Center for Visual Music

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About the Films

Films/videos in Visual Music exhibition, MOCA LA and Hirshhorn, 2005.

Most work was screened from DVD; in most cases film negatives, interpositives or prints were transfered to HD and SD video by CVM. Additional digital sound restoration and DRS by CVM.

Stephen Beck: Illuminated Music II, 1973. Provided by the filmmaker.

Jordan Belson:

Allures (1961). An early masterpiece of Avant-Garde Cinema, a sensory trip into the Self. Provided courtesy CVM; 16mm film preserved with the support of the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Samadhi (1966-67) evokes the ecstatic state achieved by the meditator where individual consciousness merges with the Universe (Moritz).

Epilogue (2005), at Hirshhorn only. By way of a pure Visual Music experience, the Hirshhorn has commissioned a major new work from the well known abstract film artist Jordan Belson who has distilled 60 years of visionary sound and images into a twelve minute videofilm, synchronized to a symphonic tone poem "Isle of the Dead" by the great lyric composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. Produced by Center for Visual Music, with support from the NASA Art Program (Special premiere, May 14, MOCA Grand Ave, Ahmanson Auditorium)

Mark Boyle and Joan Hills, Son of Beyond Image (1969, excerpt)

Charles Dockum: 1952 Mobilcolor Performance at the Guggenheim, filmed by Ted Nemeth and Mary Ellen Bute. 16mm silent film preserved by CVM.

...the special intensities and subtleties of live light cause others, like Charles Dockum (1904-1977) to devote over 40 years to the perfection of his fine Mobilcolor Projector, a classic example of the plight of the color organ. The Mobilcolor, a large, complex mechanism, requires two people to operate it for an elaborate composition - but the resultant spectacle is definitely worth it. The imagery can be hard-edged or amorphous, and can be programmed to move at specific speeds in smooth, definite patterns. The wide range of controlled light intensity, with several (overlapping) sources, offers a visual delicacy that can not be reproduced on film or video. - Dr. William Moritz, "Towards a Visual Music," 1985.

Oskar Fischinger: Study No. 7 (1931, b/w, sound), Allegretto (late version, 1943, color, sound), Radio Dynamics (1942, color, silent), Lumigraph film (1969, color, silent, excerpt), Ornament Sound (1932, b/w, sound, excerpt).

For STUDY NO. 7, Fischinger found in Brahms' 'Hungarian Dance No. 5' a perfect vehicle for his optical experiments. On one hand, the sharp, fast rhythms are an ideal counterpoint for Fischinger's first complete exploration of absolute darkness as a space matrix, with hard-edged shapes twisting, flickering and curving through it, rushing past the viewer, razor thin, with astounding illusions of depth. On the other hand, the sensuous gypsy violins are played off against soft but solid shapes that curl about each other with rich geometric languor. Altogether the images are an excellent culmination of the basic visual concepts Fischinger had been working out in the first six studies, wherein the figures gain a modicum of interest in themselves, but function primarily as tracers of complex space constructs. Conceived, charted and executed like the rest of the black and white studies with thousands of separate charcoal drawings on paper, the classically simple effects here are no less amazing in their own way than the astounding multiplicity of STUDY NO. 8. - Dr. William Moritz, Film Culture . 35mm Film preserved by CVM in association with Cinematheque quebecois.

Visually, ALLEGRETTO is very rich indeed. Fischinger's fascination with the new (to him) technique of cell animation led him to experiment with multi-layered see-through constructions which are more diverse and complex on the surface than those in most of his other films. At the same moment, one sees a background pattern of two overlapping concentric radiating circles, comet-like figures, sparkling and stretching diamonds, a row of teeth-like triangles gliding down one side of the frame like a liberated soundtrack, and other sensuous or mechanized motifs, each moving independently. The colors are California colors - the pinks and turquoise and browns of desert sky and sand, the orange of poppies, and the green of avocados. The figures work themselves up into a brilliant and vigorous conclusion, bursting with skyscrapers and kaleidoscopes of stars/diamonds, and every facet of the chic Hollywood design of the thirties. It is a celebration, plain and simple, of the American lifestyle, seen fresh and clean through the exuberant eyes of an immigrant. - Dr. William Moritz, Film Culture. Provided courtesy CVM; HD transfer by CVM from new preservation negative.

