Monday, 19 December 2011

Destructural Sound

An entry in the Glossary project

Perhaps inspired by the way a flying trapezist orients himself in the 3-dimensional space of the big top using the balancing mechanisms of his semi-circular canals, it was Nanneman’s belief that movie audiences could be guided through the hidden substructures of a movie by their ears, although in this case through the use of structural sound mapping* rather than endolymphatic stimulation. With every last component of a Redestructivish film chosen from the finite (if massive) selection listed in the Catalogue, it was possible to assign each component (be it a character, a costume, a feeling or whatever) a more or less noticeable sound identity quite aside from any specific functional sound it might be associated with on a narrative level. Thus, an audience member should be able to position himself in relation to a Redestructivish movie’s invisible moral or sartorial or emotional framework at any point during a screening, by triangulating the sound identities of each activated component. It was Nanneman’s claim that, much like the trapezist (or man on the street) whose sense of balance is essentially an automatic process (with conscious attention demanded by the tricky bits), the audience would rarely have to work at recognising these sonically-highlighted substructures, although Hanni suggested that was a slightly optimistic view of how the human mind works.

Nanneman coined the term ‘Destructural Sound’ to refer to a recurring technical fault within this system whereby sounds intended to be ‘structural’ would leak between the materials of a film’s architecture, warping or even demolishing that movie’s substructures even as it unfolded.

For the most part, when this inexplicable glitch occurred, sound identities would jump between components, even between those components that did not feature together in the same scenes; some would become completely detached from their intended components and float freely through a movie without becoming attached to other components; still other sound identities would spontaneously begin to mimic adjacent components creating meshes of unintended meaning, exposing oversimplified versions of unintended undercurrents to anyone who was listening carefully. Hanni reassured Nanneman that such audience members would be few and far between, and that to the casual viewer of these early test movies the Destructural Sound - if noticed at all - would probably be attributed to faulty speakers. Still, Nanneman could only hear these distortions as structural damage and, when a remedy was not forthcoming, he instead opted to recast the defect in a positive light.

Nanneman’s suggestion that a filmmaker using the Catalogue to create a Redestructivish movie might "encourage" the phenomenon of Destructural Sound merely by the (non)-act of not correcting it when it occurred might seem disingenuous. Rather than taking the blame, wasn’t Nanneman attempting to take credit, as conceiver and craftsman, for what was essentially a major fault in the Redestructivish system? Was not his capitalisation of the very term Destructural Sound the equivalent of a car manufacturer trademarking the phrase "break down"?

In fact, the period that Nanneman spent developing sounds and sound systems for the Catalogue was, for him, a deeply troubling time, in which he lost faith in himself as a facilitator and an engineer. He had designed himself into a corner, considered himself professionally stranded and, despite his stated goal of facilitating films that would reassure the nation’s unsettled populace, he perhaps saw in the phenomenon of Destructural Sound an apt and personally comforting structural/aesthetic analogy for his own condition - and by extension a valid artistic mechanism. An audience member trying too hard to navigate the hidden substructures of a Redestructivish movie could now become literally ‘lost’ in it.

Of course, Nanneman eventually worked his way through his sound issues, variously fixing or explaining away or forgetting about the Catalogue’s audio shortcomings, the plain passing of time allowing him to look back on that period as what he might characteristically have called a "forest/trees" situation. All the same, once in the clear Nanneman never returned to confront the "forest" of sound in which he had become so lost: the flaws and their euphemistic labels remained integral to the Redestructivish package. The turmoil that Destructural Sound would have made on the cinema sound system repairs industry had the Catalogue ever progressed beyond the test stage can only be imagined.

