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Film Scratches: Synergy of the Eye and Ear – The Visual Music Films of Jing Wang and Harvey Goldman (2013-2015)

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Film Scratches focuses on the world of experimental and avant-garde film, especially as practiced by individual artists. It features a mixture of reviews, interviews, and essays.

A Review by David Finkelstein.

In Jing Wang’s musical score for Passaddhi, the nine-minute visual music short she created with visual artist Harvey Goldman, we hear a wailing melody in the distance, heavy with reverb and echoes, almost like a gate swinging in the wind in a lonely, desolate place. Her music is not particularly concerned with melodic or rhythmic development, but is built from blocks of sound, like sonic sculpture. Surging clusters of sustained tones from brass and string instruments, electronically enhanced, surge forth and recede into the silence, creating a landscape of strange, iridescent sounds.

Goldman’s animation (created after the music), like the best examples of the visual music genre, is a direct response to the sound, and in fact his images help the viewer to hear the sound in much more precise detail. The background is a milky, murky field, rather like marble seen through milk. Forms like wisps of smoke appear and disappear, matching the tone clusters coming from the silence. Just like real smoke, sometimes these forms appear to have an almost mathematical structure, like an undulating spider’s web. When Wang’s music becomes much more jittery and rhythmically active, these forms begin to dance and dart around, as if we are looking at a colony of microscopic organisms.

The images are startlingly beautiful to look at. Goldman composes them with a sense of restraint, so that they compliment and enhance what we are hearing, without ever overwhelming the sounds. Goldman and Wang show us how eyes and ears, working in tandem, can synergistically create a whole which is greater than the sum of the parts.

GoldmanSideIn the case of Enigma, a four-minute collaboration between Wang and Goldman, the visuals were composed first, and the music was made in response. Goldman wrote that this abstract film was inspired by the Enigma Machine, the German encryption device used during WWII. The images do seem to show a patterned, coded world, but the patterns, cell-like shapes swimming fluidly, seem more biological. Long strips and ovals open and close, revealing and hiding these patterns from a black background. The restrained color palette of the film is mostly black and white, with occasional accents of blue and turquoise.

The relationship between image and music is much looser in this film, and there are rarely sonic events which are precisely keyed to visual events. Wang’s electronic score does have a similar feeling of patterned sounds, irregularly and surprisingly surging out of the background of silence. Melting bell sounds crash over sounds which could be a wooden house collapsing. Blips and bleeps seem to be broadcasting hidden messages out of the ether.

The looser collaboration in Enigma, where music and image share a tone, a texture, and a feeling – rather than a note-by-note correspondence – offer the viewer a more enigmatic experience, a glimpse into a tantalizing space where information continually appears and breaks up again, teasing the eye, the ear, and the mind.

David Finkelstein is a filmmaker, musician, and critic. For more information on Film Scratches, or to submit an experimental film for review, contact lakeivan@earthlink.net.

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