Richard Bowers and the Sound of Aircraft Attacking Britain.

The Velvet Lantern Part IV: Manuscript - In Slower Motion



The Velvet Lantern series:

Manuscript I

A bye-product of a research grant from Arts Council of Wales into eye tracking technology was a video of hand gestures performed by Jo Fong in response to prepared video clips of a pianist's hand movements and those of a signer for Deaf people. More is said about this later, but for this version the video was tracked live by the computer to determine the positions of the hands so that a drone-like sound could be affected by the gestures. This opens up another path towards algorithmic soundtrack production where the material of the video itself manipulates its own sountrack.

Manuscript: In Slower Motion

In Slower Motion involved the striking of percussion by electro-mechanical means. I was keen to work with sound that was produced in the space by real instruments, not from recordings.

In Slower Motion was commission by O4W as an exploration of the relationship between sound and image. It focuses on the extended hand-gesture sequence performed by Jo Fong used in Manuscript I. Underpinning this video (made for a research project) 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 – an array of 18 drums distributed throughout the space and 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 'mobile' form that echoes the windmill's cogs in Foreign Correspondent (1940). 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.

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 flourishes because they suited the context: quiet contemplation interrupted by a regular explosion of events. In this case the musical gesture 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 percussive bursts of activity. Also, the events are generated pseudo-randomly, making each flourish unique. This conforms to my aim of making the work change constantly.

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 film studios 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 to the cor anglais loops so that the sound and video evolved in similar ways.

Supported by O4W: Outcasting Fourth Wall, Arts Council of Wales and The National Lottery.

Arts Council of Wales