Wednesday, 9 June 2010

on 'Material Memories' by DJ Spooky

Paul D. Miller aka Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid, in his essay entitled “Material Memories: Time And The Cinematic Image”, lyrically writes about the different themes that constitute the art of cinema, time, screen, projection, unfolding images through action, rhythms of fragmentation… and the list is long…

I have regained this old habit of taking notes. While reading a text, and to be able to concentrate more, I used to write the keywords that interest me on my notebook, or write a shiny sentence that makes great sense to me on as a side note, now with the ‘reading from the screen’ mode, copy pasting and recompositing the author’s text to understand it in my context is my latest way or grasping… this is what happens below, reading and taking the parts that interest me, or chaptering the information with titles to suit my agenda.


First, DJ Spooky would refer to the films by Maya Deren, ‘Ritual in Transfigured Time’, ‘Divine Horsemen’ and ‘Meditation on Violence’. He speaks of her exploration of “ritual time, and visual time, as part of a new history unfolding on the white screens of her contemporary world.” He says that Deren “sought a new art to mold time out of dance, a social sculpture carved out of celluloid gestures and body movements caught in the prismatic light of the camera lens”, quoting her "in this sense [ritual] is art, and even historically, all art derives from ritual. Being a film ritual, it is achieved not in spatial terms alone, but in terms of Time created by the camera." He would add that “in the lens of the camera the dance became a way of making time expand and become a ritual reflection of reality itself. Film became total. Became time itself - a mnemonic, a memory palace made of the gestures captured on the infinitely blank screen.” This description stimulates the reflection on the material to be filmed; upon reading this article, I thought about filming people watching the football matches in public venues. In Beirut, and am positive everywhere in the world, all the pubs and cafés replace their menu chalkboard with a flat screen television whenever there’s a big sports related event happening, this year (June 2010), it will be the world cup taking place in South Africa.


Then DJ Spooky would bring up the “Surrealists' walking dream put into a contemporary context. Andre Breton first stated the kind of will to break from the industrial roles culture assigned everyone in Europe back in 1930: ‘the simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down into the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly as fast as you can, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd. Anyone who at least once in his life, has not dreamed of thus putting an end to the petty system of debasement and cretinization in effect has a well-defined place in that crowd, with his belly at barrel level.” DJ Spooky argues that “automatic writing as described by surrealists, ‘letting subconscious thought become a formalized artistic act’ gets flipped, becoming a gangsta dreamtime remix, like an open source Linux coded operating system, psychogeographic shareware for the open market in a world where identity is for sale to the highest bidder”… “Set your browser to drift mode and simply float: the sequence really doesn't care what you do as long as you are watching. ‘Now’ becomes a method for exploring the coded landscapes of contemporary post-industrial reality, a flux, a Situationist reverie, a ‘psychogeographie’ - a drift without beginning or end...”


Dj Spooky describes Chronos, the Greek god of Time, as a cannibal: “he devoured his children and left the universe barren. From time all things emerge and into Time all things go. Chronos at the heart of Europe, Chronos at the crossroads becomes a signpost in suspension - multiplication of time versus the all-consuming one track time, one track mind.”


“A million intangibles of the present moment, an infinite permutation of what could be... the thought gets caught... You get the picture… In the data cloud of collective consciousness, it's one of those issues that just seems to keep popping up… it's that flash of insight, a way of looking at the fragments of time. Check it: visual mode - open source, a kinematoscope of the unconscious: a bullet that cuts through everything like a Doc Edgerton, E.J. Maret or Muybridge flash frozen frame. You look for the elements of the experience, and if you think about it, even the word "analysis" means to break down something into its component parts.”


He would say: “As I sit here and type on my laptop, even the basic format of the words I write still mirrors some of the early developments in graphical user interface based texts, still echoes not only in how I write, but how I think about the temporal placement of the words and ideas I'm thinking about. It's a world-view that definitely ain't linear but came out of the graphical user interfaces invented by the likes of Alan Kay, and Douglas Engelberts, and Ivan Sutherland - stuff that let you move into the screen and interact with the icons and objects on the monitors surface. Into the picture, into the frame... Context becomes metatext, and the enframing process, as folks as diverse as Iannis Xenakis, Kool Keith aka Dr. Octagon or Eminem can tell you, like Freidrich Kittler, ‘Aesthetics begins as 'pattern recognition.'”


Or “the multiplying effects of digital media on self representation… the sense here is one of prolonging the formal implications of the expressive act - move into the frame, get the picture, re-invent your name. Movement, flow, flux: the nomad takes on the sedentary qualities of the urban dweller. Movement on the screen becomes an omnipresent quality. Absolute time becomes dream machine flicker… Digital codes become a reflection, a mirror permutation of the nation.”


