Electroacoustic Movies: A visual music practice and its contexts
This article presents an overview of a visual music collaboration between film-maker Dr Nick Cope and electroacoustic composer Professor Tim Howle. The article draws heavily on research for the former’s recently completed PhD by Existing Published Work, Northern Industrial Scratch: The History and Contexts of a Visual Music Practice (University of Sunderland, October 2012). This article specifically addresses the contexts of the collaboration Electroacoustic Movies, which forms one element of a wider body of work addressed in the PhD. With online links directly to the works in question, the critical and historical contexts with which the practice engages are examined and elaborated. By examining and making explicit these contexts, it is hoped that this work will contribute to the wider assessment and critical contextualisation of audiovisual composition and transdisciplinary, collaborative work. A website and archive featuring the works addressed and the PhD commentary is available at http://www.nickcopefilm.com.Keywords: Audiovisual composition, electroacoustic composition, trans-disciplinary collaboration, video art, visual music.
In May 2002 I collaborated on an audiovisual concert, Cinema for the Ear 1 at Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. Live eight-speaker surround-sound-diffusion playback of a 60-minute programme of electroacoustic music was accompanied by a live mix of pre-prepared digital video material projected onto the venue’s large cinema screen.2 Following the concert, my then University of Hull colleague, the electroacoustic composer Tim Howle, instigated what has become an ongoing collaboration exploring the conjunction of electroacoustic composition and creative moving image practice in the production of work where sound and moving image are commensurate. Howle proposed composing an original soundtrack to an already existing edit of visual material that I had screened in the concert. This material had evolved over a number of years through working and reworking footage to different soundtracks in different contexts. The resulting combination of this visual edit and Howle’s electroacoustic score became our first collaborative piece, Open Circuits.3 A further three collaborations produced between 2003 and 2008 (and a fifth work, Radiance, 2002, a 15-minute documentation of an interactive installation produced in collaboration with electroacoustic composer Dr Robert MacKay) form the body of work collected together and presented on DVD as Electroacoustic Movies.
Figure 1: Cinema for the Ear, programme notes for the concert
Before this collaboration, I had neither written much about my film-making practice, nor taken the opportunity to reflect at length upon its contexts. In casting a critical gaze upon my recent work, the connections between this and older work have become more evident, and overarching key themes in the practice have come into focus. In exploring the research contexts of Electroacoustic Movies, the wider contexts of my praxis and practice since the 1980s has also been brought into consideration. Not only has the content of some of the Electroacoustic Movies material derived directly from work previously undertaken in the 1980s and 90s, the practice itself is informed by and builds upon previously explored practices and methodologies; and there is a reciprocal informing of critical, theoretical, and contextual issues between past and present work.
Figure 2: Tim Howle performing a live sound diffusion mix of Son et Lumières (still)
From its outset in the early 1980s, my audiovisual practice has centred on a creative engagement with and exploration of the encounter of sound, music, and image, exploring an interzone between milieux. In my work sound and image are commensurate and their combination distinct to practices where sound is subservient to image, as in the movie soundtrack, or where image is in the service of sound and the commercial and industrial requirements of the pop promo. The work has wilfully and knowingly explored trans-sensory and intersensory, synaesthetic and kinaesthetic, film- and video-making practices. It explores not only the significative functioning of moving image practice but also the affective level, and has been presented in immersive and performative contexts as well as on the single screen, and in gallery and non-gallery environments. Whilst collaboration with a number of different musicians and artists over the years has been at the heart of the practice, my contribution has always been that of single person film-maker, taking ownership and control of the image making. This practice has consistently sought to engage an artistically informed sensibility, experimenting with constantly changing and emerging technological contexts.
Reflecting on my practice has enabled key themes to come into focus. Notions of audiovisuality, cinesonics, and visual music begin to contextualise work, which has engaged in exploring the trans-sensory and intersensory affect of audiovisual practices. Expanded cinematic and audiovisual performative practices are significant, linking earlier analogue multimedia events with digital audiovisual and VJ cultures emerging in the 1990s. A number of significant texts addressing the critical and historical contexts of video art have emerged in the past decade supplementing the prior paucity of writing on artists’ film and video (see, for example, Cubitt and Partridge, 2012; Curtis, 2007; Elwes, 2005; Hatfield, 2006; Meigh-Andrews, 2006; Rees, 2011). However, many of these texts have tended to neglect film and video art’s relation to sound and visual music, a relationship that is only recently being redressed. I hope that by writing about my own work, this may contribute to critical discourse slowly emerging in this area.
The experimental exploration of the combination of sound and moving image beyond commercial production parameters, informed by notions of affective trans-sensory perception, of sonic and musical practices and perceptions informing visual practices, and of sound and image combinations constituting “a third communicative dimension” (Williams, 2003, p.154) can be seen to constitute key themes underpinning three decades of my personal practice.
Music is a key constituent element of much of my work. I look to music for models and modes of organisation and audiovisual articulation. As Rogers (2010, pp.62–63) observes, by elevating music to a rival narrational system to mainstream theatrical narrative filmmaking “a disintegration of established viewing hierarchies is initiated… liberating soundtrack from its redundant position as visual enhancement”. Such work “diverges from the primacy of vision as the dominant perceptual sense: from the other side of representation, the images, with their reconfigured ‘dream-aura’, require a method of viewing more akin to listening than seeing” (ibid., p.184). The exploration of the abstractions which occur when visual movement is dictated by the logic and temporality of music is a key theme of my work, as is the apparent subsequent operation of a “type of synaesthesia, whereby an input in one sensory mode excites an involuntary response in another, constructing meaning as the film progresses, rather than reproducing it” (ibid., p.37).
In exploring the ways that sound and image coalesce in flux, flow, and change, and the medium’s materiality, the resulting body of work operates on the levels of both the significatory and the directly sensorial.In the programme notes for “Cinema for the Ear” I drew attention to a long-term interest in “abstract cinema, non-narrative films and the potentials these and emerging new media have for creating a form of ‘painting with light’, and composing with images in time”.5 My practice has consistently explored and investigated image, movement, colour, light, framing, and composition within the frame at the time of filming and in post-production; and intervening in the editing process with sound and music whilst exploring montage, superimposition, cutting rhythms, multi-layering, looping, intercutting, mixing, and remixing, effecting and affecting the image in post-production. Exploration and experimentation with the potential and possibilities presented by constantly changing and developing media technologies has also been key. In exploring the ways that sound and image coalesce in flux, flow, and change, and the medium’s materiality, the resulting body of work operates on the levels of both the significatory and the directly sensorial.
