Manuscript: In Slower Motion

An installation in the Velvet Lantern series by Richard Bowers

I would like to thank Jack and Anna Bowers, Joanne Fong, Ian Watson, Thomas Davey, Andrew Messam, Matt Cook, Lauren Jury, Mike Cousins, the O4W team, ACW and Cardiff Contemporary for their various contributions – ideas, labour, materials, funds – that made this work possible.

'Manuscript II: In Slower Motion' was commissioned by Fourth Wall . Pedwaredd Wal CIC for the Outcasting : Fourth Wall Festival 2014. It forms part of the ongoing project The Velvet Lantern which explores the materials of mainstream cinema. This work can be regarded as The Velvet Lantern Part IV. The parts run as follows:

Part I: The Velvet Lantern
i. Experimentica, Chapter, 2009
ii. Sonic Artists in Wales, WCMD, 2010
iii. Re:animate, Oriel Davies, 2010

Part II: Ceremony
Experimentica, Chapter, 2012

Part III: Tricolour: The Passion of Joan of Arc
Experimentica, Chapter, 2013

Part IV: Manuscript
i. Oriel Davies Open 2014
ii. 'In Slower Motion', O4W 2014

The Velvet Lantern and its variants.

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Dynamic extension of space: Ludo Bunel, Caroline Pugh and Gwilly Edmondes performing in Richard Hannay's apartment.

In Slower Motion began as an exploration of the synchronisation of sound and image by way of manipulating the video components in response to an audible event – in this case the striking of percussion by electro-mechanical means.

One thing leads to - and from - others.

The overarching project that this work forms the fourth part of grew from a single improvised performance with sound and video called The Velvet Lantern. This entailed the depopulation of some examples of 'classical' cinema – in other words identifying short clips (sometimes as short as two frames) from films such as The 39 Steps where there is no significant evidence of people in the shot. This provided the performers with a makeshift 'rear projection' to extend the theatrical space into various environments: the shots of the hall and the stone-age ruins in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939); the nature scenes from The Edge of the World (1937); the views of the Cornish sea in Jamaica Inn (1939); and so on. These environments would impose themselves behind the performers at various points over the course of the day, often with 'procedural audio'* techniques to create unique sound effects over the improvised soundtrack.

The rear projections were not confined to an attempt at verisimilitude. Often the perspectives changed – a steady view of a landscape with the horizon at eye level might be replaced by a view down a cliffside to the sea. And scale would shift when a hand lighting an oil lamp would fill the backcloth, creating a gigantism reminiscent of the drawings of Fuseli. These short clips would be variously looped and read back-and-forth, allowing me to dwell on them for any length of time.

The name, The Velvet Lantern, expressed, for me, the quality of black and white projected films – suffused with a soft light and a velvety texture. It also had a literal reference to the flaming velvet cloak hoisted by the heroine in Jamaica Inn as a beacon to divert a passing ship from the treacherous rocks.

The heroine is glimpsed at the end of the performance. This was a clip of her looking over the cliff edge. In the source this shot lasts 50 frames or so. By a process of interpolation – a variant on the idea of 'tweening' in animation – the clip was extended to 10,000 frames. Essentially, I had supplemented the original clip with a large set of micro-movements between the frames allowing for very slow and smooth playback. These are imagined movements between the frames captured by Hitchcock's camera. This segment forms a key part of In Slower Motion both materially and thematically.

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The truth, 24 times a second, padded with fiction: an interpolated frame from Jamaica Inn.

I was fortunate to have been given a reel of 35mm film containing highlights from the 1940 Oscar ceremony at which Vivien Leigh received the Best Actress award for her role in Gone With the Wind. The reel contained other material including a segment from The Wizard of Oz. This footage prompted me to create a performance piece around some of the conventions of this annual event: the sycophantic and emotional speeches; the almost regal approaches to the stage; the pre-recorded acceptance speeches. The performance moved from celebration to adoration as the performer collapses before an image of the sun bursting through the clouds from the scene where Dorothy sings 'Over the Rainbow'. The source film was scanned in a variety of ways to create a dysfunctional backdrop to a dysfunctional ceremony. This was the second part of The Velvet Lantern.

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Dysfunctional: Caroline Pugh's stammered address.

In 2012 I had a conversation around the idea of forming a film club in which unrehearsed, live audio-description took place for the benefit of our friends with sight loss. It occurred to me that silent films had a verbal description in the form of inter-titles - albeit an unreliable, sparing one. Better still would be the shooting script which describes in full the action and scenery at the earliest stage in production. Using the script for Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), I presented a performance of sorts, in which I could be seen silhouetted at regular intervals against a projection consisting entirely of three horizontal stripes of slowly changing colours. My silhouette, sat at a table, could be seen transcribing the passages from the script during the short windows of time when the light cast my shadow on the screen. These passages were simultaneously projected to the floor in front of the screen as a form of live subtitle. This took place over nine hours, broken into three continuous periods of three hours. The three colours formed an evolving national flag. It was an anti-movie – without images to support the narrative of the script. The piece was called Tricolour: The Passion of Joan of Arc and was the third part of The Velvet Lantern.

