Sunday 19 February 2017

Video & music: Chasing Headlights, Poem for Rent, Hybrid

The past few months of video and music collaborations have been fruitful, with a number of projects, each quite different, released to the web. Notes on the making of them...

Chasing Headlights EP

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Watch the video
Read James Brush reflecting on the process

Paul Foster and I started this EP of vocal-electronic music in April 2016 for our long-time duo, Cwtch. We hadn't released any music as Cwtch for a couple of years. Prior to that we had been producing regular releases, over the net between Cardiff, Wales and Gold Coast, Australia, since 2007. About the same time that Paul and I were talking about doing something new, I happened to be reading 'Highway Sky', a poetry collection by James Brush. James released these poems on a Creative Commons licence and the text was available for remix. I immediately thought of the poetry as lyrics to the new music. I sang a first poem in fragments and sent the voice files to Paul. He composed a track around the voice which we called 'I Drove to the River'. This we released as a preview track, along with a video, around the middle of last year. This way of creating, in which I sing in fragments and Paul arranges the voice with music, is how we've predominantly done things for almost ten years now. It's great that James was happy for us to take this approach with his writing too. The final music was completed around New Year, in time for an EP release on 2 January. Tracks from the collection have since been heard on mixes, podcasts and radio from UK and Germany.

Poem for Rent

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Read the poem

This videopoem started life when I discovered the Pushcart-nominated poetry of Canadian writer, Kim Mannix, at Gnarled Oak journal. Following a trail of her words, I then came upon her blog site where I read 'Poem for Rent', a short and fun piece coupling real estate and meaning. I decided to put a video together for this ace poem 'on spec', ready and willing to keep it all private if it turned out that Kim didn't like or want me to release it publicly. This is an approach I often take, especially with possible new collaborators. Music or videos that don't make it to release, I simply view as part of the learning process. Going to work, I found a vocal-electronic music track called 'Blink Blink' that I'd been part of several years ago with Adrian Carter. In this track, Adrian masterfully cut up my voice into very small, percussive units to produce a fun, inventive sound. I contacted Adrian about incorporating this track in the video. He was happy for me to do that and went further by digging out the old audio files and creating an updated version of the piece especially for this project. The images for the video were, in essence, randomly sourced from Flickr Creative Commons, all of them made available for other artists like me to remix. The full list of photographers is here. I edited the stills very quickly to the rhythms of the music, doing some rudimentary animation of them along the way, and interspersed the vision with short snatches of the poem delivered as text-on-screen, like ad lines. Once I had a solid draft of the video, I contacted Gnarled Oak, asking them to forward an email from me to Kim. She then made direct email contact with me, giving permission for the video to be publicly released. It has since been featured at both Gnarled Oak and Moving Poems. It was also part of a very well-attended screening earlier this month at the contemporary art space, 'The Walls', here at the Gold Coast, Australia.


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This was a collaboration closer to home for me and entailed a different approach to putting together a videopoem. The artwork of Marguerite de Mosa was the starting place here. In her studio at the Sunshine Coast, Australia, Marguerite works with a range of techniques including a 'hybrid' combination of ink on paper and digital image manipulation. We have been long-time Facebook friends after meeting in person at a music and video event in Brisbane some years ago. Towards the end of last year I wrote to her asking if she would be interested in a collaboration, she agreed. I went to work on a video that added a further level of 'hybridity' to her images, creating two layers moving across and in dynamic tension with each other. The wonderful colours, shapes and textures of the original artworks are discernible in the video but there is a further level of abstraction and, of course, time and motion. For music, I turned to an electronic music track I've loved for a long time entitled 'Oxygen Atoms' by SK123 (one of the many musical monikers of Steve Kelly in the UK). Steve and I have also known each other over the net for many years and he has kindly given me open licence to include his music in my video projects. Once I had edited a first draft video of the image and sound, I showed the piece to Nigel Wells, another long-time music and video maker (and master of constructive feedback). Spontaneously, he produced a page of writing musing on the nature of the hybrid form. I asked Nigel (who I also happen to live with) if he would allow me to adapt his words for the video itself. He was happy for me to do this, so I then performed an 'erasure' on the text and arrived at a short collection of phrases that formed a poem. I sent this early version of the video to Marguerite, who gave further feedback. I revised the video, including the text, a couple of times through this process with Marguerite. Then, once we were both satisfied, I sent the piece to Steve and Nigel for the final nod. It was an interesting experience starting a videopoem with abstract art in this way, and for the process to include ekphrastic and erased text tailored for the screen. More often, a videopoem will start with a fixed text. I found it creatively stimulating to rearrange the process in this way. The video was recently featured at the Moving Poems site.

In other happenings, my earlier videos have been continuing to show life over the past few months. 'Sometimes the Water', from a poem by Kallie Falandays, was recently featured at Gnarled Oak. Another video from Kallie's poetry, 'One Dream Opening Into Many', was featured at Writing Without Paper, along with 'Anatomy', from a poem by Dave Bonta. 'Dictionary Illustrations', from a poem by Sarah Sloat, was featured at Versogramas from Spain, and Nokturno from Finland. Finally, the award for 'Dictionary Illustrations', from the Ó Bhéal Poetry Film Competition in Ireland, arrived in the mail here in Australia, a cause for celebration at our place. The next few months promises more interesting projects. Until next time, thanks for your interest!