The common conception of film as a binary construct composed of sound and image precludes engagement with the transsensory or intersensory experience of cinema. A number of filmmakers, yet surprisingly few theorists, have concerned themselves with the ways in which the senses of sight and sound combine, mix and sometimes blur in cinematic experience (Birtwistle, 2010, p.19).
In retrospectively evaluating the core themes that bind together this body of work it is clear that practices that have come together under the discussions of “visual music” and “multimedia visual art” (Brougher & Matthis, 2005, McDonnell, 2007 & 2010), “video music” (Jean Piché, 2004), “musical visuality”, “audiovisuality” (Williams, 2003, pp. 13, 99, 154, 195), and “cinesonic” (Birtwistle, 2010) are at the heart of the work.
Emerging notions of a “cinema of affect” and a “cinema of sensation” provide a key focus for understanding the core contexts in which the work operates and functions, both as single screen, monitor-based work, and in the performative, multimedia, expanded cinematic live contexts in which it has been presented. Williams (2003, p.129) argues that “a study of video expressivity must consider the arrangements of sounds as well as sights, of hearing as well as seeing”. Bringing a phenomenology-based approach to the dissection and understanding of music videos and aesthetic communication, Williams establishes a notion of “musical visuality”:
while the sounds establish the depth of the viewing experience, the sounds and sights of the aural and visual presentation interpenetrate to create a third communicative dimension. The visuals articulate the depth of the music, and, at the same time, the music articulates the depth of the visuals. Both intellectual receptivity and pathic receptivity (ie affective and emotive experience) are informed musically and visually as the visuals dance the music. I am witness to a specific aesthetic, a musical visuality (ibid, p.154).
The musical visuality is the interplay and interpenetration of sights and sounds, music and visuals in music videos, whereby sights dance to the sounds of music and sounds are manifest visually. It is an aural-vi
sual aesthetic in which the synesthetic interpenetration of sight and sound, music and dance, have replaced illustration, description, narrative, and realism as the logos of video (ibid., p.172).
Davies (2004, p.256) argues that “it is indisputable… that cognitive and affective values… are among the things for which we value works of art, and the imaginative experiences elicited in receivers in their encounters with instances of works are crucial to the realization and appreciation of those values.” The address of affect and embodied sensation is an area with which critical and theoretical writing on audiovisual practice is beginning to engage. The notion of other levels on which film and video operate to affect the viewer, beyond logocentric, significatory, semantic, and symbolic functions has been one that has received attention in the wake of Gilles Deleuze’s writings on cinema (in particular Cinema 1 & 2, 2005).
Barbara M. Kennedy in Deleuze and Cinema: The Aesthetics of Sensation (Edinburgh University Press, 2000) forges connections between film studies and Deleuzian philosophy, enabling an analysis of the functioning and sensation of cinema viewing and experience beyond merely the analyses of pleasure and desire that have been dominant in film studies prior to this time.
Art here functions as vibration, resonance, force: as sensation. A “pure being of sensation.” In other words, the work of art functions as a machine, a machine which produces effects of vibration, resonance and movement… we can theorise the experience of the cinematic; we can think of the visual experience of the cinematic, not only as a representation of something with a “meaning”, but also as an aesthetic assemblage, which moves, modulates and resonates with its audience or spectator through processes of molecularity. It connects. It works through affect, intensity and becoming – and ultimately through sensation, not necessarily through subjectivity, identity and representation (Kennedy, 2000, p.114).
Beugnet (2007) traces the roots of a cinema of affect and sensation back to earlier avant-garde film-makers including Vertov, Eisenstein, and Bunuel, and in particular quoting Artaud’s definition of the ideal film as “a film with purely visual sensations, the dramatic force of which springs from a shock on the eyes, drawn one might say, from the very substance of the eye” (Artaud, 1972 , p.21). The works of Laura U. Marks, Vivian Sobchak, and Steven Shaviro (2010) all address the affective, embodied experience of the viewer. Strand draws heavily on Sobchak’s phenomenology of film experience, as well as Eisenstein and Chion on montage and the audiovisual, and Cytowic’s work on synaesthesia, to contend that “the music video produces an aural-visuality in which sound can be cinesthetically expressed and perceived as image and the image perceived and expressed as sound” (Strand, 2008, p.4). This “aural-visuality” is constructed “by the embodied sensory system of the viewing listener” (ibid., p.83). Strand’s contentions echo Williams’ (2003) phenomenological approach to music video, which emphasises the interpenetration of sound and image and the creation of a “third expressive domain” where “sight becomes musical and what you listen to is visualised. Seeing, then, becomes a non-logocentric experience, a sensuous (indeed, cross-sensual), tactile, sonorous, and visual activity” (Williams, 2003, p.13).
Birtwistle’s analyses of the audiovisual, cinesonic functioning of moving image works and of kinaesthetic, synaesthetic, affective moving image practices forms a particularly resonant context for my own practice:
synaesthetic audiovisual experience presents a sublation of sound and image, in which binary relations, hierarchies and identities are liquefied, where no one milieu is sacrificed to another, but in which each milieu becomes permeable to the point of dissolution. This is registered by the audioviewer not just on an intellectual or cognitive level, but also by a sensorium and a body that is seized by the affective shocks (Birtwistle, 2010, p.271).
At the time of undertaking the research for my PhD, 2009–12, the recent recognition of an inadequacy in film studies’ significatory and logocentric perspectives in addressing embodied, affective, and sensation-based experience of audiovisual practice was of significance. Through the analyses of a number of commentators who attempt to redress this imbalance, a bias towards the visual at the expense of addressing the role and importance of the sonic and the aural in audiovisual criticism was recognised. Holly Rogers notes that
Although film theory has experienced a surge of interest in avant-garde cinema, those writing critically on the subject – Michael O’Pray and Scott McDonald among others – make little or no critical reference to the music in their discussions: an omission similar to that of Hollywood film theory. And yet, while musicologists have recently addressed the absence in mainstream cinema, discussion of avant-garde film remains almost entirely image based (Rogers, 2010, p.43).
