We spoke to the individuals behind the fascinating audio/visual offering hitting Bristol’s Arnolfini this week
The Visionary Kingdom season at Bristol’s Arnolfini hosts the UK premier of Her Ghost, a live audio/ visual performance based on the story of French filmmaker Chris Marker’s culturally significant 1962 sci-fi film-photo-essay La Jetée. It’s an audio-visual collaboration between Hyperdub label boss Kode9 and Berlin based visual artist collective MFO, who’ve also provided visuals for the likes for Bristol leftfield dub producer Roly Porter. An academic performer going by the name of Mrs Haptic has recorded a voiceover that retells the film’s narrative from the female perspective, a twist likely to stimulate debate about gender constructs and power structures in cinema.
Set in a post-apocalyptic society, La Jetée tells the story of a prisoner of war haunted by a childhood memory of witnessing a death at an airport platform and an obsession with a woman he recalls being present at the scene. His jailers nominate him for a time travel experiment in which he is sent back and forth between the past and future like a time-refugee in an attempt to save the present. It’s 50 years since the initial release of La Jetée, and with our vision of the future becoming increasingly dystopian alongside the modern cultural obsession with revising the past, La Jetée feels as conceptually relevant as ever.
When Crack spoke to Steve Goodman (Kode9), he explained how Marker’s work has been a major influence, “There’s a book by Catherine Lupton about Chris Marker’s work called Memories of the Future, and that’s where I got the title for myself and Spaceape’s first album. Conceptually, La Jetée has certainly been an influence, so anyone who’s been interested by the concepts behind our two albums will be able to engage with the film.” Although Her Ghost is rooted around the narrative, the tones of Kode9’s soundtrack interact with MFO’s visuals so that it fluctuates in tone and rhythm. “We rewrote the script so it functions as a spine around which the visuals and soundtrack hang”, Goodman explains. “So within this framework there is quite a lot of scope for improvisation. I have a palate of sounds for each scene, and really I just mix them together, fling them at the screen and watch them drip across its surface differently every time.”
Alastair Cameron, Visionary Kingdom’s curator, admits feeling a sense of apprehension about this collective’s deconstruction of such a seminal work, but tells us that experiencing the performance at Montreal’s forward-thinking Mutek festival left him stunned. “When I heard about the project, I thought it was pretty ambitious to do anything new with La Jetée, since it’s pretty much a set text for anyone interested in ideas around experimental cinema. So I found myself getting quite nervous before I first saw the performance. But Her Ghost isn’t just a re-make of Marker, but a completely new work that exists in parallel to the original. The performance sees a key figure from the world of club music doing something conceptual with a visual artist collective who are behind so many of the best visual/musical collaborations I’ve seen recently.”
So visually, how does MFO’s photomontage for Her Ghost differ from Marker’s original? “Each shot in Her Ghost is based on one image from La Jetée but these images are extended; the focus goes into details, images are fragmented, some even destroyed”, MFO’s Lucy Benson told us. “All the pictures are transformed, estranged and mutated. There are visual impressions that are triggered in an aggressively high speed. In conjunction with similar moments in the sound, this creates a tension, sometimes unpleasant, sometimes absorbing. The intense moments oscillate between the calm moments, so I’d say the result is that Her Ghost has a higher dynamic range than La Jetée. Her Ghost has a similar rhythm, but with a higher amplitude.”
Kode9’s involvement with Her Ghost could generate curiosity amongst Hyperdub’s audience, the listeners of underground dance culture who are excited by genre fragmentation and the disintegration of boundaries between club based music and electronic ambience. The Visionary Kingdom season will also bring A/V sets to the Arnolfini from the likes of Raine and Emptyset, dauntlessly experimental producers who explore sounds that are distantly evocative of techno. We ask Alastair Cameron if he’s inviting club goers to engage with the essence of rave culture in an unconventional setting. “I really value the collective euphoria that comes from late night experiences of dance music played through big sound systems. But equally, I think that there’s another current in sound system music that’s to do with the idea of dread and dominance, a different kind of ecstasy that results from the sound system physically taking over the space and the listener, demanding submission. It’s something that Steve Goodman/Kode9 discusses in his book Sonic Warfare.”
“With artists like Raime and Emptyset, I think they’re working in this mode. I don’t think that dancing is necessarily the only response to this music, even if its continuing threads are present in club scenarios. Even though ‘noise’ music comes from a different tradition, the two kind of meet in the idea of paying to be willingly battered into submission. This is physicality, but just of a different kind.”
The UK premiere of Her Ghost is at Bristol’s Arnolfini on November 1st. The Visionary Kingdom series continues through the weekend. For more information, visit http://www.arnolfini.org.uk
Words: David Reed