[Radio Dynamics] I believe this to be Fischinger's best film, the work in which he most perfectly joined his craftsmanship with his spiritual ideas into a meaningful and relatively faultless whole. No music distracts from the visual imagery which moves with sufficient grace and power of its own. The film has the structure of yoga itself: We see first a series of exercises, only exercises for the eyes or the sense of vision - fluctuating and stretching rectangular objects; then we see a statement of two icons representing meditation, one an image of flight into an infinite vortex defined by finite movement, and the other an image of two eyes' irises opening and expanding/ contracting while between them grows a third eye of inner/cosmic consciousness. After a brief introductory exposition of these three themes, each is repeated in a longer, developed version, the exercises working themselves up into complex stroboscopic flickers, and the hypnotic rhythms of the expanding/contracting eyes unite with the motion of the passing rings of the vortex, making the flight become a two-way, inward and outward, flight with the vortex as the eye of the observer as well as the eye of the universe. - Dr. William Moritz, Film Culture. 35mm film preserved by the Academy Film Archive; provided courtesy Fischinger Archive. HD transfer by CVM.

ORNAMENT SOUND, 1932, b/w, sound, excerpt from film preserved by CVM with support of MNAM/Centre Pompidou. Link to Article by Oskar Fischinger on his Ornament Sound Experiments. Provided courtesy CVM; HD transfer by CVM.

LUMIGRAPH FILM, 1969, color, silent, filmed by Elfriede Fischinger (with the assistance of Wiliam Moritz and Conrad Fischinger) of a performance on Oskar's Lumigraph. 16mm film preserved by CVM, provided courtesy CVM.

Viking Eggeling: Symphonie Diagonale (Diagonal Symphony), 1924, b/w, silent.

It was with persistent energy that Eggeling set out to an entirely new area. There were a few pioneers here and there who wanted to accomplish the same thing but did not know of one another's work. There were no experiences, no technical institutions, no method, and no model. They all had to create everything on their own With no means at his disposal other than extreme effort and deep conviction, and without once abandoning the way of the artist, Eggeling neared his goal step by step. To be sure, his Diagonale Symphonie had not yet solved all the problems of an absolute film. But, all things considered, I still think that Eggeling produced the definitive work, which served as a source of inspiration for others and made their own work less difficult. - Adolf Behne. Zehn Jahre Novembergruppe, special issue of Kunst der Zeit, 1927, p. 32

Hy Hirsh: Eneri, 1953, color, sound. Film preserved with the support of the NFPF, provided and transferred by CVM.

A collage of optically printed images from Hirsh's oscilloscope and oil wipe experiments, printed into multiple screens within the frame. The energetic multi-plane animation finally explodes into fireworks. (CVM)

Len Lye: A Colour Box, 1935, color, sound. Courtesy Len Lye Foundation, provided by BFI.

Stanton MacDonald-Wright, re-creation of Synchrome Kineidoscope performance, videotaped by Randy Sprout, 2004 (excerpt)

The Synchrome Kineidoscope (c. 1969) uses 3 strips of 35mm film (handpainted by MacDonald-Wright with black ink) which travel horizontally across 3 lenses. The filmstrips have continuous images and no frame lines. A colored filter holder moves vertically. These movements are controlled manually by two operators, and the filmstrips travel much slower than traditional cinematographic film. New prints of the filmstrips were produced by CVM with the support of Centre Pompidou for the Sons et Lumieres exhibition in Fall 2004. Randy Sprout (who worked with S MW) restored the Kineidoscope, and gave a performance at MOCA in 2005. (C. Keefer)

Elias Romero: Stepping Stones (excerpt), 1968-69, color, sound. Original film is 33 minutes.