And he tells a story to add up on the context and the metatext: “Sometimes the best way to get an idea across is to simply tell it as a story. It's been a while since one autumn afternoon in 1896 when Georges Melies was filming a late afternoon Paris crowd caught in the ebb and flow of the city's traffic. Melies was in the process of filming an omnibus as it came out of a tunnel, and his camera jammed. He tried for several moments to get it going again, but with no luck. After a couple of minutes he got it working again, and the camera's lens caught a hearse going by. It was an accident that went unnoticed until he got home. When the film was developed and projected it seemed as if the bus morphed into a funeral hearse and back to its original form again. In the space of what used to be called actualites - real contexts reconfigured into stories that the audiences could relate to - a simple opening and closing of a lens had placed the viewer in several places and times simultaneously. In the space of one random error, Melies created what we know of today as the ‘cut’ - words, images, sounds flowing out the lens projection would deliver, like James Joyce used to say ‘sounds like a river.’ Flow, rupture, and fragmentation - all seamlessly bound to the viewers perspectival architecture of film and sound, all utterly malleable - in the blink of an eye space and time as the pre-industrial culture had known it came to an end.”


“Whenever you look at an image, there's a ruthless logic of selection that you have to go through to simply create a sense of order. The end-product of this palimpsest of perception is a composite of all the thoughts and actions you sift through over the last several micro-seconds - a soundbite reflection of a process… The eyes stream data to the brain through something like two million fiber bundles of nerves. Consider the exponential aspects of perception when you multiply this kind of density by the fact that not only does the brain do this all the time, but the millions of bits of information streaming through your mind at any moment have to be coordinated. Any shift in the traffic of information - even the slightest rerouting - can create, like the hearse and omnibus of Melies film accident, not only new thoughts, but new ways of thinking. Literally. Non-fiction, check the meta-contradiction... Back in the early portion of the 20th century this kind of emotive fragmentation implied a crisis of representation, and it was filmakers, not Dj's who were on the cutting edge of how to create a kind of subjective intercutting of narratives and times - there's even the famous story of how President Woodrow Wilson when he saw the now legendary amount of images and narrative jump-cuts that were in turn cut and spliced up in D.W. Griffiths's film classic Birth of a Nation called the style of ultra-montage ‘like writing history with lightning.’”


“Film makers like D.W. Griffith, Dziga Vertov, Oscar Michaux, and Sergei Eisenstein (especially with his theory of "dialectal montage" or "montage of attractions" that created a kind of subjective intercutting of multiple layers of stories within stories) were forging stories for a world just coming out of the throes of World War I. A world which, like ours, was becoming increasingly inter-connected, and filled with stories of distant lands, times and places - a place where cross-cutting allowed the presentation not only of parallel actions occurring simultaneously in separate spatial dimensions, but also parallel actions occurring on separate temporal…”

… “What Mikhail Bakhtin might have once called ‘diacritical difference’ now becomes ‘the mix’ or as James B. Twitchell says … the ‘carnival of the everyday’ in the images and sounds that make up the fabric of … daily life: ‘[the situations are] homologues (having the same relation) of each other and semilogues of those in the genre. Entertainments share diachronic and synchronic similarities; they refer to individual texts as well as to all precursors and successors — every programmer’s worst fear is that we might change the channel.’ If you compare that kind of flux to stuff like Dj mixes, you can see a similar logic at work: it's all about selection of sound as narrative. I guess that's traveling by synecdoche (figure of speech meaning part is made to represent the whole). It's a process of sifting through the narrative rubble of a phenomenon that conceptual artist Adrian Piper liked to call the ‘indexical present’ “I use the notion of the 'indexical present' to describe the way in which I attempt to draw the viewer into a direct relationship with the work, to draw the viewer into a kind of self critical standpoint which encourages reflection on one's own responses to the work…”


“Griffith's: it's all about how you play with the variables that creates the art piece. If you play, you get something out of the experience. If you don't, the medium becomes a reinforcement of what's already there, and or as one critic, said a long time ago of Griffith's Intolerance: "history itself seems to pour like a cataract across the screen…”


Describing his method: “Like an acrobat drifting through the topologies of codes, glyphs and signs that make up the fabric of my everyday life, I like to flip things around… Contemporary 21st Century aesthetics needs to focus on how to cope with the immersion we experience on a daily level - a density that Sergei Eisenstein back in 1929 spoke of when he was asked about travel and film: ‘the hieroglyphic language of the cinema is capable of expressing any concept, any idea of class, any political or tactical slogan, without recourse to the help of suspect dramatic or psychological past’. Does this mean that we make our own films as we live them? Traveling without moving. It's something even Aristotle's ‘Unmoved Mover’ wouldn't have thought possible.”

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