Preparing to enter Cinesonika 3 film festival

Laura Milkins in Poem From Memory

Laura Milkins in Poem From Memory

Nothing like finding out a week before deadline that there’s a film festival you should enter, and it’s right up your alley.


I about dropped over when I opened the Tucson Pima Arts Council’s email newsletter and discovered that entries for the Cinesonika 3 film festival were due November 15.


Cinesonika 3 is a festival in Northern Ireland that showcases film works that put particular emphasis on the soundtrack. They could be any style from documentary to experimental to uncategorized. But something about the music or soundscape within it had to take on a prime role.


As luck would have it, I had a piece. Since late summer performance artist Laura Milkins and I have been working on an experimental piece, shooting her in the desert, then carefully superimposing over her time lapse footage of storms, changes of day and landscapes around southern Arizona.


It was one of those projects where I’d had something in mind for a long time, got talking to Laura about it, the weather turned right and we just went out and shot it. A lot of what we did was improvisational initially, and later refined for a second shoot. I knew Laura was the person I wanted to work with on this because she is a thoughtful person, a fascile movement improviser, and someone I personally feel very comfortable with.  Which is good because the piece was performed in the nude.


I used her as another time element in the film – one moving in real time though exaggerated slightly.


Where the weather and landscape examples run at 5000 percent speed, she is slowed to 1/3 her natural speed. But together they look like they’re finding a similar sense of time.


I suspected beforehand that by blending the two video feeds Laura’s body would become a kind of screen for what was in the other landscape. But I never expected how the two images would alter one another and blend into a new reality.


The opening background, for example, was the moon moving through clouds. The clouds float over Laura’s body, while the dark sky darkens the blue of the landscape she is in and adds to the surreal quality. It transitions to a different, much more brightly lit landscape  that lightens the blue cast.  Sunset clouds arrange themselves like a belt on her body, then fade out as she opens her arms.


The landscape in which I shot Laura is west of Tucson in a section of desert sparsely populated with creosote bush. Behind her is the full expanse of the Tucson Mountains off in the distance, low in the image in the first session, more prominent in the second.


Various landscapes from around, Tucson, Sonoita, Yuma and Prescott, Arizona are superimposed over her walking in a stylized way.


Superimposing footage in this way seems to amplify and mutate the color. The river becomes the sky, the sky becomes a river. It is magical and primal. It is beautiful.

It is art.


I called it “Poem From Memory” because it is like a poem without words. Something beyond language.


Visual brain tricks that call into question how we perceive our world.


In the way that poetry conjures sometimes impossible images, so this piece is visual poetry.


After a bit of fiddling I had a first, very rough edit. Balances were way off, edit points weren’t precisely chosen. It was more of a photographic proof. But it had the right shape to it. It felt right. So I sent that silent draft over to Laura and we talked about it. Laura felt we should come up with some words for the project. I was stumped.


So I did what I do when words fail me. I started writing instrumental music. Using MOTU’s Digital Performer I was able to start improvising a score while watching the film.


Poem From Memory X1a (audio excerpt from Poem From Memory)


Musically I wanted to project a sense of amorphous motion at the start, turning into a loose walking rhythm. Both rhythmically and harmonically I wanted to magnify the aura of worlds intersecting, and not always in the way you’d expect. I wanted it to be beautiful and a bit frightening but somehow calm throughout.


I used digital samplers to produce sounds of electric piano, cello, guitar, violin and bass. Once I had the tracks basically where I wanted them I began to finesse them with various software effects and a variety of different mixes. I wanted to blend them and have them arise and evolve as unpredictably as the visual elements of the film. And then I wanted to experiment with the elements further, dropping some down very low or out altogether, and emphasizing others to alter the shape and character of the music.


It took many weeks to get the soundtrack to the point where I was happy with it but it’s hard now to envision the footage without it. It becomes its own manifestation of those intersecting worlds and adds layers of mood and experience in the process.


So when do you get to see this creation? Dunno. Maybe they’ll show it at Cinesonika 3. I did manage to get it Fed Exed to Canada in time for the deadline. Or maybe I’ll have a show at a gallery sometime.


Laura and I are already talking about a next installment be shot in the summer of 2013. It would involve shooting her in a swimming pool to create the sense of flying through landscapes. We’re also working on a still image series. Maybe after we complete those we’ll have achieved critical mass to show something.

~ by Daniel Buckley on November 14, 2012.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *