Conceptual Correlations of Sound and Image

6 Media Encroachments

To hypostatize the act of perception as an active process was the intention also of those artists who sought to reconceptualize cinematic representation on the premise of an affinity to musical experimentation and thus extended the sensory sphere of influence of these various modes of expression to an intermedial form of expanded cinema. Notable in this context are the Canadian musician, filmmaker, graphic artist, and sculptor Michael Snow and the American musician, performance artist, filmmaker, graphic artist, and painter Tony Conrad. Mathematical, geometric, or physical formulas function in their work not only as a formal principle in the sense of a model-like depiction, but at times purely and simply as a laconic cliché. The ensuing relationship of the visual to the musical or auditory level was partly of an analogous, partly of a heteronomous nature.

That the pertinent literature discusses Snow and Conrad above all under the label of structural film[8] or structural materialist film,[9] thereby deducing in particular both artists’ attention to the inherent sensory logic of cinematographic equipment or the interplay of the film strip, camera, and projection, has distorted perspectives somewhat on the intermedial constellations that they created from cinematic and musical/sounding elements. The diversity and excitement of these constellations derived, not least, from the fact that for Snow and Conrad, to develop film projects and to work as a musician (Snow as a jazz musician and Conrad as an avant-garde rock musician and a minimalist musician) were two largely independent activities. Only rarely did their cinema and music practices converge, in the sense of a musical work being used as a soundtrack for one of their films. Snow expressly insisted on the independence of visual and musical modes of expression. A crossover tended rather to occur when he experimented with transposing acoustic parameters of sound such as frequency or wavelength to the cinematic realm (and vice versa). Thus, in Wavelength (1967), he counters the gradually increasing frequency of a sine wave with continual shifts in a camera zoom lens, and also reflects the physically abstract notion of wavelengths in a photographic representation of ocean waves.

For Snow and other protagonists of structural film in the avant-garde tradition the issue was, first, to debunk the media’s growing technical potential to generate mimetic illusion and, second, to thus accelerate an analytic challenge to precisely those systems of codification of cinematic language that they themselves used in developing their interdisciplinary practice. In contrast to the collage methods of deconstructing meaning, so typical of previous avant-garde practice, they focused more on the phenomenological materiality of sound-image correlations, and hence on the appearance and representation of temporality and spatiality, ratio and volume, rhythm and combinatorics. In emphasizing media-technological procedures—such as the variability of recording and projection speeds, or the oscillations, sampling, echo, or feedback effects of film or auditory material—the artists did not so much speculate about semantic procedures for the production of meaning as about physically immediate, perceptive-reflexive, hypnotic, or even hallucinatory experience.


Timelines:1960 – 1970
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