Conceptual Correlations of Sound and Image

7 Perception as Participation and a Critique of Representation

Snow’s film Presents makes it clear that he did not even remotely limit the visualization of processes of perception to the methods of abstraction or minimalism. Completed in 1981, the film consists of several parts. A series of staged scenes, characterized in particular by the alternation of a mobile stage and a mobile camera tripod,[10] is followed by a one-hour sequence of documentary takes of various length, all of which were filmed with a handheld camera: panning shots that follow birds or parachutes in the sky, waterfalls or sled rides, urban or rural impressions, or intimate bedroom scenes. Common to all these takes is a short, dry sound: a pulse that keeps time with each cut. Although each time the sound is a repetition of the same drumbeat, the combinations of sound and image nevertheless appear to conjure different auditory impressions, as if the drumbeats actually differ from one another depending on whether the camera movement in a take begins at the very moment of the cut; whether, after the cut, the image first remains still before something moves; or whether the camera and motif move in tandem or counter to one another.

While for Michael Snow it is overwhelmingly the heteronomous combinatorics of elements of formalism and a critique of representation that raise awareness of the autogenesis of sensory perception, Tony Conrad focuses as well on the observer’s or listener’s interactive and physical participation in his works. His instrumental arrangement String Loop (1962) is an early example of such work. Essentially, it consisted of a string formed into a loop by means of a slipknot, which was then attached at its two ends to a fixed object such as the floor. The listener is requested to place the string over his or her head in such a way that the loop is stretched tautly over his or her ears to a bridge fastened to the floor, which transmits the sound. When the person thus equipped applies a violin bow to the string to vibrate it, only he or she can hear the stereophonic tone that ensues. Thus, in this instrumental arrangement, the status of listener converges completely with that of musician.

The rumbling to-and-fro movements of the stage are demonstrated not least by the skipping and sliding of a pickup on a record player.  

Timelines:1960 – 1980
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