Misdirected observations about cinema and music

Update and some interesting stuff for YOU

Currently, I’m writing my MA Thesis about Pasolini’s poetic cinema and music videos, so you may not see a lot of updates here the coming time. I’ll try to write something when I can; there are always new and unexpected insights to be had when dealing with audiovisual media.


If you’re more interested in music, check out one of my old teachers. He writes a lot of interesting stuff about music, performance and art. He also gives lectures around the world and all that fancy stuff so there’s that as well. Check out his piece on whispering opera for example: http://cobussen.com/2015/02/11/whispering-opera/


Another interesting video artist is Youtube’s Frank Yang; this guy makes VERY expressive video’s, with physical exercise at the heart of it all. You may not get everything, but that’s okay; neither does Frank. He IS all Yang and no Yin, though. See him here: https://www.youtube.com/user/digitalairair


One last thing. I’m very much trying to catch up with my film backlog at the moment. I keep track of the films I’ve seen and my ratings at letterboxd.com. I’d recommend this site to anyone who wants to get more into film, writing reviews, making watchlists and just generally interacting with a community of movie lovers. Visit letterboxd.com

Thanks for taking the time to read this little update and I hope your eyes will oncemore meet this page in the future.


Rainy mood


Thick Skin and a Misinterpreted Heart?


It sparks controversy. It draws red flags. It’s got Shia LaBeouf.

But why does it work?

Elastic Heart (Sia, Askill, 2015) is a music video by the female pop artist Sia which basically went viral and (at the moment of writing) gathered over 63 million views in a little over 2 weeks. It stars Shia LeBeouf and Maddie Ziegler and was choreographed by Ryan Heffington. The scene is set in a cage in an abandoned warehouse. We see the two actors perform an interpretative dance as they explore the confines of their environment.

That’s it.


To explore the video’s popularity one has to obviously take the notoriety of Sia as an artist into account. Elastic Heart was posted on Sia’s ‘VEVO’ channel, which has over 1 million subscribers and a mind-boggling 624 million views. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that this video blew up as it did.
Nonetheless, it can be said that the video offers powerful imagery. This is mostly due to the performance witnessed in its image culture. During the interpretive dance we see elements of Brazilian capoeira, American (show) wrestling, contemporary dance and more. Shia and Maddie share a wide variety of facial expressions, which range from angry to surprised and depressed to delighted.
Direction-wise, Sia and Askill take a minimalist approach with the scenery, which offers the choreography an opportunity to flourish. The white washed ware house wouldn’t have the same diffusing effect if it were not for the giant metal bird cage placed inside. The cage contrasts with the white environment and blends into the gray iron ceiling. It’s an almost sterile environment from which the main characters stand out in their skin coloured, dirty outfits.

I suppose the clothing of Ziegler and LaBeouf were indicators of the controversy I mentioned above. General audiences of pop music videos might be accustomed to naked bodies of adult (or adolescent) female starlets, but not to the body of a pre-pubescent girl and a grown man. As the dancers move franticly in and out of the cage, the characters could appear naked to the innocent onlooker. Are the implications of pedophilia and illegal sex legitimate? Perhaps we as viewers aren’t as innocent as we think?
It must be noted that the age difference of the actors cannot be left out of the equation. The contrast of a male adult body with one of a pre-pubescent female manifests itself for a reason. It confronts the viewer, and forces the onlooker to construct a narrative. From there on, I believe, it is not the direction which suggests the sexualization. It’s us. We inscribe the visual text with a sexual tension, one marked by taboo and prohibited thoughts.
If we abandon the sexualization of the young girl and the man, then what is left?

I’d like to suggest that Elastic Heart proposes a celebration of bodies. As Ziegler and LaBeouf rise, fall, mimic eachothers actions, challenge eachother, change from loving embrace to hateful expression the video suggests multiple narratives. We see a father and daughter, a brother and sister, two friends and two strangers. These stories intertwine and drift apart. The girl exits and enters the cage. The man climbs to the top of the cage and drops to the floor. Elastic Heart shows us animalistic behaviour and human social interaction.
These contrasting narratives, continually writhing and changing are what’s at the center of Elastic Heart. It’s the core of the video. The empty space that the two characters leave behind is for us as viewers to colour with our own imagination. The cage provides a free environment, to let our expression run wild, free from social boundaries and unaccepted thoughts. A man is allowed to perform a dance with a girl. We should not think twice about it.

And at the end, we are not allowed to escape the cage of our own desires. We may not even want to.


