My original intention for Étude was to grapple with Eisenstein’s (1949) method of rhythmic montage using silent footage of a guitar performance. I intended to demonstrate and bring attention to the refined physical movements of traditional Western classical guitar technique as my primary visual material. The live action would be choreographed through a composition of harmonic and melodic sequences using conventional five-line staff and recorded through several camera angles to ensure that ‘the content within the frame is a factor possessing equal rights to consideration’ (Eisenstein, 1949, p. 73). Close-up shots would isolate phrases within certain geographical points of the instrument, while long shots would reveal both hands in the same image. Careful editing and composition of the footage from different angles would gradually reveal each constituent part of the phrase, starting with an indication of rhythm in the picking hand before moving onto aspects of the fretting hand, until all of the performative elements of the piece were presented. Panning and zooming effects would have been used to gradually combine rhythmic elements from each hand into the same image. Examples of working with this intention can be seen in the drafts and workings of Étude.

The Odessa Steps scene in Battleship Potemkin demonstrates how Eisenstein prioritised movement within the image over the metric cutting as ‘the rhythmic drum of the soldiers’ feet as they descend the steps violates all metrical demands’ (Eisenstein, 1949, p. 74).

Étude was intended to be the second piece in the portfolio but the research and composition was temporarily postponed to focus on a piece for a seminar as explained in the discussion of Syncretism. Syncretism was heavily influenced by Eisenstein’s (1949) concept of metric montage and rhythm on screen within video art, experimental film, dancefilm and visual music (Eisenstein, 1949; Evans, 2005; Ox & Keefer, 2008; Belazs, 2010; Brannigan, 2011; Garro, 2011; Roberts, 2012; de Bruyn, 2013; Meigh-Andrews, 2014; Mollaghan, 2015). This resulted in a slight change to my aim when returning to compose Étude. My initial premise of composing a video piece using multiple camera angles and Eisenstein’s (1949) method of rhythmic montage, as revealed through Evans’ (2005) discussion of the foundations of visual music, was altered to advance further exploration of metric montage through the use of interventional video editing techniques at the compositional level. I was concerned that my initial concept of combining multiple camera angles and panning effects would lead to a video commentary about a piece, rather than creating a piece itself.

Although I altered the method of montage in favour of a metric approach, a central design philosophy remained: Étude was to appropriate the highly developed intentional movements of the hand engaged in particular instrumental activity, choreographed through a piece of music notated on five-line staff. I attempted to create a narrative throughout the piece to reinforce the tireless, dedicated and repetitious nature of labour, work and action (Arendt, 1998), particularly within musical practice. Arnold’s experimental films were the key influencing factor in my continued research into interventional editing techniques, methods of montage and approach to narrative. These factors prompted an attempt to relocate the notion of rhythm within bodily movement and video beyond the confines of metre and pulse associated with montage in visual music (Evans, 2005) while assimilating the amplification of micro-movements of the body through the close-up in dancefilm (Brannigan, 2011) into a form of video composition which attempted to generate non-cochlear sound.

Further research into experimental film, dancefilm and video art revealed De Bemel’s Scrub Solo Series in which images of a dancer are captured on Super 8 film, digitised and altered to distort and modify the flow of natural movements of the body (Brannigan, 2011).

Combining metric montage, video art theory and dancefilm theory with musical composition produced a piece in which recognisable movements of the body were deconstructed through smooth reversal looping, hard cutting and rapid repetition of images to create new movements which cannot exist beyond the video image, akin to Arnold’s interventional approach (Cummings, 2012). Engaging with the mechanical properties of video editing was also an attempt to engage with an approach to video art similar to Paik, Vasulka and Vostell who asserted that technology was capable of creating a new visual language from the resources of cosmopolitan culture (Furlong, 1985; Hanhardt, 1990; Wooster, 1990).

Creating high-quality footage was imperative if I was to successfully blend my interpretation of Arnold and De Bemels’ approaches to the body and film with metric montage due to the short nature of the loops and repetitions to be used. Generous lighting, a carefully considered camera angle and a high frame rate were essential and important aspects which demanded careful planning and a deal of trial and error, as did the performance itself.

