exploring art and writing

Instrumental and Vocal Recitals: Molly.

In Fine Arts, Music, Performance on April 8, 2010 at 11:42 am

At last: one more video is nearing completion! And it also looks like the dates for my next two days of filming are (almost) definitely set. If I were religious I would be praying right now; instead I’ll just have to make do with keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll get all the videos finished by the end of April.

The video is of young student Molly Jones who currently resides in Monmouth, and the piece I selected from her many performances was O Del Mio Dolce Ardor by Christoph Willibald Gluck. And yes, I did laugh when I read his name. The piece itself, like Molly’s voice, is very sweet. In its original Italian – how Molly performed it – it runs something as follows:

O del mio dolce ardor
Bramato oggetto,
L'aura che tu respiri,
Alfin respiro.

O vunque il guardo io giro,
Le tue vaghe sembianze
Amore in me dipinge:
Il mio pensier si finge
Le più liete speranze;
E nel desio che così
M'empie il petto
Cerco te, chiamo te, spero e sospiro.

But for those of us (like me) who are ignorant of the language, it translates as below:

Oh, desired object
Of my sweet ardor,
The air which you breathe,
At last I breathe.

Wherever I turn my glance
Your lovely features
Paint love for me:
My thoughts imagine
The most happy hopes,
And in the longing which
Fills my bosom
I seek you, I call you, I hope, and I sigh.

Or, perhaps, more like the translation that’s below. I didn’t want to offend any Italian speakers so hopefully an accurate translation is somewhere in between the two:

O thou beloved
Whom long my heart desireth
At length, the air thou breathest
my soul inspireth

Where'er mine eye may mander
Still of thee some vague semblance
Doth Love awake within me...
My every thought doth win me.
To yet fonder remembrance.

Thee I seek, thee I call
Fondly and e'er fonder.

O  thou beloved
Whom long my heart desireth
At length, the air thou breathest
My soul inspireth
My soul inspireth.

The song is a massive contrast to saxophonist Emily’s performance of Ryo Noda’s Improvisation I. However, the piece I am aiming to create for the degree show will hopefully consist of three singers, all of them sopranos. I suppose the format will resemble my last assessment piece The Recital in some ways; depending on how I feel when all three films are made there will probably be a mixing of footage in order to create an amalgamation of the performances. I am perfectly aware of the difficulties that may arise from this, the prominent one being the blending of music and the uneducated, ear-aching decisions that I could so easily come to, much to the chagrin of my (currently) imaginary audience.

At the moment I’m not going to pull my hair out over the issue; there will be plenty of time to stress over it when the three films are completed in front of me, which at the moment is my prime stress-causer.

Molly follows a similar format to my previous video Emily, although there are some significant differences between the two. The major difference stems from the variation in my relationship with each person; Emily is a close, long-term friend, Molly is an acquaintance I met through this project. As of yet I haven’t shown Molly to an audience as it’s not quite complete, but I have a lingering feeling that this difference in closeness has somehow penetrated the ‘feel’ of the video. The intimacy of filming Emily while she was applying her make-up and doing her hair was as much a part of the film as her performance; to this day I believe it is this aspect of the video that procures the intimacy that my audience apparently gained from watching it. The lack of any pre-performance ritual in Molly also denotes the receding of relevant themes such as personal ritual and the intimacy that can be gained via the observation of such generally unobserved actions. This in turn further decreases any intimacy to be obtained through the close scrutiny of a persons face. Whilst I am perfectly happy with the shots I acquired from the days filming with Molly and as well as being extremely pleased with her wonderful performance, I can’t help but perceive a lack of the small, personal intimacies that made Nintendo Night and Emily the ‘successes’ that they were. But to clarify my thoughts on all this I need to show the film to a tester audience, which I will perhaps do later today.

Another predominant theme, albeit on a more personal level rather than as a necessary context for the audience, is the idea of home and the occupation of such a place. In my previous blogs I have discussed my tumultuous relationship with the concept of home and homeliness and the undercurrents of this that Emily contains as an artwork. I filmed my friend Emily in my home so as to deceive and convey it as her own; this, for me, extracted the literal emptiness and alienation I associate with the place. Her performance also brought life and actions, no matter how transient, into what is for most of the time an empty shell. In a way for me it was almost like an exorcism, as if it was ridding the place (or myself) of lingering ghosts.