Significantly, too, A. L. Rees briefly acknowledged in the updated final two pages of the second edition ofA History of Experimental Film and Video (2011) the “neglected aspect of film and video art – its relation to sound and visual music” (Rees, 2011b, p.142). Notably, Naumann (2010b, p.6) observed that “the current state of research shows that in the realm of the audiovisual, practice is substantially more advanced than theory”.
Video + music
The encounter of music and moving image can be seen to fall into three categories of practice:
Sound and music as soundtrack in film and television production – where the sound is subservient to and supportive of the visual narrative, and usually produced following the development and production of the visual content and narrative;
As music video/pop promo, in which the image is at the service of the music and is a construct which arises following the initial audio composition, and often being “intimately tied up with advertising” (Austerlitz, 2007, p.9) in its role as promotional device, with screening and distribution outlets via commercial broadcast and satellite channels; and
An area of moving image and music practice which stands outside of the above two overarching contexts, where the subservience of the one aspect to the other is replaced by a commensurate engagement and exploration.
It is this third category that is a key theme in my own practice, and of which Electroacoustic Movies can be seen to be an exemplar.
We find that music is not limited to the world of sound; there also exists a music of the visual world. (Oskar Fischinger, 1951, p.187)
A visual music piece uses a visual art medium in a way that is more analogous to that of music composition or performance. Visual elements (via craft, artistic intention, mechanical means or software) are composed and presented with aesthetic strategies and procedures similar to those employed in the composing or performance of music (Maura McDonnell, 2007).
The analysis and discourse set in mot
ion through the encounter of music and moving image and the multifarious ways that composers and film-makers can explore this encounter is one that is only just beginning to emerge through the critical texts arising in “territorial skirmishes between university disciplines” (Dickinson, 2007, p.13) as this media hybrid comes to the attention of a space which overlaps various scholarly domains.
Music compositional approaches and practices can be looked to for alternative models to moving image theatrical and literary, linear, narrative structures. The “clear and crucial relationship between the development of experimental and electronic music and video art” is tracked by Meigh-Andrews (2006, p.99), who acknowledges “the fundamental relationship between the audio and video signals and the methods of manipulating and transforming them”. Meigh-Andrews notes that
This relationship links both the development and exploration of the related technologies and points the way to an understanding of the nature of the potential of video as a fluid and malleable art form that parallels music in its scope and power (Meigh-Andrews, 2006, p.99).
Donebauer equates the conditions of music and video, stating that live production of organised sound and image has the capacity to affect without mediation through verbal or conceptual structures and concluding “video is the visual equivalent of music” (cited in ibid., p.143). Bill Viola recognises the close affinity between the video camera and the microphone – using the camera as a recording device for material to be worked with later in post-production:
The video camera, as an electronic transducer of physical energy into electrical impulses, bears a closer relation to the microphone than to the film camera (Viola, 1995, p.62).
I began to use my camera as a kind of visual microphone (Viola, quoted in Syring, 1995, p.100).
Robert Cahen, who originally studied electroacoustic music composition at the GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales) in Paris with Pierre Schaeffer, a pioneer of musique concrète, recognises that video can be characterised by the manipulation of imagery after recording, as electronic composers manipulate natural sound recordings in the music studio. Meigh-Andrews notes the connection: “The construction of a video tape is done above all from basic material that is modified to express what the artist wants to say. It’s an approach similar to the one used in musique concrète” (2006, p.88).
Sound reproduction has consistently preceded image reproduction and sound media have constantly shaped the subsequently developed media (Armes, 1988, p.10).
Sound recording and music technologies have been ahead of video recording technologies in their development, accessibility, and sophistication in manipulating the recorded signal both during the development of magnetic tape formats and the emergence of digital technologies. They have established precedents that could later be explored as developing moving image technologies were able to facilitate such methodologies with regard to recording, storing and processing video signals. Exemplar working practices, creative treatments, and compositional models analogous to musique concrète and electroacoustic composition pioneered by Schaeffer and others open up for the visual media practitioner; these include remixing and re-cutting work for different contexts, slowing down, speeding up, multi-layering, backtracking, and effecting material in camera and in post-production. As analogue video tape editing technologies improved, methods whereby the recorded signal becomes the source material for treatment, manipulation, synthesis, and composition later in the production process could be explored and exploited by visual media practitioners. Similarly, as computer processing speeds and hard drive storage capacities increased with the development of digital technologies, the ability to store, edit, and process the much larger file sizes of visual media in analogous ways that musicians and sound artists had already been able to explore, experiment, and compose with digital sound files became possible. Composer and academic Jean Piché observes that
The means of production for visuals now are extremely interesting, catching up to what we’ve been doing with sound for over a decade. It’s an exciting new form that has a lot of depth to it, and is linked to a technology that is highly available (2004).
Indeed, Birtwistle notes how ideas proposed by composers Edgar Varèse, John Cage, and Jack Ellitt as they explored the creative potentials of film sound technologies came to be realised in video:
If the call for an art of organized sound was realized sonically in musique concrète experiments of the 1940s and 1950s, then it was video rather than film that finally provided the medium in which the composers’ ideas took an audiovisual form.
In extending the control an artist-composer had over their sonic materials, scratch video allowed what had already happened in musique concrète, and in hip-hop, to find audiovisual expression (Birtwistle, 2010, pp.237–240).
Visual music and expanded cinema
Hatfield (2006, p.237) establishes that “expanded cinema as a term generally describes synaesthetic cinematic spectacle whereby the notions of conventional filmic language are either extended or interrogated outside the single-screen space”, and observes that
A cinematic configuration could involve intermedia, performance, spectacle, video, art and technology in addition to film, and could be located within the “black space” or the “white cube” of the gallery.
Distinguishing film from video and emphasizing ontological differences was particularly visible in the polemics of the 1970s – though since the late 1960s, and extending the scope of expanded film, it was artists working with video and the electronic who were pushing the boundaries of moving-image and cinematic spectacle, technological innovation, interactivity and performance… The then-polarising historical debates of “film” and “video” overlooked the fact that artists were free-flowing individuals experimenting with different kinds of media, and more often than not were working with and expanding both technologies (ibid., p.238–239).
