Eye Candy or New Indie Cinema?

By Holly Aylett


Sound-image convergence at the London Scala

The second event in the Women Take Centre Stage Festival, took place on International Women’s Day. It was a celebration of women, electronic music and moving images, organised by Debbie Dickinson of Jazz Moves.

First on stage was Riz Maslen, (alias Neotropic), a small figure at the console, in silhouette and dwarfed by the moving images on the screen behind her. She did a live mix to her image-poem, La Prochaine Fois (Next Time), which previewed at the Leeds Film Festival, 2000. The sounds of Nick McCabe of the Verve on guitar, and Sally Herbert’s string arrangements, (also known from the Manic Street Preachers) came through layers of electronic sound.

La Prochaine Fois opens with fast-cut, superimposed images evoking her life in snap-shot before the journey begins. The film maps out her travels, home-movie style, from America to East Europe and back – wastelands, streets, back yards, bridges, occasional monuments, few people – all passing in the disengaged long-shot Riz remembers from childhood, strapped into the back seat, staring out of the window. Her sound evokes huge perceptual fields beyond the image, and the film occasionally switches from land to line-scapes, etching out the sound patterns in the music. At the journey’s end, shots of a sunflower, stark against a wasteland, superimposed and intercut with high-speed cloudscapes passing by, the whole resonating with a tremendous loop of mixed string and electronic sound. Then silence. I heard a voice from the dark behind me, ‘I don’t know what that was, but it was the dream I wanted to go on’.

After Riz Maslen, a performance by cutting edge exponent of electronica, Mira Calix. Her music was accompanied by a visual show in the style set by its prime-movers , Hexstatic – hard disc sampling of images, with loops and multilayer mixing created using Vjamm, computer software. It was a video jam in a style, I was told, inspired by Chris Cunningham. Nonetheless, Mira Calix’s sound struggled against the distracting power of the image – tumbling samurai fighters, the grid of an iron bridge, a couple in split-screen, split-up and reunited, shots of frenetic activity in a press centre... Each image released such a range of associations that the effect seemed confusion, blinding the audience rather than engaging them as cultural participants. A music journalist put the challenge succinctly: “Mixing visuals depends entirely on the sound-image concept. Otherwise it becomes ‘eye-candy’”.

The last performer to take the console was the globally acclaimed electronic producer/DJ, Andrea Parker. Dark, brooding, attenuated sounds. The Vjamm digi-topia gave way here to manual technology and the tangibility of 16mm film loops. Three projectors were lined up side by side with two slide projectors in front, superimposing still frames on moving image. This created a complex screen picture with the trace of figurative elements merged with clouds and other abstract compositions. These mood-scapes were designed in advance with Andrea Parker, successfully fine-tuned to the dark, resonance of her music and reminiscent of the performance art of the seventies.

This was an evening of convergence. The event had all the excitement of the latest fusions between sound and image enabled by digital technology; multiple forms generated through new historical loops. As a spectacle and live performance it also echoed back to the era before synchronisation, to the days of live, musical accompaniment of the moving image.

Holly Aylett is a filmmaker and writer and teaches at City University.