Monday, 25 January 2016

Norman McLaren & Len Lye

Norman McLaren

An earlier pioneer of abstract film making, McLaren painted directly onto film, which can be seen below in the documentary clip Linked. Different-shaped marks arranged in sequential patterns on film strips were translated directly into sounds. These worked alongside painted visuals, which were also produced directly onto the film reel. In the latest Sonification exhibition I will be taking part in an event in which one of my paintings will be digitally translated into sound waves in a process that echos this early practice.

Throughout his career, McLaren explored the relationships between sound, line, pattern and colour. The relationship between these elements appears as the primary focus of his extensive body of work. McLaren said that: “One of the principle advantages of abstract film is that you can stimulate and provoke the spectator's emotions with a fascinating gamut of movements - rapid, calm, precipitous, majestic.” In Begone Dull Care, McLaren’s handmade expressive visuals were used to complement Oscar Peterson’s Jazz score. The improvised nature of jazz being mirrored in McLaren’s own organic, expressive use of line and colour.

Using hand-drawn or hands-on processes, his work has a primacy, which I feel my own work can sometimes lose when taken into the digital. Complex in nature, his works often feature many different passages that work to accentuate the close relationships of these elements. Each passage acts as a movement within a wider symphony. However, the timeframes are much more compressed and immediate and the boarders between these sections are more like transitions than defined breaks.

While he could be described as an abstract filmmaker, figurative elements play throughout his works, with abstract marks or shapes sometimes moving in humanistic ways, before breaking back into the purely abstract. In the work Synchromy the hand-drawn marks are replaced with abstract geometric shapes. This work appears as a mechanical experiment in which McLaren was exploring how colour and shape could create a pictorial vocabulary that could be effectively translated into accompanying sound. Each stripe represented a note, with groups of these stripes forming chords that could more easily translate into recognisable music for the audience.

In early experiments fusing sound and visuals, I struggled to effectively link the two. Timing sound and visuals to respond in a coherent fashion in AfterEffect was at first a painstaking process but one with which I had started to get to grips. Here in McLaren’s work, visuals are commonly directly converted into or read as sound, insuring harmony between the two elements. If sound goes on to feature in my new work I will look to investigate technologies in which Sonification can be more directly achieved.

Link to Begone dull care

Link to Pen Point Discussion, documentry clip showing McLarens working process.

Link to 'Pas de Deux' (1968)

Link to 'A phantasy in colours' (1949)

Link to 'Spook sport' (1940)

Link to 'Synchromy' (1971)

Len Lye

Len Lye originally trained as a painter and Sculptor at the Canterbury College of Art in New Zealand. Moving to Britain in 1926 he stopped off in Australia on route. His subsequent discovery of Aboriginal imagery and colour palettes influenced his work through the ensuing decades. Lye was first to develop the technique of drawing directly onto filmstrips, which other artists such as Norman McLaren would later adopt. As well as pioneering the developments in abstract film, Lye was also known for his kinetic sculptures, which he would develop throughout his career.

Lye's first use of the abstract in film was to accompany a recorded conversation. Abstraction of form and colour was intended to suggest the emotional response/feelings of the unseen speakers. From here he went on to experiment by directly painting abstract forms onto the surface of the film reel, cutting this with sound footage to accompany a verse from Shakespeare's The Tempest.

A Colour Box (1935) was a seminal work for Lye. Here, his visuals on the filmstrip directly reacted to markers of sonic interest, which had been placed along its length. Painter Paul Nash commented on Lye's work:

"Len Lye conceives of colour film as a direct vehicle for colour sensation.... Lye believes, as I do, that he holds in his hands a real power for legitimate popular entertainment. A new form of enjoyment quite independent of literary reference; the simple, direct visual-aural contact of colour and sound through the eye and ear. Colour sensation."

In this quote, Nash is discussing the new art form of abstract moving image and sound that Lye was developing, however, when he describes it as 'free of literary reference' I see in this a description of all abstract art.

Lye was quick to take advantage of technological developments, although his use of processes were often unorthodox as he sought to push the boundaries of what was possible. In Rainbow Dance (1936) the new process of Technicolor was used to intensify colour sensations. A pioneer of ideas and processes, Lye was a great example of how an experimental approach could lead to new discoveries. While I am a fan of his work, for me, the image itself rather than rhythm and movement is the primary concern. The quick responsive directness of changes in his visuals act as a counterpoint to my own approach, which is to slow the filmic process down, allowing the viewer longer to consider each image.

Link to Rainbow Dance

Link to A Colour Box

Link to Free Radicals (1958)

Despite stressing I intend to slow the process of animation I did try experimenting speeding a clip up in Adobe Premier, below is the result of this experiment. I quickly decided this was not a route I would take further, If I decided to develop work with this kind of speed then other techniques such as stop-frame drawings akin to those of Nicholas Hutcheson would be more appropriate.

LLOYD EVANS - Lodge fast cut from Lloyd Evans on Vimeo.

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