The History of Influences
In 1983, while at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I went to see Delius’s opera, Fennimore and Gerde presented by The Opera Theater of St Louis. I had never seen an opera before but something about this one caught my eye. I was not disappointed. It was a dreamlike confluence of live and mediated music and image that Opera News described thus:
As if to visualize Delius’ rhapsodic writing, Chase created harsh and idyllic images of nature, with light, water and foliage projected on the double level of a convex front scrim and another stage rear. As scenes evolved and faded with extraordinary sensitivity to mood it forged a microscopic dreamworld that kept mind and imagination engaged for the full eighty minutes.
(Chase, Fennimore and Gerde: online)
Chase himself comments:
‘Our innovations included bridging the scene changes with natural sound (wind, ocean, forest, church bells) over which we played film and projections that defined the seasons and the passing of time.’
(Chase, Fennimore and Gerde: online)
But these were more than scene changes or transitions: what was mesmerising was that the performers emerged from within the projections, exploiting the physics of light: that when a projection scrim is lit from the front (with lanterns or projectors) what is behind it, and in darkness, is hidden until it is itself lit. Light then passes through the scrim and what was hidden becomes visible. This meant that the performers seemed to move through dream environments of leaves in the wind and water washing over stones.
‘Gerde consults her Nanny on the eve of her engagement as her friends romp and play’ Chase, Fennimore and Gerde, 1983.
Scenes changed frequently enabling a live montage of performance fragments. What was presented was not in competition with the live presence of the performers as is often the danger in combining live and mediated work: projections were moving rather than static photographs, but were textural, and the human body was only ever live. This was extremely formative to me and I suspect that my reluctance to project images of mediated performers against live performers comes from this time.
‘Autumn’ Chase, Fennimore and Gerde, 1983
No one can work with projection, space and performance without acknowledgeing the debt to Josef Svoboda and his work on concepts he termed Laterna Magika and Polyekran.
Top left: Josef Svoboda, Jaroslav Frič, ”Polyvision”, 1967. © Svoboda, Josef / Fric, Jaroslav
Top right: Josef Svoboda, Laterna magika, 1958
Left: Josef Svoboda, Polyecran, 1967
(images from: Svoboda
Svoboda’s use of multiple screens and multiple projectors pushed stage design into a new era of scenography where technology was the performance as much as the performers were. It has been claimed that Svoboda’s projection work on Stringberg’s A Dream Play is perhaps the only realisation of this text that Stringberg would have recognised as being what he had originally intended (Szalczer, 2009).
Other influences include Bill Viola and his use of multiple screens which parallels Svoboda’s notion of polyekran but rather than juxtaposed, the multiple screens are superimposed..
(Bill Viola’s installation The Veiling (1995). Image in Meyers, 2006: 11)
Another formative experience was seeing Dr Dee at the Manchester Festival
Dr Dee, Rufus Norris and Damon Albarn. Image: http://classical-iconoclast.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/eno-dr-dee-damon-albarn.html)
The Audience & The Brief
This was to be The Pound’s first art installation piece. Part of its audience comprised delegates at a symposium about disability and representation in the arts held by Bath Spa University. The brief was self-imposed and it was to illuminate the experience of tinnitus while avoiding the misery-porn of some disability representation.
The Dreaming soundscape originally existed as a virtual work. Entering into physical space added specific new dimensions afforded it by the precise location of its physicality. In this way, the work might be termed site responsive. The gallery at The Pound is airy, white, with bronze tiles around the lower walls, and large unscreened windows. A large opening in one wall (which can be closed) links it to the foyer. Thus, the sound had to be on headphones because the repetition of the soundscape would drive box office staff to distraction. Headphones are, in any case, my preferred method of offering the sound since they offer an immersive experience which better approximates the subjective experience of tinnitus being inside the head and not from outside it.
I decided to project into a corner and suspend several screens from the exhibition lighting rig cutting cross the corner. I knew I wanted several transparent screens so that projected light would both catch and fall through each screen and thus create a repeated or 3D projection effect. It was agreed that the windows would be covered, but not to full black out, to augment audience perception of the lumen power of the projected light, but still allow some ambient light so that the screens could be seen as entities in their own right. I also wanted the projection to spill over the corner walls and the covered windows. I don’t like projection to be confined to either a screen or a film frame: I like the sense of the ‘escape’ of the image, achieved via fluctuations in the size of the image being projected, and soft masks that refuse the hard line between projected image and physical screen which foregrounds to me the tension between the two.
Sketch made on site visit, 2014.
The Projection Laboratory
I set up a projection lab back at Edge Hill. The portfolio details some of the experiments. I made a section of kinetic typography and a kaleidoscope to test various screen forms and made the final animations while in the lab, adjusting so that the film was not too detailed, or moving too fast or too slow. In this manner, the projection and its screen were created in dialogue rather than the screen merely ‘hosting’ the message. The McLuhan Equation: ‘the medium is the message’. In the trance-like effects of combining ambient soundtrack with kaleidoscopes and falling words, perhaps even his equation ‘the medium is the massage’ is apt. But any trance effect is suitable because this is what the continuous noise of tinnitus does to me: concentration is stolen; my mind shifts into a continuous somewhere else place that is not in the meeting, not in the book, not in the silence that everyone else inhabits.
