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Visual Music

The curator of The Book Club's 'Visual Music', Alex Marshall talks to us about semiotics, Fantasia and the universal mirror of Art. But he insists, that it all may be bullshit.

Written by Amica Lane

This work may not be reproduced without the permission of Matteo Patocchi, viagra order try
All photography by Matteo Patocchi

When coming to chose a degree upon my emancipation from the grim steely hell that I refer to as ‘high school’ I had had intended to pursue Fine Art. But whilst browsing courses in the UCAS guide, pill I came across a course entitled ‘Live Art’ that struck my fancy, diagnosis due to it’s proclivity towards video art and installation, which I considered to be a very interesting and an undervalued aspect of art that was mostly overlooked in favour of more traditional art. Never one to turn away from the chance to do something weird and different, I launched into Live Art with all the necessary zest and fauna that such an establishment which heralds self mutilation as the curriculum can be given. It probably was an error in judgement. The course was a sham, filled up with luddites who had flunked getting into proper art courses and had been sectioned away onto this course for the financial gain of the university. Regardless of this, I enjoyed it, as it exposed me to the underbelly of the art world. Marina Abramovi?, Gina Pane, Vito Acconci – we studied them intently and they were my fast favourites. Although those names have been recognised and given a place in the ‘academy’ of modern art, most of the video artists, composers and performers that I dug up from the bowels of the library had been marginalised into nothingness.

Oskar Fischinger ‘Studie No. 7′

HST can sum up the majority of video art quite succinctly. ‘Too weird to live, too rare to die.’ They’re kicking about, in the crevices of galleries – quite literally in Acconci’s case, but in general, the media furore and deification is usually reserved for those artists who still can fit it with the status quo of the art community. Yet still, after graduation, moving image in art has always been close to my heart. There is something incredibly fresh and alternative about it, yet it’s never quite hit the same success, as it’s static predecessors. Which is precisely how ‘Visual Music’ at The Book Club came about. Alex Marshall has collected footage from avant-garde film-makers who have been pushed into anomie by not quite fitting the mould, then playing live original music to recontextualise the work. So I make the necessary steps to organise an interview with Alex Marshall at The Book Club, where Visual Music takes place. “Everything I say could well be bullshit.” He warns me prior to the interview. “Excellent. In that case, I’ll order a drink.” I reply, deciding that if one is going to be shrugging off the pompous ‘we are artistes’ shtick so early on, I may as well check my ‘I am ze journalist’ routine at the door and get drunk.

So maybe start off by telling me what you’re doing with Visual Music at The Book Club? I was asked to do something to do with film in a very arbitrary way. This freedom encouraged me to experiment with some ideas I’d been wrestling with for a while. I had become  very interested in the contiguity between text and image, but this phrase doesn’t mean very much to anyone, it didn’t mean very much to me at the time I came across it, but they mean a lot to me now.  Oskar Fischinger was the first person who sprung to mind when I began to conceptualise the night. I came across him by chance, as my flatmate had an old documentary about him. What I found fascinating about Fischinger was his background as a musician and how his work was an attempt to visualise what music is, what it feels like. And that fascinated me as it wasn’t a contrived analysis of musical form, or filmic form, it was more an attempt to show people what he felt about music, something that could be shared, but only through abstraction. And in order to show someone something, he wanted them to feel it, through this abstraction, rather than see it. I don’t think people see music, we don’t even see the words we say to each other, what we’re doing when we’re talking is exchanging visual references. This table is only a table because I tell you it’s a table.

Like Saussure? It’s not Saussure.

Lacan? It’s not Lacan! It’s not Wittgenstein either, it’s not labels; it’s that consciousness comes to us through a fictional fashioning. Our understanding of the world is created by the stories that we tell through our relationship to things. It’s a table because I’ve been told that this noise “table” signifies this thing that means all tables everywhere, their table-ness, which is a massive abstraction. The word abstraction is itself a massive abstraction from the meaning of abstraction.

Like Saussure. Fuck Saussure! I mean, this is all bullshit obviously…to anyone  with a real job, this is all bullshit, but it’s something we’re involved with all the time.

Did your paid work as a projectionist and cameraman influence your choices? Well, I’ve worked as a projectionist, and I’ve worked as a cameraman, I graduated in film, so I felt I was in a good position to try and understand why people come to the cinema. People tend to talk about films in term of their meanings and their symbols. It’s the age of psychoanalysis really, just reading into everything. But on a deeper level we’re constantly in the process of exchanging complete abstractions. I wouldn’t say we’re deluding each other, but we’re never truly questioning, or maybe we’re incapable of questioning, what it is that our consciousness is processing, what that process is. I chose Fischinger and I chose Norman McLaren for these reasons.