I knew that filming Molly in my home in Cardiff would present a very different perspective. To begin with, I have a massively contrasting relationship to my home here in the city; I love my house and I am also very close to the people I live with but I am constantly aware that it is only a temporary arrangement. I’m already arranging my room in order to make moving out in June more maneuverable. My walls look naked without their mass of posters and photographs plastered all over them.

But even here in a place that for me surpasses anywhere else, I am beginning to feel oppressed by the looming deadline for my own removal. At the moment the house is empty apart from myself, which is the usual set up for all holidays and which suits me fine. So when Molly and her friend Harriet arrived I did encounter similar feelings to when Emily arrived at my old home; not on an emotional level, of course, but regarding a human presence that suddenly fills up a quiet space – and getting a classically trained singer to perform in your living room certainly does that.

The format of my video is the direct result of this theme and so it begins with shots of my home mostly looking rather empty, although not uninhabited. It also hints at what is about to take place through the depiction of the microphone, which in turn acknowledges the camera that it is attached to by having the wire extending towards the screen; if making a video then why pretend that you don’t have a video camera? Also, I’ve attempted a little ironic twist throughout these ‘set the scene’ shots by placing various Anne Weiss tracks from Singing For The Vocally Challenged over them. This is intended as a playful nod both towards my own lack of ability and longing for an angelic singing voice (alas, never to be) and also to my search for singers and musicians being an undeniable result of me enlisting these people to help me both wallow in and forget this fact; music, after all, has always been my downfall in terms of distraction.

I have included a shot of the three brooches that are pinned to my black coat and for me this is very significant. The pearl brooch was a very welcome present from my friend Glenndog, although my interest lies mainly in the sun and the clown brooches. The clown has a smile on his face but two holes where his eyes should be and the sun is a gold and garish flower shape with a glum, theatrical grimace; when I undertook my now- left-behind video Crazy I had begun to consider the connotations of the mask in relation to these two unusual and hideously tacky items of jewellery. My attraction to them I think stems from this fascination with personae and the emotional relations that such a topic is imbued with; it all links in very closely with my relationship with and my attitude towards the idea of ‘home’, and consequently to my take on most things in life. So there is my little bit of symbolism for you.

Following this is a few more still shots, including one of my lovely rainbow pants (I couldn’t resist) and one of my empty sofa, intended as a nod towards not only the idea of the empty home but to the anticipation that the room will not be empty for much longer. This is also what the shot of the chair and the microphone is intended to suggest. Following this the video resembles Emily very much in editing method and format; Molly looks through her music, chooses it and then proceeds to warm her voice up with vocal exercises. She then performs the song, shown in its entirety and in a single shot, and the song is then repeated with a more varied visual accompaniment. So the imperative question is – and I avoided asking myself this following the completion of Emily – why have I structured the video in such a way? What artistic merit does it gain from being made so?

I have always been wary of answering questions such as these. Even the conceptual dissection of certain shots that I have offered above is unusual for me. However, even I am beginning to wonder about it all so I may as well consider the factors that have led to my decision-making. The themes I have mentioned so far involve home, existential homelessness and the filling of a space. The more immediate theme is, of course, music and the close observation of a performer. So now to consider the Why, not just regarding themes but also how these themes are conveyed through the way I have composed Molly and Emily. For the sake of this blog, however, I will refer mainly to Molly as it is my most recent project.

The best place to start is probably my lifelong fascination with the human face and human habits. By habits I am not just referring to facial ticks or the wringing of hands etc. but to a wider, more diverse and even more seemingly absurd topic; basically I am in awe of the weirdness of human beings, an obsession that gained more clarity through my prose entitled The Fifteenth Floor, a task that I undertook in my first year of university. In fact, all of the themes in my work can be found in that piece of writing – it’s a shame that I didn’t pay more attention to it at the time. Anyway, I have always seen music as the strangest and yet most fantastic of human phenomena, in particular the voice; listening to music as well as the act of performing it allows a person to encompass an entirely different state of mind that either is on the verge of or is completely picnoleptic in nature. Virilio’s term ‘picnolepsia’ was originally intended, I suppose, as quite a negative term referring to the daydreamer who transfers from one reality to the other (if either states can be referred to as a reality) and consequently intakes as much experience from the ‘fake’ reality as they do from their everyday physical world (Virilio’s book The Aesthetics of Disappearance is in fact not the best source for gaining understanding of the term; Timothy Allen Jackson’s essay Towards a New Media Aesthetic explains it with much more clarity). A prime example of a stereotypical picnoleptic would be the computer-gamer deep in play.