*(not to be confused with geographic sound mapping in the films of Francis Dove, whose ever diminishing budgets saw an increasing reliance on sets built from light, fog and upturned boxes and who therefore oriented audiences in his characters’ surroundings through the use of consistent and aggressive soundscaping)

See also: Foley Bleed

Monday, 12 December 2011

Shapes

An entry in the Glossary project

Nanneman’s Catalogue removed the trial of working with actors from the filmmaking process by creating the possibility of generating endless, digitally powered variations on just two pre-recorded performances (those of he and his second wife, Hanni). For a journeyman director like Francis Dove, forced to continue working with real actors and often with little say in the casting process, Nanneman’s reductive approach was understandably appealing:

"Could we postulate that, for those of us who cannot or will not utilise Nanneman's toolkit, there remain two possible approaches to putting an actor on the screen?" asked Dove, in his trade journal column. "The first is ‘acting for the screen’, in which the actor is the screen’s "goon", that is to say they act for and in total deference to the screen. The second, more tiresome method is ‘a screen for the actor’, in which the screen becomes a canvas over which the actor may freely ejaculate his or her deepest needs and instincts safe in the knowledge that none will be wasted, all will be caught and exhibited via the familiar media.

"In the instance of acting for the screen, only a contorted sense of human biophysics is directly referenced: the screen is a two dimensional light show rather than a stage play, and instructions or ‘shapes’ (fine-tuned and categorised through hundreds of hours of laboratory work) are imparted to the actor to carry out without question. (It is a given that such direction is most effective when conveyed with a firmness that borders on cruelty).

"By acknowledging the volition of the players, the screen for the actor method allows a complex but aesthetically arbitrary, exploration of idiocy (the fundamental subject matter of any human-oriented drama). Each actor becomes yet another inlet in the convoluted plumbing of an idea from inspiration to finished screen efflux.

"Thus before embarking on a new project, I always ask myself: can I afford to gamble on the idiocy of my cast? If they unexpectedly turn out perceptive actor-oriented performances of grace and dignity, will I have the resources to fix (break) them? If the answer is No, I get out my big book of shapes.

"Finally, it might be divulged here that actor and screen are both absolutely the goons of sound: this is one of the great secrets of cinema, and sound likes it that way."

Monday, 5 December 2011

Voiceover

An entry in the Glossary project

Ever-cautious about confusing issues of authorship and ownership, Nanneman did not provide a facility for voiceovers within his movie-making kit, claiming that "audiences are wont to recognise the perpetrator of a movie voiceover as the owner of the images and their subsidiary ideas and emotions regardless of the fact that the voice belongs to a fictional character with limited proprietary rights." However, it did not take long for his city council colleagues to find a 'cheat': a specific combination of one of the shyest character types placed into a busy set (where they would inevitably recede behind other visual matter) and pumped full of third-person dialogue. It appeared, when this cheat was being used, that a voiceover was being read by some unseen, all-seeing character when in fact this effect was achieved by specifically generating a self-effacing character with a high intuition level-setting. A cruder version of this cheat, known as a "feelings voiceover", involved partially-hidden characters screaming, grunting or verbalising emotions in sympathy with the surrounding images: Nanneman was not impressed, pointing out that there were plenty of pure feelings to choose from within the Catalogue without having to resort to ambiguous vocal effects.

Unusually, Nanneman was in agreement with Francis Dove concerning the rejection of voiceover, albeit for different reasons. In his (apparently ad lib) narration of an educational video on the history of film, an increasingly distressed-sounding Dove offers the theory that voiceover is first experienced as the third-person narration of one’s own development i.e. as a baby listening to one's parents; that this early exposure to voiceover is an over-clinical yet disorienting affair following the abstract aural experience of womb life; and that indeed, should we choose to go back that far, it all goes downhill after one's respective gametes are rocked by the soundwaves of pleasure or relief that accompany the procreative act. Three-fifths of the way through the same educational video, just after describing Harley Byrne’s notorious documentary Girls of Unfortunate Climes*, Dove declares the voiceover "dead", himself remaining silent for the rest of the programme apart from the occasional faint chewing sound.