VALIE EXPORT notably adds to Hatfield’s acknowledgement of the importance of hybrid and integrated practices, emphasising the neglected aspect of sound:
The expanded cinema, which can also be referred to as the liberated cinema, is part of the tradition of liberated sound whose project was initiated at the turn of the [20th] century. Expanded cinema is a collage expanded around time and several spatial and medial layers, which, as a formation in time and space, breaks free from the two-dimensionality of the surface (VALIE EXPORT, 2011, p.290).
A growing literature on audiovisual art and media work, and broader performative and expanded practices, seeks to establish an academic discussion that situates the genre historically and presents theoretical approaches (Brougher et al., 2005; Daniels and Nau
mann, 2010; Lund, 2009). Cellist Friedemann Dähn surmises that
Perhaps a new type of artist is emerging that either unites both aspects – i.e. is both musician and visual artist, something like a DJ and a VJ in one, working both sound and visuals; or a collective of sound artists and projection and light artists, of DJs and VJs who develop a common dialogue as their means of expression. With such ensembles, visual music can be created in each individual context and a unique audio-visual language can be developed, just as each musician or band develops its own sound (Dähn, 2005, p.153).
The development of live performative projection potentials, through the convergence of media platforms in the digital technologies emergent in the 1990s and beyond is mapped by Naumann, who writes that
The biased perspective of academic disciplines is demonstrated in an exemplary way by the manner in which the auditory is separated from the visual. The “deafness” of the disciplines that engage with images, and the “blindness” of the disciplines that engage with music and sound are of seminal relevance to the central concern of this volume (in Daniel & Naumann, 2010a, p.8).6
This resonates with Rees’s admissions regarding the “neglected aspect of film and video art – its relation to sound and visual music” (Rees, 2011b, p.142) and his acknowledgement that “expanded cinema and its narrative dimension had been historically neglected (including by me) in favour of single screen and abstract/formalist experiment” (in Curtis, Rees et al., 2011, p.20).
In “Postmodernism and Music”, Derek Scott (2011, p.193) recognises that postmodern discourses have, with regard to musicology, engendered the collapse in the binary divide between pop and classical music, and the subsequent need for new theoretical models. One of the key elements he sees it necessary for such models to address is “a readiness to respond to the multiplicity of music’s contemporary functions and meanings (for example, the fusions of practices variously described as ‘time-based arts’ and ‘multimedia arts’)”, and suggests the need for intertextual study and the blurring of discipline boundaries in contrast to “narrow discipline based study of music as performance art or as composition (typically represented by the printed score).”
Electroacoustic Movies is a series of five audiovisual works created in collaboration with composers Tim Howle (four works) and Robert MacKay (one work). Each work explores stylistic conventions of electroacoustic composition in an encounter with moving image practice. Since the turn of the millennium there have been increasing contexts where such work has been able to find an audience and screening opportunities, particularly as sonic arts and electroacoustic concerts, conferences, and performances have opened up to include a widening range of electroacoustic composition and moving image combinations.
Open Circuits (2003) takes its name from Nam June Paik’s 1966 manifesto “Cybernated Art” (Packer & Jordan, 2001, p.41). The work is a non-narrative visual montage that takes the viewer on a journey through a world where the distinctions between the real and the virtual, conscious and unconscious, daydream and nightmare become indistinguishable and the borders break down somewhere between anxiety and prescience. The video component was originally cut and mixed together from 16mm single-frame time-lapse footage shot from moving cameras in both Sheffield and Chicago (by Jackie Jones and Pete Care, respectively) and used for multi-projection screening in the live concert work I undertook with Cabaret Voltaire in 1989–91.7 This material was later re-cut for single monitor screening and documentation around 1995. With Cabaret Voltaire unwilling to release this material commercially on video and DVD, it was then re-cut and remixed to the music of Mandragora for a potential live projection project with that group in 1996. This edit was then mixed with WinAmp computer animations generated and produced by composer Joe Audsley prior to the Cinema for the Ear event.8 Howle worked with this picture edit using digital composition software to craft the electroacoustic score to the image, in a manner akin to the animation methodologies of “mickey mousing”, “the sonic illustration of visual events” (Birtwistle, 2010, p.188).
For the second collaboration, Son et Lumières (2006)9 visual techniques analogous to methods of electroacoustic composition were employed. 16mm film footage of the Fawley Oil Refinery shot at night on the banks of Southampton Water, England, was manipulated in camera, through single frame shooting and double exposure, before further manipulation and treatment in post-production. It was edited and multi-layered to an already composed soundtrack, in contrast to and mirroring the collaborative methods employed in Open Circuits.
In Eclipse (2007)10 came about whilst digitally remastering work originally produced in the early 1980s on U-matic analogue videotape. Howle took this visual material and reworked his own archival sound into a new electroacoustic score, once again exploring the themes of analogous practices between visual moving image-making and electroacoustic music composition (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: Tim Howle performing a live sound diffusion of In Eclipse, Indiana, 2009. (still)
In Eclipse is a work in two halves using Super 8 footage shot in 1985 of a now demolished power station, and featuring in-camera fast cuts of the decaying power structure through which late afternoon sunshine flickers and bleeds, a sun eclipsed by a post-industrial landscape. A brief 16mm shot of the 1999 solar eclipse is the only visual addition to the earlier 1980s edit Health and Efficiency(1985),11 which took its title from the This Heat recording used for the soundtrack. The introduction of the eclipse footage marks the transition from day to a virtual night, comprising a sequence of multi-layered analogue video in which barely seen figures are obscured by layers of shifting colour, light, and shade. These figures are themselves eclipsed by the audiovisual treatment using a Sony Time Based Corrector to effect and manipulate a previously edited analogue video source12 superimposed with single frame animated colour Super 8 flicker film experiments transposed to video.
For In Girum (2007/8)13 abstracted visuals shot on DV digital video and Super 8 film at a variety of funfairs were montaged and edited using Final Cut Pro software, exploring the liminal spaces the funfair offers – the carnival of consumption. The actual stomach churning disorientation of the rides and their mechanical hydraulic constructions was reworked into a simulated visual space that intends to explore augmented realities. Virilio’s “over-excited man” meets Debord’s analysis of the “spectacle”. The title echoes Debord’s use as a film title of the Latin palindrome In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consumimur Igni, which can be translated as “We go round and round in the night and are consumed by fire”. The treatment and reworking in post-production of lens-based/gathered visual material, counterpoints electroacoustic studio compositional practices derived from recording, working with, and treating acousmatic source material. In Girum saw the collaborative methods take on a more dialogic form. Discussions during the production process informed early edits and working with the source material, with versions of the component parts being passed back and forth between composer and film-maker before arriving at the final version.