When I use the term ‘picnoleptic’ I am actually coining it due to my lack of ability to conjure up another appropriate term; I am merely using it to refer to a mind shifting from one concentration to another, which is basically surfing from one ‘reality’ to another in a way. There are only two things for me that completely shift my holistic perception of the world, and they are music and sex; they are the only things that will stop my mind ticking over all the stuff that stresses me out, and I don’t really possess the inclination to make art about sex – although I am glad that there are those who do – so music will have to do, for now.

Singing is a great thing to observe, particularly if ones art practice involves scrutinizing the human face. The ‘picnoleptic’ concentration that singing entails, as with anyone who is in deep concentration with the task at hand, is brilliant and sometimes very amusing to watch. Yet again I find myself thinking of Leconte’s Le Batteur du Bolero and the hilarity of the drummers face as Ravel’s music progresses.

I think that this is why I have structured both Emily and Molly in the way that I have:

Firstly, when warming up their voice or instrument I black out the screen when a sound is made; their faces or wherever the camera is pointing flash up when the sound ends, so basically when they are taking a breath for their next note. I personally found – and I was informed by a few audience members following their viewing of Emily that they had a similar experience – that this focuses your mind both on the tone of the performers music as well as on their breathing. For instance, when Emily played an exceedingly long note I suddenly found myself out of breath as I was unconsciously attempting to hold it with her. This method of ‘blacking out’ the screen allows the audience to fully concentrate on the sounds being produced; it also allows this sonic observation to occur whilst listening to a musical performer warm up, an event that is more hidden and less heard than any other performance despite its necessity. The only common ‘warming up’ that some people may be familiar with is the stunningly cacophonous sound of an orchestra tuning for a concert.

Secondly, for the first take of the performance – in Molly’s case she sang O Del Mio Dolce Ardor by Gluck – I show a continuos ‘face shot’ from the beginning until the end of the song. This harks back to all the fascination that my mind accumulated towards the human face whilst watching films such as Faces, Persona and Grey Gardens. It is also an attempt to offer a brief respite from all the heavy editing and manipulation, to all the deception that my videos entail; to convey a piece of human absurdity as simply as possible in order to express its brilliance. This could be done with any human being undertaking any task; music is my choice for the present time as I consider these polarities that I am continually discovering in music irresistible by their very nature.

So, thirdly, if I do this in the name of simplicity and honesty (but can the latter really exist in film?) why do I then proceed to repeat the performance from various angles and points of view? In the case of Molly the shots consist of the previous full-facial shot, two opposing side profiles, her hands also from opposing angles, her neck and hair, and her stomach as she takes a breath for her next note; I also got a shot of Molly reflected in the mirror, so it is of the ‘real’ her and the ‘simulated’ her simultaneously. To make this easier for myself, keeping in mind that this is more a path of discovery for myself than anything else, I’m going to consider these shots one by one. This method of analysis isn’t intended as a pretense that I composed the shots in such a way because of these reasons, but rather as a consideration as to why I chose them over the other various compositions and why this may be. But who really knows? I’m trusting my gut feeling on this one.

With the close-up shots of Molly’s face I think what I am attempting to portray is exactly that: her face. I just want to show – or perhaps scrutinize, intended in an affectionate way, is a more appropriate word – to just show this thing that fascinates me from several viewpoints.  The intention is for the audience to acquire a level of close observation that expresses this interest as well as following the rhythm of the visual accompaniment. In doing so, I suppose, my work is creeping slightly towards the throes of television and entertainment, although I would hope that other aspects of the piece (such as the repetition and the slow, relatively quiet build-up) would steer it away from straying in this direction completely.

