FILM: On Screen/Sound 6 @ EMPAC at RPI, 11/4/15

Lis Rhodes’ “Light Music" @ EMPAC (photo:  Jeff Nania)
Lis Rhodes’ “Light Music” @ EMPAC (photo: Jeff Nania)

Review and photographs by Jeff Nania

The latest installment of EMPAC’s On Screen/Sound series continued its exploration into interesting and unique connections between film and sound last week with two pieces composed entirely for light. Lis Rhodes’ “Light Music,” and Henning Lohner and John Cage’s collaborative piece “One11 and 103” were both screened.

Notably, “Light Music” was the only piece of the entire On Screen/Sound series to be presented in Studio One with standing room only because it is meant to be experienced in an environmental space. Old school film projectors sat on the floor on either side of the room and sputtered at each other through a theatrical haze as they projected onto opposing screens. The visual images were black and white patterns printed onto the celluloid film and then read as both visual and audio information, so that what you see is also what you hear. It makes for a bath of early computer and videogame-esque sounds. Because of the haze that filled the room you could see this happening throughout the airspace as well.

At first people just stood around on either side of the beams from the projectors, but as the piece went on folks seemed more inclined to experiment with walking across the beams of light or making any number of shadow figures. At one point the projected lines were going horizontal on half of the screen like an upper case E, and on the other half of the screen there was nothing. Somebody walked into the beam of light and stood so that it looked like he was leaning against the block of lines with one foot propped up on it. Alternately, one woman repeatedly approached the middle of the beams and did yoga moves which made for interesting shadows.

There was a brief intermission for some snacks and conversation, and then the group made its way into the concert hall for “One11 and 103,” John Cage’s only feature-length film, which was finished in 1992 – the year of his death.

The piece is essentially a series of lighting cues that go off without any apparent meaning aside from what you, the viewer, may bring to them. The lights were set to an orchestral piece which was classic Cage.

There seemed to be a never-ending drone from the orchestra with punctuations by various instruments throughout the performance. There was always this sense that something was about to happen, and in a way something was always happening, and yet nothing was also happening. There was no overarching story or theme here. Things would simply continue to unfold, spots of light would shine brightly and build until they took up half the screen, and then wipe across. Little flashes of light would rise and fall quickly.

At times the drone of the orchestra would be so soft that it would lull you into a state of near-sleep with just the dull rumble of a timpani holding you onto consciousness until a gong or a high pitched violin emerged in the forefront of the musical texture, and your eyes opened to reveal a bright white light with a sheet of black peeling across.

Preceding the Cage performance, curator Argeo Ascani mentioned that there might be times when you felt like you couldn’t take any more and had to leave, and he urged viewers to wait it out for a few more moments because that would typically be the time when something interesting would unfold. Sure enough, a few folks left during the performance, but for those who made it to the end of the film, there was a champagne toast and plenty to talk about.

Henning Lohner and John Cage: One11 and 103 (film still)
Henning Lohner and John Cage: One11 and 103 (film still)
Lis Rhodes: “Light Music"  (photo:  Jeff Nania)
Lis Rhodes: “Light Music” (photo: Jeff Nania)
Lis Rhodes’ “Light Music" @ EMPAC (photo:  Jeff Nania)
Lis Rhodes’ “Light Music” @ EMPAC (photo: Jeff Nania)
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