John Whitney, Sr. "Notes on Matrix"


Originally published in Film Culture No. 53-54-55 (Spring, 1972), p. 79-80


I prepared this once again to try to discourage reviews that go: "kaleidoscopic patterns that swish and swirl and scintillate."

Matrix is a short film consisting of horizontal and vertical lines, squares and cubes. All motion is along a closed invisible pathway (the matrix) which is a classical Lissajous figure positioned symmetrically within the motion picture field. The motion of the entire film is simply a sequence of events of clustering and dispersal of the lines, squares and cubes. These three sets of figures divide the film sharply into three sections and each is characterized by different qualities of action-events and color. The horizonal and vertical lines of the first section gather and separate frequently. These lines define, by their terminus points, segments of the matrix while a solitary white square travels the orbit of the matrix.

After an interlude of many squares orbiting the matrix, a single square in yellow begins a long evolution in which that square becomes a cluster of dispersing squares whose relative positions continue to separate throughout their entire orbital voyage. At three moments in this separating progression, after some squares have begun to lap slower ones advancing around the closed orbit, the complete set arrives at positions of perfect symmetry relative to each other. To coincide with these significant moments the exact identical sequence of squares of squares, by double exposure, is juxtaposed over itself. But this second set is caused to rotate so as to reach horizontal and vertical consonance exactly at these symmetrical events. That is either 90 or 180 or 270 degrees between one set and the other. This departure from and return to horizontals and verticals echoes Piet Mondrian. The horizontal and vertical denote a state of "expansion, rest, unity of nature" - dynamic equilibrium of repose, a pause in the action, caesura. Toward the conclusion of this middle section, the solitary white square of the opening section reappears, this time juxtaposed symmetrically against itself. Inconspicuously, the final action of the squares gives way to a cube set accompanied by a single cube that moves along the matrix orbit in opposed direction and in contrasting color to the others. The set of cubes, in contradiction to the squares, are gathering instead of dispersing. SInce the cubes rotate in three-dimensional space, their final clustering forms a circle pattern.

The film ends with a cascade of cubes suggesting perhaps that the entire film was a series of entropic events in which the matrix functioned as an ordering force untiil its dissolution at the end by the gathering of cubes into a decidely non cubic discordant figure such as the circle.

The sonata segments by Padre Antonio Soler were selected to accompany this film after the film was nearly in final form. Very little stretching or shortening of picture or sound was required.

Matrix was made at the California Institute of Technology as one part of the arts program initiated by the division of Humanities and Social Sciences with joint IBM sponsorship. The computer program was created by Dr. Frederick B. Thompson, Professor of Applied Sciences and Philosophy at Cal Tech. Called REL (Rapidly Extensible Language) system, this program permits construction of elaborate graphic images with highly controllable time development through the recursive aspects of its formulation. An advantage of this program is its interactive convenience. Design ideas can be formulated, input into the computer at a typewriter-keyboard and then displayed by a selectable sampling of the action, all in rather rapid order.



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