Creating the Footage

Creating a rhythmic montage would have required shooting from various angles using a single camera, ruling out post-processing effects due to issues with lighting continuity between shots. Instead, I used heavy black sheeting in my trials with rhythmic montage, resulting in a far superior visual outcome than my trials with green screen and chroma keying. Although the approach for composition ultimately moved away from rhythmic montage, eliminating the need for multiple angles and types of shot, I continued to use the black screen as it dramatically reduced the number of shadows in my limited performance space and allowed me to focus on lighting the subject rather than the subject and the screen.

Using close-up shots of the picking hand focused the work onto the rhythm technique of the instrument and avoided the direct representation of pitch, although allusions to pitch may emerge through the articulations across varying strings. My continued use of the close-up shot unified Étude with Syncretism and Portals through the amplification of the micro-choreographies in dancefilm (Brannigan, 2011).

Composing small cells using conventional five-line staff notation provided an ideal initial method for choreographing the movements for screen but I eventually opted for performing pieces from my familiar performance repertoire. My experience and familiarity with the repertoire enabled me to concentrate on the action of performing while observing a monitor to avoid reflection of the intense light source from the surface of the instrument.

A passage from Bach’s Cello Suite BWV1007, Prelude arranged for guitar, delivered aspects of polyphony and various degrees of movement between strings in the picking hand. The entirety of Étude was composed using an economy of material from only one bar of Bach’s Prelude which created approximately three seconds of footage.

Structure and Form

Although a narrative arc may not be essential for a piece attempting to generate non-cochlear sound I created narrative in an attempt to reflect on the private and somewhat secretive process of rehearsal and preparation for live musical performance (Arendt, 1998; Godlovitch, 1998; Krathwohl, 2002). I was keen to try and exploit the three-act structure associated with conventional televisual and cinematic story-based narrative to expose the meaning within the piece (Klein, 1990; Hyde, 2012; Westgeest, 2016), conceiving Étude as a projection piece for the concert hall.

Considering how I would work with the three-act structure associated with conventional cinematic story-based narrative brought me to consider the large-scale ‘tonal-polarity model’ (Caplin, 1998, p. 195) of classical sonata form, the concept of counterpoint with digital imagery (Evans, 1992) and consonance and dissonance in visual music (Alves, 2005; Alves 2012). Structure was guided by loosely relating clips which displayed different physical qualities, such as ‘buzzing’, ‘snapping’ and ‘fluid’ motions, to notions of functional harmony, resulting in an exposition which would lay out ‘two contrasting tonal regions’ (Caplin, 1998, p. 195), seen at 00:00-2:52 and 2:53-5:09. Structural dissonance was achieved through an increase in tempo and a sightly more aggressive approach to invasive cutting of footage, interlarded with almost static and jittering movements, seen at 5:10-7:26. A brief recapitulation at 7:27-7:48 restated the first region of the exposition to close the piece following a frenetic development. Making a loose correlation with classical sonata form allowed me to perceive a method of organising the materials into logical sequences within sections in a bid to enhance the sense of repetition in the larger structural scheme which was present at the micro level.

My treatment and approach to video was immediately established at the beginning of the piece through an abstraction of an ‘accent of some visual dimension’ (Evans, 2005, p. 19), a device which was used to create the suggestion of metre in Syncretism. A ‘buzzing’ effect was created by cutting into the footage to isolate a few frames into a clip which could be copied and repeated using the same play direction. Applying this approach to different points within the footage created the ‘buzzing’ effect along several positions of the filmed trajectory of the hand. These were also assembled into new sequences to create phrases which presented a ‘snapping motion’. Ends of phrases were indicated by ‘fluid’ rocking motions which juxtaposed the sequences of ‘buzzing’ and ‘snapping’, achieved by constructing a clip of several frames which would then be seamlessly woven with a reversal of the same clip and looped. The speed of the ‘buzzing’, ‘snapping’ and ‘fluid’ motions were easily manipulated by altering the play speed of the loop or by increasing and decreasing the number of frames within each clip. These were fundamental techniques I had first developed in Syncretism by removing and lengthening frames to create static or arrested movement and stroboscopic effects.

Critical Engagement

Étude may fail to conjure any form of imagined sound as the images may be too complex (Berger, 2002; Guttman, Gilroy, & Blake, 2005; McAuley & Henry, 2010) and the formation of movement may lack proper reference to established cultural systems or recognised forms of communication (Argyle, 1988; Handhardt, 1990; Gordon, 1994; Godøy & Leman, 2010; Ben-Tal, 2012). However, through the composition of Étude I discovered research into the perception of sensations and cross-modal perception which was applied to the composition of my fourth piece, Apprentice.

