Next Friday, April 5, New Music Circle will present a program in conjunction with the Webster University Film Series called Seeing Sound: Visual Music Films."
Curated by Cindy Keefer of the Center for Visual Music in Los Angeles, the event will feature 15 short abstract and experimental films that blend audio and visual elements in a specific type of expression called visual music." For a definition of the concept, check out this article by St. Louis magazine's Stefene Russell, which includes an interview with Keefer and much more background on the NMC event.
Though many of these films are rarely screened outside of museums, film classes, and similar environments, a few can be found on various Internet video sites. And so today, for your viewing and listening enjoyment, we've got online versions of five of the films included in Seeing Sound," plus a sixth clip that isn't on the program but was made by one of the featured filmmakers.
Of course, watching these movies on a small computer monitor or even a big-screen TV is a very different experience from seeing them projected in a theater. And in addition to that fundamental difference, some of the online versions are made from old prints, or have replacement soundtracks. But even so, a few minutes spent watching these clips should provide at least a taste of what the NMC program will be like.
The first film up above is Canadian director Norman McLaren's Dots, a 1940 work that features a soundtrack created by using hand tools to physically inscribe marks on the audio portion of the film stock. The result is something that seems familiar to contemporary viewers, but must have looked and sounded quite trippy 70+ years ago.
Down below is No. 11: Mirror Animations, made as a 16mm film in 1956-57 by Harry Smith. The soundtrack is Thelonious Monk's Mysterioso," and the visuals, which use stop-motion animation of paper cutouts, look like precursors of Terry Gilliam's work for Monty Python's Flying Circus.
The third clip, Lichtspiel - Opus IV, was created in 1925 by German filmmaker Walter Ruttmann. It's the oldest film on the Seeing Sound" program, and one of the first examples of the visual music" genre. (Note that while NMC will screen Ruttmann's original silent version, a soundtrack has been added to this clip.)
Below that, it's New Zealand artist Len Lye's Colour Flight, a 1937 effort that uses music from jazz vibraphonist Red Nichols and the Lecuona Cuban Boys. The fifth clip is Poemfield No. 2 by Stan Vanderbeek and Ken Knowlton, which is from 1966 and features some early computer animation.
The sixth and final film is from another German-born director, Oskar Fischinger, who is represented in the NMC program by several shorts. An Optical Poem, a 1938 work shown that joins animated paper cutouts with Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody," unfortunately isn't one of them, but it does serve as an example of Fischinger's style.
For more about visual music" and the filmmakers included in Seeing Sound," visit the library section of the Center for Visual Music website.