Radiance (2003)14 documents an interactive installation in the Crypt of St Martin’s-on-the-Hill, a collaboration with electroacoustic composer Robert Mackay for the Scarborough Festival of Light, December 2002 (see Figure 4). Light and movement sensors triggered sound playback as the audience moved through a maze-like space filled with digital video projections and an immersive ambient soundscape.15 The 15-minute piece cuts between video documentation of the installation with video material featured in the installation, and a walk-through audio recording capturing the changing soundscape of the space. The work was intended to create an experimental environment in which light, sound, and audience respond and react to one another in a site-specific context. The digital video footage explored light in different manifest forms taking the audience through a changing environment, from a fast cut urban cityscape to more contemplative candlelight. The sound, composed to work commensurately with the imagery, used Soundbeam controllers and Max/MSP software to direct playback through the multiple speakers within the space.
Figure 4: Radiance installation, Scarborough, December 2002 (poster)
Theory and Practice
Praxis is the idea that you do something because you want to do it, and after you’ve done it, you find out all the reasons why you did it. (Tony Wilson, founder Factory Records, New Order Play at Home, 1984, Channel 4 Television).
In realising a practice “‘on the cusp’ between two states” in which working with visuals is a way that “electroacoustic music can be made visible” (Howle, 2009), Electroacoustic Movies evidences Kit Williams’ notion that in certain forms of music video “sight becomes musical and what you listen to is visualized. Seeing, then, becomes a non-logocentric experience, a sensuous (indeed, cross-sensual), tactile, sonorous, and visual activity” (Williams, 2003, p.13). Birtwistle draws attention to Deleuze and Guatarri’s consideration of audiovisual relations, which are resonant with visual music-informed practices such as ours:
[Deleuze and Guatarri’s (1988, p.314)] formulation of audiovisuality embraces a range of possible relationships between sound and image, but most importantly, it allows for those moments when sound and image fuse and become indistinguishable (Birtwistle, 2010, p.227).
The “new paradigm” (Piche, 2004) engendered through the encounter of electroacoustic composition and moving image results in “a temporal visual artwork that exists in time and whose constituent elements evolve over time just as music elements evolve and exist over time” (McDonnell, 2007). Birtwistle, drawing attention to the audiovisual flow that such work can set in motion, writes that
synaesthetic audiovisual experience presents a sublation of sound and image, in which binary relations, hierarchies and identities are liquefied, where no one milieu is sacrificed to another, but in which each milieu becomes permeable to the point of dissolution (Birtwistle, 2010, p.271).
The constituent pieces of Electroacoustic Movies utilise the flows of sound and image to effect temporal and contextual transformation, a key theme throughout much of my work. The pieces also draw on, rework, and revisit themes and original footage from my earlier practice, as well as forge new explorations with new technologies and practices. In “Theorising Audiovisual Flow” Richardson (2012, pp.126–130) draws attention to the political and critical contexts of work operating in an “audiovisual surreal”. Contrasting Raymond Williams’s (1990) considerations of televisual flow in the context of broadcast television, Richardson cites Walter Benjamin’s thinking that “the distracting properties of these forms might be deployed to critical ends by attending to… their mediated physicality as an element to be enjoyed in its own right” (ibid., p.127), recognising that “types of flow… can be understood as articulating the structures of contemporary society while simultaneously offering a means of reflecting on them” (ibid.). Richardson also draws attention to Deleuze’s writings on philosophy and cinema and the latter’s allusions to “flow consciousness” as “a means of resisting dominant narrative means of structuring time in mainstream audiovisual forms” (ibid., p.284). With particular resonance to both the critical and political contexts that Electroacoustic Movies and my earlier work explore, Richardson concludes that digital technologies offer
Considerable potential for appropriative interventions. Namely, a kind of euphoria, signaling desubjectification combined with the reinstatement of subjective agency (through acts of ingenuous and disingenuous appropriation) is present in instances where someone does something with technologies they were never supposed to do. An aspect of remediation is implied in such cases, which in turn might imply a performative realignment of conventional positions… Deconstruction in these cases does not refer to a dry intralinguistic exercise. Rather, it is a means of releasing phenomenological and aesthetically rich potential of audiovisual performances… in an age when what it means to “compose” is changing drastically… An aestheticism made up of ebbs and flows, of lucid dreaming and streams of consciousness instead represents, for many commentators, a view of reality that is constituted as one quality flows freely into the next. This change in outlook heralds a dissident attitude when it comes to binary oppositions on which classic aestheticism was founded… At stake is an aestheticism attuned to the affective powers of performances. In this view, both rhythmic flow and its cessations can be invested with redemptive transformative powers (ibid., pp.285–287).
Here, Richardson echoes Birtwistle, who observes that the rhythmic flow between milieux of sound and image should be understood not as sound and image communicating but as communication between sound and image, where
The radical challenge that synaesthetic forms present to music is, consequently, not to be thought through in wholly negative terms of destruction or eradication, but rather as a dissolution that is enacted without loss: a sublation. Such a liquefaction is liberating, a way out of the identity habit, a way of thinking beyond the parameters of identity and essence (Birtwistle, 2010, p.219).
The meeting of sonic and visual compositional practices in our collaboration becomes a site for examining the radical potentials to which Birtwistle and Richardson allude.
To address the integration of theory and practice in a creative arts practice, particularly one that crosses and intermixes disciplines and milieux can be challenging. Des Bell, writing in the Journal of Media Practice, addresses the challenges of reaching communicable knowledge with regard to media practices and their engagement with the research demands of academia, and has produced some useful frameworks:
There is little doubt that the artist/researcher if they commit themselves to the task of documentation and critical contextualisation and reflection on their work, can, in collaboration with like-minded others, produce an inter-subjective framework for understanding the work they produce… Indeed we might want to give the name research to this hermeneutical activity of arriving at communicable knowledge of art practice. (Bell, 2006, p.99)
Bell also draws attention to David Davies’ work in Art as Performance (2004). Davies emphasises that consideration of the generative act and contexts of making and producing art is significant when addressing the research and critical contexts that creative practice engages. Whilst I have no wish to post-rationalise and impose upon my work critical and theoretical contexts that were not overtly present at the outset of its production, the processes of collaboration and production, documentation, presentation, reflection, and critical contextualisation do reveal communicable knowledge of the work.