Aside from his pathological distrust of certainty - which he identified as a recurrent yet undesirable characteristic of the movie voiceover - Dove had several recent examples of the voiceover-in-breakdown to inspire this moratorium. In Harris Metcalf's Clockwork Film it quickly becomes clear from the way they move that the supporting characters, as the result of a technical fault, can hear the hero's voiceover, though not make out the words he's saying - only cadence and timbre. Their actions become an involuntary dance to an obscure song whose near synchronization with the unfolding events (which the voiceover of course describes) occurs to them as a déjà vu. Metcalf attempted to improve on his "mechanically-generated" filmmaking technique with Clockwork II, but this time the hero - who is retrospectively narrating the images in which he appears - runs out of things to say mid-way through. The on-screen action slows to a halt and, to fill the time, our screen-hero himself starts to dance, accompanied intermittently by the rather amateurish beat-boxing attempts of his narrator alter-ego. After a while, the screen-hero runs out of moves and sits down for the rest of the movie, while the other characters develop a subplot.

Witness also Nola Luna IV's Takashi From End To End, the unauthorised feature-length biopic of her eponymous ex-boyfriend, in which Luna herself provides the "narration": the off-screen parroting of Takashi's every spoken line with sounds like "muh" and "mur" pronounced in what is undoubtedly neither her own natural voice nor a strictly accurate impersonation of Takashi himself.

*(in which Byrne's authoritative narration, rewriting events in his own voice, was committed to tape in apparent denial of the trauma of having been imprisoned and tortured by the feral teens he was documenting; a digital stutter on surviving copies seems, however, to express through technical fault that which Byrne was unwilling or unable to acknowledge in the text.)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Screams

An entry in the Glossary project

As a former trapezist who had swung and dangled voicelessly over the abyss night after night and year after year to the gasps and cheers of audiences, Nanneman really had no idea what a scream was for, or even whether anyone actually did scream outside of the movies. Understanding, however, that the "woman's scream" was an essential part of the filmmaker's toolbox, he set Hanni the task of compiling a library of "one or two dozen" recorded screams in a variety of styles and meanings to be used by the Catalogue's computer-generated characters in appropriate situations.

It seems that Hanni already had a source in mind for the recordings: Serafina Kustra, a "scream musician" of sorts, a folk hero in a binary age whose live performances people would travel from far away to witness. Kustra had previously achieved mild fame fronting a band whose entire repertoire had consisted of songs built around repetition of the band's name and lyrics extolling the group's merits in very general terms: perhaps her messianic appeal as a solo artist can be attributed to the simplification and emotional inversion of this approach. Hanni, idolizing Kustra for reasons she never publicly articulated, offered the vocalist a not inconsiderable sum from the Catalogue project's unofficial city council fund, rationalising the gesture to Nanneman by suggesting he himself could provide the male screams at a cut rate. It is unclear why Nanneman failed to nip this plan in the bud given the expense and his desire to distance himself from the scream-cataloguing process, but perhaps he sensed that the issue was important to Hanni.

(Nanneman was not the only filmmaker of the time to be squeamish about vociferation. Jobbing director Francis Dove, who would generally work with scripts imposed on him by producers, kept a list of alternative non-linguistic utterances with which to replace a scripted scream on set. Dove acknowledged that a written scream is usually structurally important, with its removal potentially undermining a moment of climax or catharsis. However, he discovered that the straight replacement of such a scream with (for example) a laugh, a sigh, a raspberry or snort, would enable him to maintain the structure of the written scene while destabilizing its underlying assumptions. If, having filmed such a substitution, he found that a scene no longer worked, it was not uncommon for Dove to edit the vociferation and even the actress out of the entire scene, leaving murderers stabbing at thin air, rabid beasts howling at dumb walls and in one case the spontaneous materialisation of a pink, wet newborn on the back seat of a moving taxi.)