Hans Richter: Rhythm 21, 1921-24, b/w, silent.

The Rhythm of a work is equal to the idea of the whole. Rhythm is the thing that informs ideas, that which runs through the whole: sense - principle, from which each individual work first gets its meaning. Rhythm is not definite, regular succession in time or space, but the unity binding all parts into a whole...Just as thought gives the value to an abstract work so rhythm gives a meaning to forms. - Hans Richter

Walther Ruttmann: Opus III, 1924, b/w, silent.

Forms like comma-shaped bacilli slithered around the screen. They swelled up, burst, rolled together, split up again, and hacked at each other in gleeful haste. The absolute forms behaved themselves in a very human way and thus greatly exceeded the intentions of their creator. At the same time, however, they produced a cheery mood. Two spongy forms are cute and cozy flirters, and a guant rectangle runs restlessly here and there... - Rudolf Arnheim. Das Stachelschwein 14 (1925). A review of a screening of Opus II, III and IV on May 3, 1925.

Dan Sandin, Spiral 5 (Perhaps the Last), 1981. Video. Provided by the artist.

Kurt Schwerdtfeger and Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack, Reflektorische Farbenlichtspiele, 1966 recreation of their 1920s Bauhaus performances (excerpt).

This filmed recreation was made by Schwerdtfeger's students under his supervision.

Single Wing Turquoise Bird Film, 1970. Film document of light show performance by Peter Mays, Jeffrey Perkins, Michael Scroggins, Jon Greene, Larry Janss and Rol Murrow, including film footage by David Lebrun, Pat O'Neill, and John Stehura

We witness an expression of group consciousness at any given moment. The range of their vocabulary is limitless because it's not confined to one point in time, one idea, one emotion. Depending on the variety of basic materials (they use everything from liquids to video projection to laser interferometry) they can continue into infinity...Their work strikes one precisely as a synaesthetic movie, yet a movie in which each image emanates from its own projector, its own human sensitivity. - Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema, 1970, on the SWTB light show performances.

Harry Smith: Early Abstractions, Film No. 3 (Interwoven), 1949, color, sound. Film preserved by CVM with thanks to Anthology Film Archive; HD transfer by CVM.

Then Harry began painting directly on the film strip, thus avoiding the cost of extra negatives and prints, except, of course that Hy Hirsh had to help with optical printing to ensure that the delicate painted film-strip was not scraped or scratched during the lab's printing process. On May 12, 1950, Art in Cinema screened the premiere of four painted films by Harry Smith. They were titled Strange Dream, Message from the Sun, Interwoven and Circular Tensions and the program notes [stated] that each one of the hundreds of painted film frames is a work of art. The films were accompanied by a live jazz band...Harry told me that he was jazz-crazy at that time, particularly for Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonius Monk, and insisted that he had synchronized the first three painted films to jazz performances by Dizzy Gillespie: Guarachi Guaro, Algo Bueno and Manteca. - Dr. William Moritz, "Harry Smith, Mythologist," presented at Harry Smith Symposium, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles 2001

James Whitney:

Yantra (1957), color, sound. Preserved by CVM with support from MNAM/Centre Pompidou. HD transfer by CVM.

Lapis (1966), color, sound. Preserved by CVM with support from MNAM/Centre Pompidou. HD transfer by CVM.

William Moritz on Yantra and Lapis: excerpt from 1977 manuscript

John Whitney, Sr.: Permutations (1968), color, sound. Preserved by CVM with support from MNAM/Centre Pompidou. HD transfer by CVM.

John and James Whitney, Film Exercise No. 4 (1944), color, sound. Preserved by Academy Film Archive.

John Whitney, Jr. Side Phase Drift. See Gene Youngblood's book Expanded Cinema for a discussion of this film, and the untitled Whitney brothers 3 projector film.

Joshua White: Joshua Light Show Liquid Loops (1969, excerpt). Courtesy the filmmaker.