Jon Dovey (2009), also in collaboration with the Journal of Media Practice, instigated a forum for the wider discussions and dissemination of screen media based practice as research. This has also been useful in addressing the critical and theoretical contexts of
With our collaboration straddling academic disciplines and departments, the need to justify and address the “researchness” of practice-led work has been less of a pressing issue within the music based spheres the work operates in, where the history of compositional practice sets a well-established precedent in contrast to screen-based media work.
Aurally, the collaboration with Tim Howle has built on his previous compositional practices, whilst engaging in the area opened up by the hybridisation of electronic art forms and software tools. In academic papers, and in our supporting statement for the ScreenWorks submission, Howle has addressed how this provides “new areas for academic and creative enquiry, and as such, it is a genuine area in interdisciplinary research”. The work operates “on the cusp” of disciplines, and extends acousmatic music composition, just as the language of film was extended once sound could be incorporated. In 2005 Open Circuits was selected for publication on DVD in a special issue of theComputer Music Journal. This issue addresses “a new and nascent medium” being brought about through the engagement of computer music, electroacoustic composition, research, and visual media.
In papers Howle and I have given at academic conferences and in statements about the work,17 we have described our address of the critical and theoretical contexts emerging through the collaboration as “praxis as research”, and noted that many of these contexts have come into sharper focus after the act of production and following reflection upon the collaboration, process, and outcomes. The collaborative process itself opens up and reveals further areas of potential practice, research, and exploration. In collaborating we each bring to the jointly authored work our individual expertise, knowledge, taxonomies, and practice, as well as the historical, theoretical, and critical contexts we are each versed in. This bringing together of two practices and two “visions” to create Williams’ “third expressive domain” (2003, p.13) is, we believe, an asset to the work. Tacit knowledge informs established creative and compositional practices in the “enthusiasms and confusions, expressivity and sheer immanence” (Bell, p.85) of creative practice. Improvisation and improvisatorial practices are also at play at the heart of the collaboration, exploring current and emerging technologies whilst being informed by past histories and practices.
Work strives more toward “showing what cannot be said” (Weinbren, 2012, p.34), rather than staking out research questions, the investigation of critical theory or theoretical constructs, or the narrative construction of argument, script, or premise, whereas the creative process at the time of filming and in the edit suite is “as much a matter of discovery as invention”:
The editing room is an environment of exploration, trial and error, where one experiments with sequences of the image and sound materials at hand until the stream “feels right”, that is, when it embodies the desired emotions or attitudes towards its subject (ibid. p.41).
Indeed, in the early 1980s the video edit suites available to artists, students, and community-based practitioners became technologically developed enough to facilitate new types of work and new edit-driven styles and forms which had not previously been possible (see Barber, 1990). The edit process and exploration of developing editing technologies since then has remained central to my creative practice.
Hans Richter’s notion of the film poem and his methodologies of working distinct and separate to narrative cinematic conventions have also been influential:
One of the main characteristics of film poetry, I would say, is the way the film poem is made at least as far as my experience goes. Whereas the commercial film has to be laid out ironclad from the beginning to the end, has to follow the script to the point, for obvious reasons of organisation in an industrial production, the film poem follows a different process. There is a kind of script, there is a general direction, there is an aim, a meaning, a mood in the process of production. But all that grows is not foreseen. It is a result of the creative process itself. It is not so much planning as it is feeling along the path which the theme takes. In other words, the material you accumulate during the shooting is more or less raw material: though it has been planned to contribute to a specific scene or aim, it might, in the end, assume a different meaning altogether. This I would call sensitive improvisation. This listening to oneself as well as to the material you accumulate, is essential to a film poem. (Richter, 1971)
When producing work this “listening” and “feeling” in “sensitive improvisation” with the materials and technologies of image and sound become fruitful methodologies, analogous to musical practices. Barber is clear about a certain way of working that was intrinsic to the Scratch aesthetic, significantly citing the musical term “jamming”,
I… would cite Scratch as a prime example of where available technology was made the most of, where people just got on the machines and “did things”. They jammed, winged it and made it up as they went along. It would take a philistine to say it was “just effects” pure and simple. One only has to look at broadcast television to see its legacy… the grammar of editing and visual language have irredeemably changed, copying over the excitement of the Scratch scene. (Barber, 1990, p.123)
An engagement with exploring the parameters and potentials of sound-image relations has been at the heart of my practice since the 1980s and continues to be so in Electroacoustic Movies. Andy Lipman, writing about my Scratch video work in City Limits magazine in October 1984 picked up on supporting statements noting that “we should ‘listen’ to television, like music, rather than analyzing for meaning”, echoing Norman McClaren’s definition of synaesthesia where “the eye hears and the ear sees” (Birtwistle, 2010, p.179). I expressed in photocopied “manifestoes” accompanying 1980s video and audio cassette releases the wish to forge a visual media practice where sound and image combinations are explored beyond the narrow and commercially driven confines of the pop promo.18
My PhD commentary traces the history and contexts of m
y practice, locating the roots of Electroacoustic Movies in work screened in the early 1980s as part of the nascent Scratch video art movement, and a multimedia practice rooted in and contributing to the industrial and post-punk music scene in the UK, during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Access and exposure to avant-garde cinema, art-house film and video art was far more restricted outside London during the 1980s than is now the case. Living in Nottingham at the time, I tracked down screenings and recordings of films of which I had heard or read about via a diverse network of post-punk and industrial music connections. Nottingham Trent Polytechnic’s library held a VHS cassette recording of an Open University arts programme (featuring René Clair and Francis Picabia’s 1924 Dada film Entr’acte as well as Malcolm Le Grice’s Berlin Horse), a particularly inspiring find that led me to purchase a copy of Le Grice’s book Abstract Film and Beyond.This opened up the rich history of abstract and experimental moving image practice, in particular extracts of the Futurist Cinema manifesto that continue to resonate profoundly (Le Grice, 1981, p. 12). The Tate Gallery/Film and Video Umbrella programme Cubism and the Cinema, The Persistence of Vision, curated by Al Rees and David Curtis and screened at the Tate in May 1983, provided a rare opportunity to see some of the works I had previously only read about, including Fernand Leger, Oskar Fischinger, Hans Richter, and Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera. Derek Jarman’s multi-layered Super 8 experiments with Throbbing Gristle via Industrial Records and Cabaret Voltaire’s Doublevision video label releases, in addition to the explorations of moving image practice emerging through the post-punk networks also informed my developing practice; so too the work of William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, and their collaborations with film-maker Anthony Balch.
