Unity Orchestra
Jemeel Moondoc Sextet
Irène Schweizer Trio
Peter Brotzman Ensemble
[see comments for details]
Eye of Sound: It may sound difficult to believe it, but most of the artists listed above were once striving for recognition in the jazz scene and fighting for sheer survival. Ebba Jahn's Rising Tone Cross captures a moment when these artists were just starting to create a "scene", when their sparkling creativity was not yet comforted by certainty and success. More interestingly, perhaps, the film deals with issues of class and race and with the differences between the social contexts of improvised music in Europe and America, challenging many assumptions about musicianship, career building, and the possibilities for an artistic livelihood. What really distinguishes this from other "jazz films", however, is the visual and narrative focus on New York as the metaphorical force behind the musician's creative burst, portraying it as a dirty, poor, rough and lively city not yet tamed by shinny images of  success and bourgeois comfort.
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Director: Jean-Marc Birraux
Year: 2009
Time: 54 mins
Joelle Léandre - Bass
Marilyn Crispell - Paino
Roy Campbell - Trumpets, Flute
Carlos Zíngaro - Violin
Eye of Sound: There is something different about Léandre's projects, something that distinguishes it from most strands of improv. Though "accepted" in some modern jazz circles, her music seems to constantly avoid coming into close contact with the genre's conventions. This exciting concert recorded last year in Mans for the Europa Jazz Festival seems to prove the point. The quartet floats around a "chamber music" setting and despite the intense energy of the instrumentation, it rarely seems to border on jazz territory. The alternation between solo, duo, trio and quartet formations creates different landscapes, allowing multiple contrasting possibilities. Most importantly, this a spacious performance, in that each instrument is allowed enough room to breathe on its own without intruding on one another's acoustic space. As George Lewis once said, a musician who forgets to listen is just as good as a blind painter.


Directors: Marty St. James & Anne Wilson
Year: 1984
Time: 6 mins
Music: Marty St. James & Anne Wilson
Eye of Sound: The 80s were a special decade. It was a time of immense creativity, discovery and true futurism; a time when the use of electronic devices for artistic purposes was no longer a privilege of academics or millionaires; a time when many of today's barriers between genres didn't exist; and a time when pop music could actually have something to say. True Life Romance is a humorous take on tropical love affairs. It tells the story of an irresistible attraction between a man and a woman who perfectly fulfill their gender roles: his beauty is worthy of Greek standards, and her modesty unblemished. Crossing boundaries between video-art and video-clip, it resorts to the cheesiest pop synths and camera effects of the decade, managing to look both like a product of its time and a later, ironic reflection on the 80s. 

X IS Y (1990)

Director: Richard Kern
Year: 1990
Time: 3 mins
Music: Cop Shoot Cop
Eye of Sound: X is Y, Y is X. Female turns male in this short work by New York director Richard Kern. Beautiful women fondle guns and bullets, objects with a strong phallic potential, to challenge our normal assumptions about womanhood and eroticism. NY avant noise project Cop Shoot Cop provides a robotic, sample-based soundtrack, enhancing the aggressiveness of the models. Bikini girls with machine guns, ready to shoot.  


Director: Janie Geiser
Year: 1999
Time: 11 mins
Music: Tom Recchion
Eye of Sound: Dedicated to Lewis Klahr, this gorgeous animation tells the story of a man who's been abandoned by a woman and sets out on a romantic trip through the world to find her. Recchion's music initially adheres to this bright tone, building his trade-mark echoed loops in a soft, lush, almost tropical manner. Geiser's brilliant animation combines stop-motion with collage and creative use of light to enact the man's covering of temporal and physical distance in his quest: clocks, rules, maps, numbers and stamps pile up while we watch his search. At some point, however, the light fades. Recchion's music becomes darker, slower, grimmer. The man's quest has failed and the woman is nowhere to be found. He now faces a gloomy reality where bodies and gazes are cold, mechanic reminders of lost illusions, and where decayed affections strip motion and clocks of their vitality, leading to a complete halt. A masterpiece.


Director: Frans Zwartjes
Year: 1973
Time: 17 mins
Rudolf Zwartjes
Michel Waisvisz
Frans Zwartjes
Eye of Sound: The eerie electroacoustic soundtrack might suggest an old-school sci-fi film in which characters are lost wandering in an unknown planet. That's pretty much it, but the final frontier is not space but a house. The main character wanders through the floors of a never-ending, Escherean house, afraid of everything, as if trapped in a different dimension. Other characters feel evidently more at home, indulging in normal activities like eroticism and peeing, but our main character seems to fear them as much as he would fear a green slimy alien. As usual in Zwartjes' films, narrative is gone. What we have instead is a claustrophobic, dark and frightening incursion into the nightmare of domesticity.


Director: Lee Hangjun
Year: 2008
Time: 30 mins
Music: Hong Chulki
Eye of Sound: Corroded music on putrefying film. Hangjun & Chulki, prolific figures in the Korean art scene, clash by night to test the limits of their materials. Hangjun manipulates film stock through chemical processes in order to achieve dazzling textures which, most often, distort the original picture beyond recognition. Chulki explores different dimension of noise by corroding the audio input of his laptop and turntables. The need for speed seems to drive the duo from one event to the next and, though never actually following one another, there is an uncanny harmony between their pyromaniac assaults, inducing the spectator into a bizarre serenity.


Director: Anton Cabalero
Year: 2008
Time: 24 mins
Music: Iannis Xenakis
Eye of Sound: Following the enormous success of Polytope I, Xenakis was invited to conceive a new audiovisual immersion in Paris for the Autumn Theater Festival in 1973-74. Xenakis constructed a spectacle of multiple mirrors, intersecting laser beams, strobing lights and, of course, a multi-channel sonic torrent under which the spectators would be immersed. Cabalero's work tries to reconstruct some aspects of the event but also of the creative process behind it. Editing photographs, notes and blueprints to the electroacoustic trembles of Polytope II, Cabalero allows us a glimpse of the event while being aware of its reconstructed character. 


Director: Francis Thompson
Year: 1957
Time: 15 mins
Music: Gene Forrell
Eye of Sound: Thompson's training as a painter is evident throughout this gorgeous collage of New York distorted cityscapes. But his talents as a filmmaker are no less impressive. The film follows a chronological order, starting with early morning power generators and ending with night-time clubs and neon lights. Its kaleidoscopical pictures have the magic effect of bending not only image and space but also time itself, thus condensing 24 hours in 15 minutes. The hallucinatory, twisted NYscapes blend with Correll's music, which oscillates between light jazziness and darker contemporary tones. This is a fabulous vision of a lost city, a city that illuminated the American dream before its collapse. 


Director: Shirley Clarke
Year: 1985
Time: 77 mins
Music: Ornette Coleman
Eye of Sound: Skies of America, New York, Denardo, trains, science, Science Fiction, William Burroughs, space program, Charles Russell, Texas, domes, women, castration, Morrocco, Brion Gysin, classical music, Caravan of Dreams, Harlem, childhood, Milan, running away from home, Prime Time Band, WTC, Don Cherry, neon art, Friends & Neighbors, Master Musicians of Jajouka, Charlie Haden, self-doubt, Nigeria, harmolodics.