Thursday 23 November 2017

End of Year 2017: Quiet Sounds, To Lou Andre-Salomé, Haiku for the Lost

Notes on the making of recent videos, and a wrap up of this year's creative projects and happenings...

Quiet Sounds

Full credits and poem

'Quiet Sounds' is my second video collaboration with the marvellous UK poet and performer, Lucy English. Both have been made as part of her great, multi-artist project, 'The Book of Hours'. The earlier video, 'The Last Days', started with images. This one started with the poem and sound. The soundscape is comprised entirely of Lucy's voice and small noises in the environment. I wanted the 'bed' of the soundscape to be quietly musical and constructed it from a collection of sounds recorded by various artists, and found on Creative Commons licences at Freesound. The central element is the metronomic sound of a clock ticking. I edited Lucy's voice in loose rhythm with the clock, elongating the pace of her reading and leaving spaces for the various other sounds to have their 'solo' moments: a pheasant and a wood pigeon, a sheep, a cow, an old fridge, air traffic. I carefully built up the soundtrack piece by piece until I had a complete first draft. Then I looked for images that might add further to the audiovisual experience of the poem. The poem describes a moment of solitude, a hush when a woman becomes aware of the little sounds in her environment. It is implied she is inside a domestic space at the time. In my net wanderings, I found a marvellous series of interior shots by Carol Blyberg (aka Smilla4 on Flickr), also available on a Creative Commons licence. I worked with the images using zooms and slow dissolves that changed in rhythm with Lucy's voice. For such an apparently simple piece, it was time-intensive to make, especially in the refining process that saw both sound and image go through many drafts. I gave a lot of attention to subtle details, in a meditative way. Maureen Doallas has since featured 'Quiet Sounds' on her wonderful blog, Writing Without Paper.

To Lou Andre-Salomé

Full credits
Poem in German
Poem in English

Late last year, the Poetry Film Festival Vienna called for entries to its international competition for 2017. The conditions of entry were: to make a film especially for the festival, based on a poem they nominated. This year's poem was 'To Lou Andre-Salomé' by Rainer Maria Rilke. The festival provided text versions of the poem in German and English, as well as a great voice recording in German by Christian Reiner. I started the process at my end by first doing some research on the relationship between Rainer and Lou, especially sourcing the book, 'Rilke and Andreas-Salomé' (translated by Snow and Winkler), a collection of their correspondence. Once I had a deeper feeling for the relationship the poem describes, I started on a soundtrack. Adrian Carter and I worked via email to adapt his pre-existing music piece, 'Night Runner' (with sung vocals by Anne Garner), to suit the structure of the poem. We also incorporated Christian Reiner's performance into the music mix, with Adrian doing the final edit and sound mix. I then spent some considerable time at the Prelinger Archives and located old home movie footage I felt might be evocative of the events, emotions and ideas of the poem. I edited this to the rhythm of the music. Central to the screen is a frame containing the main visual narrative. I adopted this device to evoke old photographs, also to compensate for the low resolution of the home movie footage. I ran a layer of images behind this at full screen size, but blurred, in the way that we now see personal phone footage blurred, so that the periphery becomes almost pure shape and colour. The voice recording is in German, but I do not speak German. I did my best with a combination of close, phonetic listening, and comparisons of the text-translation. The video also required subtitles back into English. Again, I did my best, and then sought feedback on my handling of the language via email from Marguerite de Mosa, a German-speaking artist, collaborator and friend. Marguerite helped with some back and forth advice. And then the video was completed. The poem is constructed in three parts and my video too has three 'acts', each different in mood. I hope the anachronistic mixing of periods is interesting to viewers: a poem written in 1911, images of real life love relationships from two later periods in the 20th century, with 21st century electronic music. It was a rewarding challenge to make this piece and I love that some poetry film festivals stage these participatory projects. I kept the video private all year and just released it recently, simultaneous with the Vienna festival screening, where it was a finalist in the competition.

Haiku for the Lost

Full Credits

'Haiku for the Lost' is from a poem by Ann Thompson in the USA. I've made two previous videos with Ann's poetry, 'Death Meditation' and 'Unavoidable Alchemy'. The images in this new video are of a special part of Currumbin Creek, within easy driving distance of where I live. They were shot by Nigel Wells (who I live with), on a cheap home movie camera. He takes it with him in his pocket when he regularly goes out that way into the hinterland for locally grown food from the farms. This is some footage he has already used in his own videos, which he kindly gave me permission to remix for this video. The music is from Alastair Brown, aka Northcape, in the UK, who has collaborated musically with both Nigel and I in the past. We first met as fellow musicians on the net in about 2007. I am delighted Alastair agreed to allow his music to be included in this video piece. The track is entitled 'Mackerel Sky'. My only addition to it was an edited version of Nigel's sound recordings of the water in various places along the creek on the day of shooting, with audio dissolves. I opted for a simple assembly of the music, sound, images and poem, giving their eloquence centre stage.

Since my last update, 'Anatomy' was screened at the Festival Silêncio in Portugal, a finalist in their international competition. Dave Bonta put together a selection of videos for the LiKE Festival in Slovakia, including 'And God...' in the program. 'The Last Days' and 'Poem for Rent' were screened as finalists at this year's Ó Bhéal international competition at IndieCork Film Festival in Ireland. 'Lilies of the Field' screened at Rabbit Heart Poetry Film Festival in the USA. 'The Last Days' was screened at the FilmPoem Festival in the UK. 'To Lou Andre-Salome' screened as a finalist in the international competition at the Poetry Film Festival Vienna. In December, 'One Dream Opening Into Many', 'Poem for Rent' and 'Anatomy' will screen at the Athens Video Poetry Festival in Greece. By the end of the year, videos will have travelled to twelve festivals and events during 2017. In addition, there has been the Ó Bhéal Touring Program from last year travelling to other festivals and venues in 2017, with 'Dictionary Illustrations', 'One Dream Opening Into Many' and 'Joining the Lotus Eaters' as part of the lineup.

Big thanks to Moving Poems, Gnarled Oak, Poetry Film Live, Writing Without Paper, Melbourne Independent Film-Makers, Verandah and Vox Populi for also featuring my videos on the web throughout the year.

I'll end with remembering where the year started: with a music release from Cwtch - Chasing Headlights. Cwtch (a Welsh word meaning hug, or safe place), is Paul Foster on music and production, with me on vocals. Over the past ten years we've made vocal-electronic music together over the net between Cardiff and Australia, without ever meeting. As some already know, we also share a birthday. The music of this EP was inspired by 'Highway Sky', a collection of poems by James Brush. I'll also make mention here of James as the editor of the online journal, 'Gnarled Oak', where my videos have been part of every issue since the first was published at the end of 2014. I've admired the eclectic voice of 'Gnarled Oak', one of the few literary journals I know that also publishes video poetry. 'Gnarled Oak' is coming to an end early next year; there are two more issues to go. On the one hand I'm sad to see such a wonderful project end. On the other I know it's because James will then have more time for his poetry and general creativity, which makes it all seem just fine. So instead I'll simply be grateful for this fine project. It's been a delight. Back issues are available here. The current issue is in progress here.

That's it for these updates until next year. Happy silly season to all!