Past working methods, inspirations and contexts continue to feed into Electroacoustic Movies.Sometimes directly, in the case of In Eclipse, where most of the visual material derives from 1983–85, and sometimes developmentally, in the adoption and adaptation of working practices to changing and emerging technologies. In creating the source material used in Open Circuits in 1989, access to recently available three-machine high-band U-Matic video edit suite technology facilitated an edit style in which pre-prepared video tapes were live mixed to soundtrack rhythms to create an audiovisual flow. Reworking the material later, on yet more advanced edit suites, led to tighter editing and refining of the sound and image interactions. The visual source material in Son et Lumières exploits 16mm film camera techniques for double exposing in camera, and emulsion film’s reactivity to lights at night via long exposure. The resultant footage was then explored further by way of digital post-production technologies, overtly informed by electroacoustic music practices developing from the Open Circuitscollaboration.
As the collaboration has progressed a number of texts have come to light and proven useful in helping to articulate thinking and writing about the work. The publication of key texts addressing visual music and “audiovisualities” also runs parallel to the collaboration and shares a resonance and engagement in common themes, contexts, and passions.
Holly Rogers’ work19 (2010) becomes significant in establishing contexts for understanding howElectroacoustic Movies operates, and is an exemplar of emerging voices and discourses that have arisen in parallel to the development of my collaboration with Tim Howle. Rogers addresses how avant-garde film breaks down and ruptures barriers between various arts and that “it is impossible to develop for it an exclusive theory of either image or music”, whilst recognising the collaborative relationship between music and image (ibid., p.64).
Birtwistle (2010) is also of significant relevance in establishing the critical contexts in which work that explores the trans-sensorial fusion and flow of audiovisualities operates. Birtwistle brings an essential and refreshing perspective to understanding Scratch video, in addition to a far wider address of works that operate on a “cinesonic” trans-sensorial level, fusing music and moving image, transcending boundaries and earlier limited political and critical perspectives on such work.
Film-maker and academic Maura McDonnell (2007) gives a thorough account of the emergence of varied practices that have come to be labelled “visual music”, locating much of this recent activity under the broad area of sonic arts.
John Richardson’s An Eye for Music was published towards the end of completing my PhD commentary. As already cited, Richardson’s theorising of audio-visual flow, has proved useful in articulating certain operations of sound and image combinations. His theorising of the “audiovisual surreal” also offering a wider context in which work such as ours can be seen to operate and participate.20
Dieter Daniel and Sandra Naumann’s See This Sound exhibition, website,21 and texts, which act as a “resource for the history and theory of art forms that combine sound and image” (Daniels and Naumann, 2010a, rear sleevenotes), also contribute significantly to locating and theorising audiovisual art and media work, and broader performative and expanded practices. The development and publication of their work is concurrent with the development of the work that constitutesElectroacoustic Movies.
The live sound diffusion of our work in performative contexts resonates with Randolph Jordan’s analysis of “Film Sound, Acoustic Ecology and Performance in Electroacoustic Music” (Jordan, 2007, pp.121–141). Jordan sets out to “discuss the concept of ‘acousmatic’ and the issues it raises when considering the idea of live performance as hinging upon an audience’s need for a visual point of reference as substantiation of a performer’s presence” (ibid., p.122). With the advent of recorded sound as a compositional device, there is no longer the visual spectacle of musical virtuoso performance, “we can no longer see what a performer is doing to create the sound” (ibid.). With electroacoustic music a field where sound compositions are presented through loudspeakers, “sound presented in the absence of any visual source provides the basic model for concerts of electroacoustic music”. Jordan acknowledges that live sound diffusion through multi-speaker arrays via mixing consoles and specialist software does give such performances a context specificity, albeit one with a lack of (visual focus of) musicians performing in real time. This absence of visual context in electroacoustic composition is a nexus for the collaboration between myself and Tim Howle.
Widening his discussions to bring in the works and writings of R. Murray Schafer and Hildegard Westerkamp, particularly regarding acoustic ecologies and auditory environments, Jordan proposes that these sonic practices are leading us towards
an awareness of shifting between co-existing planes of attention. Electroacoustic Movies can be seen to be exploring territories and contributing new knowledge to where the visual and audio planes form two of the multifarious planes that come into play when composing electroacoustic music. Jordan’s writing becomes a pertinent and reciprocal perspective with regards to looking at our own practice.
Electroacoustic Movies and the ongoing collaboration with Tim Howle explore particularly how the combination of film, video, and sonic dimensions can operate as an affective, synaesthetic, trans-sensorial experience, in Rogers’ terms “a musico-visual experiment”. It is our intention for the work to be registered by the viewer as sensory and embodied experience, as much on intellectual as on cognitive levels, in both single screen practices and live performative and expanded cinematic presentations of the work. The work is informed by and contributes new knowledge to both audiovisual/visual music practices and their contexts, and the history and contexts of expanded and underground cinematic practices. It is also informed by and contributes to the field of sonic arts and acousmatic/electroacoustic composition, and to audiovisual composition and cross-disciplinary collaboration. With the critical and theoretical discourse of sound and image relations only in recent years coming to be more fully addressed, I hope that by presenting this practice and consideration of its contexts, further contribution can be made to the emerging discussions evaluating the critical contexts and location of such work.
All video material available on Vimeo and via http://www.nickcopefilm.com
 http://nickcopefilm.com/2013/10/04/cinema-for-the-ear/ and https://vimeo.com/channels/cinemafortheear.
 A Cinema for the Ears is a term and concept originally developed by Canadian composer Francis Dhomont (“cinéma pour l’oreille”). See Couture (2005).
 http://nickcopefilm.com/open-circuits/ and http://vimeo.com/633346.
 http://nickcopefilm.com/2013/10/10/electroacoustic-movies-2/ and https://vimeo.com/channels/electroacousticmovies.