The reasons for my filming her in this way are also interchangeable with the drive behind documenting not just her face but other parts of her body, as I did with Emily. Filming Molly’s hands whilst she is singing is an attempt to acknowledge the habits a person commits when undertaking this type of performance. Like Emily with her feet, Molly’s hands reflect both her formal training and her attitude towards the situation at hand. Filming in a strangers house must have been extremely odd and her clasped hands seem to express a reserve that I would have expected from anyone; the polite formality of such a gesture also, for me, reflects the type of voice that Molly is lucky enough to possess. It also unveils to the observer the ‘picnoleptic’ state that any performer must realise whilst practicing their skill; unconscious habits, postures and gestures that make their concentration on their perfomance, their other state of mind, evident.

The shot of Molly standing whilst reflected in the mirror was one of the shots that was executed with more meaningful deliberation than most of the others, and in a way it relates to my previous research into the mask as a persona as well as to the deception of video. The shot interest me conceptually because I see Molly as being reflected – or simulated – twice, once by the mirror on my living room wall and then by the lens of my video camera. Showing it on a projector in the space-workshop will be a further simulation of this woman and my home. There is a light irony in reflecting a person who is being reflected, and whilst I was physically present with Molly in the room at that specific time, the audience can only ever experience these simulations of her, neither one being more real than the other. Even my memory of the event is merely a simulation. But here I am becoming too indulgent; it is yet another personal fascination of mine that is not imperative to the viewer’s take on the piece. It was merely the intention behind this particular shot, which can be seen at the top of this blog. My inclusion of the camera in this still shot is another acknowledgment towards my activity as a film-maker as I see no point in pretending that I was absent; the video, after all, is me attempting to develop an intimacy between myself and the performer so why should I pretend that I was not there?

Filming Molly’s neck and the intake of her breath from her diaphragm is a more literal reference to the fact that she is a singer, as filming Emily’s hands was an obviously direct representation of her skill as a saxophonist. Like the blacking out of the screen during Molly’s vocal exercises, filming her intake of breath encourages (I would hope) a more empathetic response from the viewer who can, whether a musician or not, understand the necessity of each breath. The shots of Molly’s neck are even more literal than this; they are intended to make the source of the sound a focal point, even if only for a few moments. It seems to me that as the vocal chords in the neck are where the vocal sounds we experience are produced, it makes sense to film them. Perhaps these shots are too boring for an audience however, and perhaps I am being too logical.

And the other question I now have to ask myself is how much of this boredom do I feel I have the right to inflict upon an audience, particularly in relation to the repetition in my video?

I can’t really answer that one. Again, I stand by the audience’s right to walk out whenever they please, although I’m aware that creating a cinema-type environment discourages this. Molly is around ten minutes long so time-wise it isn’t as demanding as Emily. I can only hope that people who see it will not want to walk out, but that is far too optimistic an assumption on my part.

I think my next blog will have to address this topic of boredom and the differences between what is classed as entertainment and art; there must be someone, somewhere, who has drawn a line between the two in order to distinguish them from one another. I don’t want to discover this line in order to adhere to it, simply to question it. I experience a lot of pleasure from art that entertains whilst procuring deeper thoughts. I suppose this will loop me round to when I had just finished my video A to B and was approaching both deliberate symbolism and verite parallel to one another. For now, however, I think this blog is long enough.

  1. […] This quote especially reflects my attitude towards my video Emily. Whilst filming and editing it I was focused only on its construction; in retrospect, however, the filming of it in my own home imbued it with personal meaning for myself in terms of intimate human relationships and through the concept of the lost or empty home. By filming Emily in my house – with my possessions in shot, my family pictures on the wall and most significantly with her getting ready in my parents bedroom – I was indicating it as her own. This was both a reference to its emptiness gaining substantial presence from her being there and from her performance, as well as to my own longing to fill the emptiness and make this ‘fullness’ more permanent, something that I had unknowingly explored in videos such as Nintendo Night. Since then and also like Parker, my videos have become very much more about the musician and the music that they are performing, hence the move into institutional environments; my second attempt to document a performer in my home (this time here in Cardiff) was not half as successful as Emily, a factor which no doubt prompted this change in direction. The issues relating to this are more thoroughly discussed in my blog Molly. […]

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