I experimented with Perspex treated with projection film and layers of muslin. And then because the muslin weave was too heavy, reducing the bleed through effect of the projection light, I cut into it with scissors to see if this achieved the 3D effect I was after. I liked the organic effect of rough cuts. I didn’t want shapes that were too regular or patterned. I also felt that there needed to be significance to the organisation of the absences and presences in the cloth: if the medium was to the message, then something more than random holes was needed. I knew I didn’t want to make a circular patterns of cut outs: I wanted the projection and the cloth to be separate and together, so replicating a still kaleidoscope in cloth was somehow not what was needed. In any case, that might read as a giant paper doily with inferences that I didn’t want… The solution emerged not in the lab, but as I was driving away, reading the simple white typefaces of road signs. Letters have a balance of regular and irregular curves and straight lines in their asymmetry. The first screen, I decided, would be a collection of white sans serif letters falling from ceiling to floor. It was obvious that the fabric of the muslin was not strong enough to maintain letter shapes and needed support, so I used fine tutu netting as a matrix to support the flimsy cut out letters which were fixed to it and held in place with lashings of spray mount (which meant that dark fluff became my enemy…). The letters came from the word DREAM (after playing with DREAMING THE SILENCE and SILENCE). In the end, whether or not the audience actually read the word was immaterial: it was more important to me that the letters were the material presence of a physical projection screen, as well as a signifier standing in for an absent signified abstract concept, and thus exploiting what Gizem Aslan terms ‘the sensory experience of text as well as the semantic one’ (Alsan in Amihay & Walsh, 2012: 207). For Aslan, this opens up words as a ‘site of encounter’ where a word might be seen as a ‘gate’ or ‘threshold’ to meaning/s rather than a ‘house’ containing or possessing it (ibid: 209). And of course, since I experience sounds and words synaesthetically, then this paradox between a word as an object and signifier resonates.
In the projection film, I knew that I didn’t want to use the extant soundscape as a ‘text’ to which visuals would be added, although, paradoxically, when working with sound I have a synaesthetic response. I see words as well as experience them as signifiers. They are visual objects moving in the dark synaesthetically induced spaces in my mind. But. I wanted the visuals to capture the essence of seeing sound as opposed to seeing this sound. In the end a rhythm emerged. White text on black (which reads to the projector as nothing to project) dissolved to moving kaleidoscopic images. Colour and monochromatic rhythms also emerged undetermined by the soundscape. I needed the vision to exist independently in silence should audience members not desire to listen to the soundscape (which was offered on headphones on benches in the gallery), so its rhythms were its own. It was happenstance that certain images and sounds coincided: sonic and visual rhythms were independent yet interferential. To borrow yet again from McLuhan, this might be described as ‘a collide-oscope of interfaced situations’ (Agel, 1967: 10).
The soundtrack for this installation of Dreaming the Silence already exists as a physical work, having previously been created in collaboration with Karen Lauke for a Practice as Research workshop experiment, which was exhibited in Munich at the International Federation of Theatre Research conference, 2010. For this workshop experiment I made a visual essay to be watched separately from the sound and which originally came out of the need to make an exegesis for REF2014 to accompany the work and elucidate the research question which concerned an interrogation of Pawel Jastreboff’s assertion that the imagined noises of tinnitus are unlike anything in the real world and thus unreproduceable (and published online as Dreaming The Silence: an Un-Trance-Lated Performance: www.experimentsandintensities.com, vol II). The exegesis evolved and became a creative piece in its own right using the animation features of Powerpoint, Keynote, and the digital image manipulative functions of Paint, Photoshop and Lightroom. In their final versions, as sounds and visions for Munich, the visual essay and the soundscape were in iterative dialogue with each other by being separated: neither aspect of the piece was originally meant to be experienced at the same time as the other as is the case in its online published presentation. Instead, each supposed that the other existed and asked its audience to imagine its existence and form. In this way the watcher was positioned as deaf to sound existing somewhere else; the listener as blind to unseen visions, and disability subverted. ‘I am not deaf,’ the visual essay said; ‘You are not hearing. We exist in the liminal space between’ (Newall & Lauke, 2010: ). And that, it seemed, was that. Onto the next creative work, which has increasingly been the manipulation and integration of multimedia imagery into live performance via After Effects and Photoshop…
But then, for another module, I interviewed Russ Tunney, the Director of Pound Arts, Corsham in Wiltshire. Out of the blue, after the interview, he asked whether Dreaming The Silence: an Un-Trance-Lated Performance could be installed in the gallery during a forthcoming festival of disability arts The Pound was hosting in June with Bath Spa University. Because in its previous existence it was a virtual piece with no physical entity, I decided to make a physical presence for the work by projecting it on screens as an installation. All my previous physical (ie not online) projection work has existed as a scenographic aspect of live performance and thus not projection in its own right. Suddenly, here was an opportunity to play more freely without the complex concerns of the integration of mediated information into live performance. Thus Dreaming The Silence, as presented here, came into existence. So, while the soundtrack already existed, the physical presentation of the work with screens, and the projected film is new. A short 30 second section of visual material is quoted from the original visual essay, but this has however been treated and animated so that it is shifted and re-presented.