 Cope, N. Programme note for Cinema for the Ears, May 2002.
 http://www.see-this-sound.at/en/ in conjunction with Lentos Art Museum, Linz; Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Media Arts and the Academy of Arts, Leipzig. Exhibition, website and texts acting as a ‘resource for the history and theory of art forms that combine sound and image’ (Daniels and Naumann, 2010a, rear sleeve notes)
 http://nickcopefilm.com/2013/09/27/groovy-laidback-and-nasty/ and https://vimeo.com/channels/cabaretvoltaire
 http://nickcopefilm.com/son-et-lumieres/ and http://vimeo.com/633826
 http://nickcopefilm.com/in-eclipse/ and http://vimeo.com/634132
 Amen: Survive the Coming Hard Times, 1985, http://vimeo.com/813114 and http://nickcopefilm.com/2013/09/17/sheffield-scratch-and-super-8/
 http://nickcopefilm.com/in-girum/ and http://vimeo.com/57747704
 http://nickcopefilm.com/2013/10/05/installation-public-arts-and-projection-projects/ and http://vimeo.com/634550
 See http://www.create.uk.net/projectinfo.php?projectid=68&linkid=cp2.
 ScreenWorks (2006) Practice Research in Screen Media [Online] Available at: http://www.jmpscreenworks.com/ [Accessed 12 April 2012] and http://www.bris.ac.uk/drama/screenwork/ [Accessed 25 November 2013]. Dovey’s work with ScreenWorks teased out through dialogue with artists, media practitioners, peer assessors, and academics a peer-review process and taxonomy that could help establish frameworks for creative media practices to be addressed, as these works engage in the agendas and bureacracies of research in academia. The parameters reached through this consultative model established a four-way overlapping set of criteria for substantiating a practice research context as either aesthetic research (“an experimental drive to find new ways to say new things”); platform /technology research (primarily technical research as well as aesthetic research regarding how technological developments affect new and emerging practices); media on media research (work that uses the language of screen media to advance understanding of screen media opening the necessity for work to have a critical and analytic relation to the products of commercial media and their imperatives); and process-based research (any work in which the production methods, ethics, relationships, ways of generating material, research, etc, could be innovative).
 Howle, T. & Cope, N. (2007) Supporting Statement for submission of Open Circuits to ScreenWorks Screen Media Practice Research DVD and website, in association with the Journal of Media Practice, Intellect Books. See http://www.bristol.ac.uk/drama/screenwork/index.html and http://www.jmpscreenworks.com. Individual and joint papers: ‘Electro-acoustic Movies – Towards an Electroacoustic Cinema. Praxis as Research as evidenced through “Open Circuits” and further works’ (Cope and Howle), Journal of Media Practice Symposium, University of Bristol, June 2007; Media Communication and Cultural Studies Association, Annual Conference, Cardiff University, January 2008; “Electroacoustic Movies and other films – a case study in media practice based research” (Cope), Newcastle University, Culture Lab, Lunchbytes Seminar, October 2008; University of Sunderland, Media and Cultural Studies Research Seminar, April 2008; “Making Electroacoustic Movies” (Cope and Howle), SEAMUS Annual Conference, Indiana USA, April 2009; “Making Electroacoustic Movies II” (Howle), Seeing Sound, practice-led international research symposium, Bath Spa University, September 2009; “Alternative and Experimental Filmmaking and the films of Nick Cope” (Cope), Sichuan University Jinjiang College, Chengdu, China, August 2010; “Contextualising Electroacoustic Movies” (Cope) Seeing Sound, practice led international research symposium, Bath Spa University, October 2011.
 See Cope (2012), pp.50–51, 92–93, 121.
 Through her choice of exemplars (works by Derek Jarman, Werner Herzog, and Bill Viola), Rogers establishes a context of critical engagement that addresses both video art and avant-garde film-making practice, bringing a musicological background into play with a thorough reading of film soundtrack texts in addition to film studies, film theory, and theories of the avant-garde. Of particular importance are the writings of Michel Chion, writer, academic, composer, and film-maker, who establishes film as a truly audiovisual language (Chion, 1994 and 2009). Chion’s writings and analysis of sound, music, and film-making have resonances and relevance far beyond the cinema he concentrates so much on, and across the whole spectrum of audio-visual production. Rogers draws on Kassabian (2001) and Cook (1998), noting Cook’s referencing of Eisens
tein’s montage theory and observes that Cook “throws an interesting point into the film music debate: the juxtaposition of image and music creates a new form, which demands a new interpretation of each” (Rogers, 2010, p.37).
 At the time of writing, the first of two Handbooks in Music for Oxford University Press, edited by Richardson, with Carol Vernalis and Claudia Gorbman, had just been published. I anticipate that both The Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics and The Oxford Handbook of Sound and Image in Digital Media will also prove to be fertile sources for navigating key areas of current thinking.
 http://www.see-this-sound.at/en/ in conjunction with Lentos Art Museum, Linz; Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Media Arts and the Academy of Arts, Leipzig.
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About the author:
Dr Nick Cope is Associate Professor in Digital Media Production at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou, China. Former senior lecturer in video and new media production at the University of Sunderland 2004–2013, Nick has worked in the higher education sector since 1995, following eight years working in the creative and media industries.
He has been a practising film, video, and digital media artist since 1982, and completed a PhD by Existing Creative Published Work in October 2012. This locates a contemporary visual music practice within current and emerging critical and theoretical contexts and tracks back the history of this practice to initial screenings of work as part of the 1980s British Scratch video art movement, and later collaborations with electronic music pioneers Cabaret Voltaire. At the heart of this work is an exploration and examination of methods and working practices in the encounter of music, sound, and moving image. Central to this is an examination of the affective levels on which sound and image can operate, in a trans-sensorial fusion, and political and cultural applications of such encounters, whilst examining the epistemological regimes in which such work operates.
His work has been screened nationally and internationally since the 1980s. In collaboration with composer Professor Tim Howle since 2002, this work has been screened and presented and papers given at conferences, concerts, galleries, and festivals, nationally and internationally. A personal website and archive is online at http://www.nickcopefilm.com and a selection of work can be found at http://www.vimeo.com/nickcope.