AKA: the position of researcher
It may have something to do with my age; I hit my teens in the late ‘80s and at that time I was obsessed, not specifically with music, but with music video, in particular a show on the ABC network, ‘Rage’. Every Friday and Saturday night I would set a VCR to record in extended play, as much of the show as would fit. From these recordings I would isolate the artists to obsess over, for their image not just their song.
In ‘Timeshift: on visual culture”(1991) Sean Cubitt states that “music video is heir to both the referential qualities of music and older visual elements of performance and spectacle.” (p. 46) This world of the MTV cliché held more magic than a glimpse at the rock ‘n roll lifestyle. I witnessed micro-narratives, identities deconstructed, puzzling imagery and a number of hotel rooms trashed. In the article ‘Images of performances, Images as performances. On the (in-) Differentiability of music video and visual music’ Markus Weiß describes the development of music video as an economic move by the music industry “…intended to replace costly live appearances.” (2009) Considering the relative lack of critical dialogue on the influence of music video in AV performance, one might consider them merely a form of advertising, unworthy of reflection, yet they “…can also be seen as a kind of televisual music theatre” (Ibid). The mythologising of both artist and practice is a recurrent feature of music video assisted by broad cultural sampling and trans-media referencing. The location of a popular music artist within their field is an evolving identity, distinct from reality. The combination of sound and vision projected a vision of the artist as beyond regular humanity, conflating them with the stars of Hollywood, in ways lavish and gritty, garish and mysterious. Of the recurrent directors, many refuges from the experimental cinema and video scene established an occasional payday, like Derek Jarman and Bruce Connor. There work would help bring what was avant-garde into more mainstream acceptance, and in works like Bruce Connor’s video for Devo, ‘(It’s A) Beautiful World’ that we see a clear example of the way sound and vision, in juxtaposition, can draw out a deeper, more satisfying meaning.
When thinking about the representation of sound, a question I ask myself (and others) is “what does this sound make me (think I) see?” The consideration that sound might inspire the imagination towards iconic identification is a theme extrapolated from Richard Wagner’s theory and application of the leitmotif, a repeated musical phrase associated with a person, place or idea. Where synaesthesia is the by-product of a specific neurological condition, audio-visual syncretism is a learned perceptive ability more readily connected to cultural objects. As John Whitney describes in ‘Digital Harmony’ (1980):
Some visualise… descriptive images while others falter with literal “realities”; associating music with images of conductor, performer, opera star, rock star – even the occasionally lurid images of pop music lyrics. (p. 14)
The connections are not arbitrary; they are culturally defined, relating to the tacit knowledge accumulated from years of exposure to integrated media.
Via email correspondence, Ian Andrews explains further that “when images and words come into music… that changes everything. There is the possibility of meaning, the opportunity to say something, or not say something. One can either take up that challenge or retreat into hermetic abstraction.” (2010) In my history of making what is now comfortably called “Sound Art”, I’ve always been more concerned with the images and thoughts that a piece of music might conjure; the possibility for meaning, if not a direct statement of intent; than notion of pitch, duration or tonality. I see myself as a primarily visual musician, composing works with texture, colour, language, and imagery in preference to pitches and durations.
‘Let’s hear it for the Vague Blur’, created with Joe Musgrove as the outfit Diaspora (2004) began life as a fairly solid 40-minute soundscape; yet we felt it needed a different trajectory than a de-rigueur release on CDR only to then disappear into the file-sharing aether to be forgotten. Together we constructed imagery of an Abstract Expressionist nature that would suggest without leading audience interpretation. Originating with a series of stills generated by ‘GoogleSynth’, a program that creates mashed pixel-scapes from one or more images sourced through Google’s image search function, we then motion-tracked across the results in an animation style similar to the use of a Rostrum camera setup in documentaries. The slow moving, blurry mess of colours when synced to the soundscape was intended to emulate a hypnagogic state, the point between wakefulness and sleep where abstract hallucinations are often projected on the back of one’s eyelids. As the video screened at a number of festivals in Australia and abroad, we started receiving audience reports asking us to confirm their individual narratives. Many of these narratives, as retold by different audience members, possessed a startling similarity, outlining what could be an example of the cultural form of AV communication. Absent of the traditional structure and content of a preset language, we had unwittingly created a cryptographic cinema that substitutes narrative for a linguistic puzzle. Musical sounds, associated with visual symbols for the audience, producing a meaning that is neither exclusive to sight nor sound but to what Michel Chion, in Audio Vision (1994) calls “transensoriality” (p. 136). From this point on, my work has invariably used or referenced transensoriality in some form. Be it the composed sound of a film without actors on the Room40 CD release, ‘Mise En Scene’(2006); the construction and use of artificial life algorithms for real time AV composition; or the continued experiments into hypnagogic syncretism through the N4rgh1l3 AV performance duet with Andrew Thomson (see below).
My place within this research is, as a sound artist, working with predominantly visual ideas. I’m interested in exploring effective modes and approaches to audio visualisation and see integrated digital AV performance as a vital alternative to traditional engagements with sound and image. I believe this field could certainly approach the kind of universality that Whitney aspired to, but that it currently lacks direction is down to critical dialogues concerned with the parts of AV and not the sum total of the performative experience. My research is therefore focused on the construction of a typology for audiovisual performance that demonstrates, reflects and explains the nature of current practice, through a consideration of the divergent influences on the hybrid field with respect to successful approaches deployed by active practitioners.