A loss for words

Just a brief post to make up, slightly, for the lack of posts the last few weeks/days. The next time you are at a loss for words, trying to describe something which seems to exist buts lacks definition, call upon Lyotard’s concept of the differend:

..the unstable state and instant of language wherein something which must be able to be put into phrases cannot yet be. This states includes silence, which is a negative phrase, but it also calls upon phrases which are in principle possible. This state is signaled by what one ordinarily calls a feeling: ‘One cannot find the words,’ etc.” (Lyotard, 1988: 13)

In the Zone: A dialogue between Excess, Suture and Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979)

<an excerpt of an earlier text by my hand, concerning Stalker and the concepts of suture and excess> 

In Stalker, there are a few noteworthy examples where characters directly interact –or speak – with the camera. To highlight these examples in a correct manner I’ve included some screenshots, which are pictured below. With regards to excess and suture these will be handled in order by number.

Example 1



Example 2


Example 3


Example 4


I’d purely like to establish example 1 as a fairly standard use of the process of suture, so the other sequences contrast better in the accumulation of examples. The Wife and the Stalker have a conversation; the viewer sees a shot of the Wife directly interacting with the camera. In the complementary shot the spectator views the Stalker, and the sequence is closed by an establishing shot of the Wife and the Stalker together. As stated earlier, this sequence of shots and montage seems the standard practice with regards to suture.
                The sequences become deviant in example 2 to 4, where a character looks and acts directly into the camera, but it’s never established where that character is looking at. It seems that these sequences become more deviant from the norm as the film progresses. In example 2, we see the Stalker looking into the camera for a brief moment and the camera doesn’t establish from where the gaze is coming from. Then, in example 3, the Writer delivers a short monologue into the camera, it cuts to a shot of the Stalker and the Professor in the distance, the Writer appears in the shot (his head in the same angle which he earlier was delivering his monologue) and in the end looks into the lens again. This all happens without the camera establishing where the Writer is gazing. The last example is number 4 where the Wife delivers a lengthy monologue into the lens about her expectations and practice of living with the Stalker.
                What can be deduced from examples 2 to 4 is that characters interact directly with the camera, without the spectator knowing what they’re looking at or what gaze is looking upon the characters. What consequences does this have with regards to suture and excess?
                In the context of suture, it can be established that the spectator is dealing with an unsutured sequence and likewise unsutured gaze. As stated before, this supposedly creates awareness of the frame with the viewer and can break immersion and continuity. But is this really the case? Once again reinforcing the viewer’s attention on the frame and with that the free-floating gaze of absence, I believe this has consequences on the level of the narrative and viewer experience. Because of this reinforcement on the absent gaze, the presence of the Zone could be felt stronger through denying suture rather than materializing this presence into a visible form. This becomes especially apparent in example 3, where the Writer seems to gaze into nothingness, and when he gazes into the lens, all we see in the background is darkness. A repetition of this technique in another form can be seen in example 4, where the Wife is talking into the camera as if there were another subject or person in the room, engaged in a conversation with her. It must be noted that this monologue takes place outside of the Zone, but because of the different color tone between the Zone and the urban living space of the Stalker, I’d like to argue that Zone still exerts presence through the hue of the images. On a narrative level, one could argue that the Zone is always present in the Stalker’s house, if not through him than through his daughter, Monkey, who is ‘contaminated’ by it (giving her telekinetic powers).
                With regards to the other concept, can examples 2 to 4 be considered excessive? In the context of a formalist approach, I suppose they can be considered excessive. This is rather more due to the question if one would consider these sequences part of the style rather than the narrative. In the above stated arguments related to suture, I tried to argue that these sequences have narrative function by making the presence of the Zone felt through denying the process of suture. But, denying this process has consequences in the form of breaking immersion with the spectator and making viewers aware of the frame. If one would consider this counter-unifying (breaking immersion and continuity), they could be considered excessive. I, for one, would like to argue that in the context of their possible narrative function are difficult to be seen as excessive, and have value in their respective functions.
                Concluding this segment revolved around the unsutured sequences in Stalker’s imagery, I would like to state that suture and excess relate to each other in a different way than the previous segment. Mostly due to the denial of suture, an extra emphasis can be found on the narrative function the sequences fulfill. The role excess plays in this argumentation depends how one would view these sequences. From a formalist view, they can be observed as excessive. From the perspective of their function, the sequences could prove unifying with regards to the narrative.