Neighbours by Norman McLaren

Tell me about Norman McLaren? He was a Scottish born Canadian art student with no money and no camera, all he had was film. So not only was he scribbling on the actual frame of a 35mm film, but he was also drawing the soundtrack. As a projectionist, this meant a lot to me; this physical touch that takes place. Which takes me back to contiguity, the physical inscription of the idea of language.

I take it that you have a real love of film. The 35mm type. I find its conservativism fascinating. From the moment we could, we’ve tried to ‘fix’ something and make it this permanent thing. However, all the substance of 35mm convinces you of, is that it isn’t a perfect material. The nature of it, is that it damages itself through it’s own reading. I find that really interesting.

Why did you chose Fischinger and Norman McLaren? I chose Fischinger because he was making music visual, and Norman McLaren for the second night because he saw Fischinger’s shorts in Glasgow. McLaren understood what Fischinger was doing and saw it as the perfect way to express visually how he felt about music. I think music is very important. It’s the one art form that can’t be explained away. People don’t know how to watch films in the way that we all listen to music. We all listen to music and don’t ask questions about it, we just accept its abstraction. A film should be viewed as a classical piece of music. How does it move you and why should be an afterthought. If you’re moved by something and you don’t understand it, that’s fine.

When doing these nights is there a particular theme that you want to convey to the audience, or is it very much inviting them into a creative process and allowing them to take from it what they will? Certainly both. I certainly have my viewpoint when I put something in front of someone. The next night is going to be very different and I hope people remain open. The Fischinger shorts were totally abstract and the music is abstract and I feel that it shouldn’t be a difficult thing to tap into. That’s my main drive, that you should be able to sit and experience these things. By watching it you should be asking questions to do with consciousness, and if you’re not then you should. That’s the only dogmatic point of view that I have, if you’re not questioning yourself as an audience you’re susceptible to real dangers.

Elaborate on real dangers. In the world of 24-hour news and the excess of information; you’re going to absorb it. Not necessarily as fact, people can differentiate between propaganda and fact. I mean, I’m fine with propaganda, I find it very honest – but to think of propaganda as negative spiel is very naïve. Anything anyone ever says to you is propaganda, as they’re reflecting their viewpoint onto you. It can be honest and true, but it’s still propaganda. The more we can expose it, the better. I think art should be asking questions to question people’s mode of questioning. Art should be the most powerful mirror in the world.

So you don’t try and create a singular message with any particular night? No. I try to keep it loose, so people can make from it what they will. And most of the audience isn’t even aware of these films and their creators. There’s a film maker that I would love to work with called Peter Watkins, I’d love to get him down but then it would be a Q and A type of thing and I’d fucking hate it, but I did three years of film studies and then years as a cameraman and I’d never heard of Peter Watkins, and I find that terrifying. I’m going to do a show with some of his work at some point. He’s the most marginalized filmmaker I’ve ever come across and his films are extraordinary. The point I’m trying to make is that with this night I wanted to expose filmmakers who had been marginalized by the popular media. Oskar Fischinger, for example. Everyone knows Fantasia. It wouldn’t have been made without him and Disney stole his ideas and shunned him. The work outside of that was vastly superior to anything that Disney ever made; although there are some great Disney movies.

What’s your favorite Disney movie? Fantasia by Oskar Fischinger.

I know you’re a creator yourself, as a filmmaker and photographer. Are you going to showcase your own work in the future? I have thought about that a lot, I did the first night and when I did the second night I talked to people who wanted me to showcase more of my work. It’s something in my mind but I’m quite self-effacing and it would also have to be the right piece of work. If I did it, it would be a surprise. I’m awful at promotion. I find the idea of showing my own work uncomfortable. It would no longer be subjective.

How did you find the musicians to work with you on this? For the first one it was totally by chance. I knew a guy called Jacob who was a friend of mine and plays in a band called Victoria and Jacob and they’re wonderful. So I asked him to contribute a live score. I can’t give a job over to someone if I don’t trust in what they’re doing. With Jacob, it was so easy and obvious. And we have very different viewpoints, which is great. I’m a pretentious academic, and he’s not. We got together to discuss it over a few beers, and I left it to him. I didn’t even know what he would play until the night. There was a two-minute rehearsal before the event, but I left to have a cigarette. So the first time I heard it was with everyone else.

(At this point, to conclude the interview I decide to switch tack probably based upon my blood alcohol levels.)

What is your favourite word? Skopos or Contiguity, I suppose. I don’t really have favourites. But I do like words.

What is your least favourite word? “Like, random”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Contact

What turns you off? Self-importance.

What is your favourite curse word? Fuck

What sound or noise do you love? The HBO tag these days - excellence generally follows.

What sound or noise do you hate? The buzzer to my front door, especially when unexpected.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Er, what’s my profession?

What profession would you not like to do? Insurance salesman, because I’d have to kill myself in a painful and humiliating way.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Told you so.

And there you have it. Check out The Book Club’s website for details of the next ‘Visual Music’ night.


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