Sonic Blog: Colour Music Past, Colour Music Future

‘Colour Music Recollections’ was the name of the screening that took place on the afternoon of the festival’s second day at De Balie. It was introduced as “A programme with films that relate in different ways to historical performance practices of colour music.” (Sonic Acts Website), and after watching it, ‘historical’ really seemed to be the keyword. The selection of the films themselves, their protagonists/authors as well as the order of their screening were true to the word in a very literal sense as the programme slowly made its way from Schwerdtfeger’s early work of 1922, ‘Reflektorische Lichtspiele’ to Charles Dockum’s ’1969 Mobilcolor Projector Film’, breaking the strictly linear timeline only with the very last film, Hy Hirsh’s ‘Come closer’jumping back to 1953 (it seemed they did this for the sake of a ‘happy ending’, since it was the piece of the selection that was best described by the words ‘joyful’ and ‘lighthearted’) . Spanning over almost 50 years of history of Colour Music, involving groundbreaking works of their time, the selection seemed to present the evolvement of the ‘state of the art’ in the field of audiovisual/colour music film. But for me personally the intruiging fact was not that it was an interesting recollection of the history of this field but the perspective one was able to gain by comparing it to contemporary works in the audiovisual field, especially in the applied and commercial sector. The screening started with Schwerdtfeger’s ‘Reflektorische Lichtspiele’, originally a live performance but made into a short film of 18 minutes for the sake of documentation. The actual performance, judging by the film, must have involved at least 4 or more people to operate, and consisted of an arrangement of lights, filtered by cut out shapes, grids and coloured foil pieces, all moved individually and in sync by trained students of the Bauhaus. Even though the setup of the contraption might sound almost archaic compared to contemporary technology used in the production of light-shows, the resulting image and overall aesthetic seemed not so far from images produced by today’s club-VJs. While for Schwerdtfeger’s work this might be only true in the eyes of some people, this notion became stronger and stronger while sitting through the other films of the screening. Jud Yalkut’s caleidoscopic multiplications and distorted and bent tv images as well as Hy Hirsh’s moving, three dimensional-like shapes, one would expect to be programmed particle systems or rendered spline objects if they weren’t from 1953, seemed so close to contemporary visual vocabularies in motion graphics and abstract audiovisual material that the viewer might easily find himself in the position of stating that ‘history repeats itself’ and that artistic pioneers of any kind were always copied and cited for decades after. While that may be very true, there might also be another explanation for this phenomenon. Be aware that this is the part where this blogpost turns into mere speculation and should not be taken too seriously anymore (if you didn’t do that already from the beginning). Because maybe the speed of time of the content and it’s mediating technology is just very different sometimes. While the technology to produce such visual output (software, hardware and practice) has become more and more mainstream and sophisticated (think of the range of Vj and Motion Graphics software products, the hype about projection mapping etc.), its visual vocabulary may just have not advanced as fast and took a lot more time to evolve. Just by watching the retrospective alone one could find similarities in lots of formalistic aspects, even though it was such a broad range of pioneers they showed. And this is exactly why this particular selection was very inspiring, not just because the shown films were important works of their respective field and a treat to watch (apart from the length of some clips which seemingly exceeded the attention span of parts of the audience), but also because in a way they showed that there is still such a lot of untapped potential for evolving and refining the vocabulary of ‘Colour Music’/Audiovisual Experiences/Motion Graphics or however it will be called in its hopefully bright future. Bartholomäus Traubeck

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