Defining Visual Music

<This is an excerpt from a text I wrote last week, about a theoretical exploration between Ikeda and Visual Music. This particular excerpt is a (very) short segment about defining the vast artistic expertise that can be called ‘Visual Music’>

In discussion of experimental and ‘absolute’ film[1] of the 1920s and 1930s, the broad term visual music began to take form. Even before then, scholars have noted that the ‘color organs’ of the nineteenth century could be a precursor to these moving abstractions, without narrative but accompanied by music.[2]
                The term visual music can be considered a form of art in which the combination of moving imagery and sound establishes a temporal architecture in a way similar to absolute music[3], according to Diego Garro.[4] It can be defined as a historical reference and at the same time as a label for contemporary productions[5], which seems to reinforce Garro’s statement referring to temporal relations (i.e. time). This element of time within visual music seems to stem from ‘the visual’, the cinematic aspect. If one associates time with movement and vice versa, this statement gains more recognition. Samuel Frederick observes that cinema may capture movement, precisely because its elements are in motion and cannot endure. Frederick references Susan Sontag’s text ‘On Photography’ (1977) when he mentions that moving pictures ‘flicker, and go out’, to reinforce this notion of time and movement with regards to cinema.[6] It seems that works associated with visual music are –as long as their duration lasts- fleeting moments in time, without a narrative. Matthias Weiss chimes in on the connection between visual music and time; he observes that visual music designates a synesthetic experience in which temporally structured sounds and noises become visible.[7]
                From the collection of the above mentioned statements, it can be deduced that the visual aspect of visual music is defined by temporal relations, especially through movement. This statement seems to leave room for more definition on the musical part. How can the function of sounds in visual music be further expanded upon?
                In the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan proposed that Western society had moved from a visual culture to one dominated by sound. This remark came from his observation that the ear “stresses no particular point of view” and that “sound can be heard from everywhere”, as opposed to the eye which is restricted in its field of vision.[8]  In the area of visual music it seems hard to make such a distinction because sound and image are intrinsically related. More difficulty becomes apparent when attempting to define the role of music from within the visual music tradition. The visual aspect consists of images, moving, fleeting, abstract and realist. These images move and with that movement comes the experience of temporal relations which was expanded upon before. Is the definition of music difficult because music cannot be seen in the context of an artwork? Does it need the visual aspect to become visible?
                It seems that, within visual music, (musical) sounds become visible through order, or an underlying system. Such a system of rules can be found in music (notation), but what about sounds in audiovisual artworks? Dealing with this subject, Friedemann Dähn, in his text ‘Visual Music. Forms and Possibilities’, observes that “there is always a structuring principle, architecture of sound, a system behind the seemingly formless (…) arrangements”[9]. This remark coincides with an earlier observation by Matthias Weiss that stated that sounds are part of temporal structures, experienced through visual music. Note that the word structures implies a system of rules, or at least some kind of order in which the sounds are, seemingly, structured. With the musical aspect of visual music relying on moving imagery to be structured, to become visible, how can the audiovisual art tradition broadly be defined?
                It must be noted that visual music is a very broad term in itself, and my definition of the concept is restricted to my own research. What could be interesting is an analysis of the elements of visual music discussed above. It was mentioned that audiovisual art deals with temporal relations which structure (musical) sounds. The visual elements can be defined by marking them as fleeting and moving, which invoke these earlier mentioned temporal relations. From these elements, which appear so intertwined, it can be concluded that breaking visual music up in individual parts is insufficient. Clearly, some balance must be sought.
                Calling upon Friedemann Dähn once more, this balance comes in reach. The author poses to expose the desire for an artistic connection between image and sound a through basic (German) word; ‘Klangfarbe’, or sound color. This term directly suggests a combination of the audio and the visual[10]. Because this combination and its elements within are so diffuse, “there are really no deducible objective parameters with which the phenomenon of visual music could be explained”[11].

[1] In accordance with absolute music, film without a narrative, centered around abstractions in motion.

[2] Garro, 104, 2012.

[3] Absolute music can be understood as music without a narrative; not ‘about’ anything.

[4] Garro, 104, 2012.

[5] Lund and Lund, 11, 2008.

[6] Frederick, 237, 2013.

[7] Weiss, 89, 2008.

[8] Vanel, 64, 2008.

[9] Dähn, 152, 2008.

[10] Dähn, 148, 2008.

[11] Dähn, 149, 2008.



As promised, a link to some of my new electronic music endeavours. I’ve been quite busy lately, but I hope to include a new blog post soon.