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Tricolour: the act of writing as shadow play.

In Slower Motion was commission by O4W as an exploration of the relationship between sound and image. It focuses on an extended hand-gesture-sequence performed by Jo Fong which was videoed as part of my research into eye-tracking technology. Underpinning this video, Manuscript, was the notion of imitating source material played back at slow speeds. The hands of a pianist and a signer for deaf people were videoed, the results cut and reassembled into a sequence. This sequence, played back at slow speed, was imitated by Jo. The resulting imitation, being smooth and fine-grained, could then be played back at a broad range of speeds without exhibiting jumps between frames – an idea that relates to the segment of interpolated video mentioned above. It seemed natural to bring these together in one work. The percussion, activated electro-mechanically, would affect the playback of this video – forcing a dance of sorts.

An aspect of both Manuscript and the woman-on-cliff segment is the evidence of turning, or rotating. This connected the work to another series of video experiments in which the camera smoothly circles the subject, bringing in a vocabulary of spatial manipulation, also found in The Velvet Lantern back projections. This rotational dimension, when superimposed with other rotating clips, creates a distortion of space that echoes the windmill's cogs in Foreign Correspondent (1940). And the studio-built lattice structures, derived from computer-assisted drawings and designed to support the drums, are videoed to create another spatial interaction in the installation. Ultimately, In Slower Motion is a spatial study.

I would hope that the viewer's aesthetic response to my work would akin to that ascribed to music. Walter Pater's words 'all art constantly aspires towards the condition of music', if I understand them correctly, suggest that we could ultimately apprehend the plastic arts with a similar emotional response. Architecture has been described by Goethe as 'frozen music' (with, conversely, music being liquid architecture) as if the forms and details are somehow composed interchangeably: time becoming space and vice versa.

Therefore I hope that these are not 'dry' works. The underlying concepts, processes and techniques are always subordinate to the aesthetic impact. For me the joy of creating these pieces is in composing the relationships between the forms, between materials, and in the discovery of moments of beauty when two or more elements combine with particular elegance. With moving image works that use randomness in their 'live editing' this is an ongoing experience enabling me to spend much time simply watching the unfolding of the work.

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Manuscript II: In Slower Motion

Sound, video and constructions by Richard Bowers. 'Manuscript II: In Slower Motion' was commissioned by Fourth Wall.Pedwaredd Wal CIC for the Outcasting : Fourth Wall Festival 2014.

The music.

A recorded cor anglais, shifted down considerably in pitch, forms a polyphonic sound over which the drums in the space make their aggressive presence felt. The patterns of the drums are built from the same algorithm that produced the piano arpeggios in Tricolour.

After trying a number of strategies to produce the drum patterns - conventional music notation; computed rhythms; direct performance via drum triggers – I settled on the Tricolour piano gestures because they suited the context: quiet contemplation interrupted by a regular flourish of events. In this case the flourish was considerably more aggressive than in Tricolour. I discovered that, rather than create a 'civilised' mode of expression, there was something attractive in the primaeval quality of explosive bursts of activity.

The wooden structures.

I built a structure from timber strips and other reclaimed wood to site the drums. A lattice, informed by my computer-assisted drawings that were used as source material for a few drawings (below) and paintings, forms a free-standing structure from which half of the drums are suspended.

Another lattice of branches and twigs houses the remainder of the drums and is suspended from the ceiling like a cloud. These structures allude to the sets and models used in studio filming in the classical period. They are explored in the video and echoed in some of the quotations from movies: the wooden bridge from The 39 Steps, for instance.

The projections.

It was important to me that the projections were not confined to a conventional screen. The effect of projections attaching themselves to any surface is a powerful part of their vocabulary. The projector is not a neutral, transparent medium. It exhibits the characteristics of its technology: with data projectors the grid of individual pixels is visible and saccades in vision split the light into the individual red, green and blue components. Therefore projectors are not merely intermediaries between a virtual image and its realisation: they add their own qualities. (This also holds true for sound systems, which is why I chose to use guitar amplifiers for sound diffusion).

The projection has three layers: a foreground figure (the woman turning or the hands); a model or 'set' which the camera moves around (the wooden structure or the forest); and a 'rear projection' (clips from films or photographs that extend the space).

These layers relate to each other in the form of a mobile, where the individual parts have their own motion around a common axis which is part of a larger system. This means that a unique composition results at every moment. This is a procedure I applied the cor anglais loops so that the sound and video evolve in similar ways.

Richard Bowers, 2014.