Gordon’s (1994) assertions on the audiation of a musical score suggest that the ability to conjure an imagined sound from a notated score alone is bound by an individual’s understanding of the notational system and is a task which requires purposeful engagement. It may therefore be unfortunate that the ‘language of collage, in which strategies of image processing and recombination evoke a new visual language from the multitextual resources of international culture’ (Hanhardt, 1990, p. 79) could be insufficient stimulus for Étude to generate non-cochlear or imagined sound (Furlong, 1985; Hanhardt, 1990; Wooster, 1990). Schnebel’s work nostalgie [auch: visible music II], in which a solo performer conducts an imaginary orchestra, operates within a specific social or cultural system of bodily communication (Argyle, 1988; Godøy & Leman, 2010; Ben-Tal, 2012) and therefore calls on a referential system for a viewer to connect to. An appropriate form of bodily communication may be lacking with Étude as the interventional editing techniques distort the reference to Western guitar techniques in order to create new movements. However, dance has been reported to produce similar delineations of temporal stimulus when compared with music through various combinations, including dance-only visual stimulus (Krumhansl & Schenck, 1997). As such, it remains unclear whether Étude would be capable of generating non-cochlear or imagined sound. Public presentation of the piece may provide an avenue for feedback and further information relating to the generation of non-cochlear or imagined sound through the video piece.

Based on my research into cross-modal perception it was clear that several experiments engaged with flashing lights and sound against a contrasting negative space (Berger, 2002; Guttman, Gilroy, & Blake, 2005; McAuley & Henry, 2010). Although the research was designed to create an optimal condition to facilitate cross-modal interactions it may be used to gauge successful generation for my own practice. Based on this research it could be concluded that Étude may fail to conjure a non-cochlear sound as the stimulus consisted of a complex moving image which may engage the viewer in a search for meaning within the imagery.

My intention for Étude was not to create or replicate a psychological experiment but to converge several lines of enquiry into an artistic practice which may raise questions or concerns for the viewer and composer alike. The depiction of a hand and a guitar, along with hard cutting and fast repetition of images, came from a desire to communicate a musician’s deliberate decision to dedicate time and energy into developing instrumental skill and technique. Étude not only grappled with and brought attention to the presence of video editing but also commented upon the focussed and repetitious nature of work and action (Arendt, 1998): the linear narrative was constructed through a lengthening of only a few seconds of footage with heavy amounts of repetition creating new movements (Arnold & MacDonald, 1994).

Étude was composed as a piece for the concert hall as I considered that the inclusion of a physically silent piece within a program of physically sounding pieces may encourage an audience to engage with the search for sound. The task may require purposeful attention and mental focus which could provide the quality of experience needed to engage with the piece (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997; McAuley & Henry, 2010). Furthermore, the traditional layout of a concert hall reflects that of the cinema and may reinforce the culturally explicit notion of a classical cinematic narrative and associations with the screen to expose Étude’s narrative arc (Klein, 1990; Westgeest, 2016). However, the hunt for sound may destroy the narrative in a pleasing, yet problematic, reversal of the traditional role of sound from cinema’s infancy (Wierzbicki, 2009). Sheen and Hill’s approach towards cinematography in Hand Film contrasts that of Étude through a non-linear narrative, with manual labour and a dissolution of human identity made clear through gesture, repetition and disembodiment.

My compositional practice with Étude can be partially aligned with Fluxus through the use of technology to subvert the original content and linear narrative of the video and through the intention to compose a physically silent piece for the concert hall, akin to Vostell’s use of film for the art gallery (Hanhardt, 1990; Arnold & MacDonald, 1994; Meigh-Andrews, 2014). Some similarities also exist between the practice of visual music, electroacoustic music and my own in the use of technology to push around, cut and splice video and sound materials to create musical form (Evans, 2005; Garro, 2011; Hyde, 2012). Although the stimulus was visual I would assert that Étude contained musical qualities as I worked as if composing a piece of music. However, I acknowledge that it may fall short in producing non-cochlear sound.
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