In the event, Serafina Kustra turned down the job of providing the Catalogue's screams, refuting in no uncertain terms the idea that her vocal style had anything to do with screaming, and taking deep offence at the suggestion that a selection of her most intimate and heartfelt vocal performances might be defined, categorized and donated to computer-generated movie characters. Respecting this position, Hanni instead recorded and labelled 144 wildly varying screams of her own, and finally cajoled Nanneman into providing one single scream for men, although it was recommended in the small print that the latter never be used.

See also: Whoops; Yells

Monday, 10 October 2011

Indirection

An entry in the Glossary project

The deliberate withholding of audio or visual information, usually by obscuring it with other matter (sound, set) or out of frame or hearing range, but with its properties hinted at by that information which remains. For example, the physical goings-on in a foggy sauna may only be suggested by the screams of unseen participants, the facial expressions of a foregrounded attendant or the peculiar movement of the steam.

Nanneman’s guide to the appropriate use of indirection is here paraphrased in lieu of his original text:
What you know that you can’t see makes what you can see hilarious; what you don’t know that you can’t see doesn’t bother you. What you suspect is being hidden from you makes you resentful towards a movie, while the showing of that which needn’t have been shown provokes disdain. The revelation of that which was previously hidden brings catharsis, the hiding of that which was previously visible brings disorientation. Summed up: while its excessive or insensitive use may compromise the intended effect on a movie’s audience, indirection can be a great boon to the filmmaker on a budget.
See also: Implicit, the

Monday, 3 October 2011

Dissolutionary Cinematograph

An entry in the Glossary project

A somewhat teleological contraption utilising a highly reactive film stock concocted by Nanneman while he waited for the Council to redeploy him following the crossing patrol debacle. The frames of a film are lined up face to face in a dissolutionary cinematograph, rather than end to end. The first thing the audience sees projected is a complete picture: the image simplifies as the frames disintegrate sequentially on contact with air, often telling a story in reverse. Movement, whatever the narrative trajectory, becomes synonymous with decay. In the cleverest compositions, visual elements from the final frames show through the preceding frames, playing different parts throughout as they are juxtaposed with shorter-lived visual matter, before themselves being fully revealed and dissolving.

Synchronising any meaningful sound with such films proved impossible; however, Nanneman mentions in the Catalogue how he encouraged Hanni (with whom he was not yet romantically involved) to incorporate the ambient sounds of the kitchen and the street beyond into her appreciation of each unique screening, and paraphrases her response that this approach to soundtrack "made a crushing sort of sense". They would be married before the year was out. He did not pursue the project after he was reassigned to the Town Hall; he did not save any of his dissolving films for posterity; it has never been comprehensively proven whether or not Nanneman’s invention was ‘intentional’ or the fluke result of a period of intensive pottering.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Plug-in

An entry in the Glossary project

The concept of the plug-in in relation to the work of Nanneman and his contemporaries can be a confusing one, as various filmmakers of that era used the term to refer to different, albeit interrelated, concepts.

Nanneman used the term in asides to refer to third-party components that were incompatible with those provided within his Catalogue, i.e. any that weren’t included in it. Whether his use of the term indicated that he hoped that, some day, developments might allow for third-party components to be plugged-in to his own, or whether it intentionally evoked the negative connotations associated with electrical current since the (then still recent) scares in order to discourage such piggybacking, is not known. The implication in his contemporaries’ references to "Nanneman’s cross-eyed sockets" suggests they believed the former: that the idealist Nanneman wanted his components to be compatible with those built by others, but that however open his source, no-one else could make head or tail of it. (see also Operating System)

Harris Metcalf was, like Nanneman, interested in using the latest technological innovations to maintain a standard quality across his work. For him, a plug-in was a neural augmentation device that could be literally "plugged-in" to an actor’s nervous system to influence his or her technique. Safety issues aside, the main drawback to the Metcalfian plug-in was that the technology was not yet sufficiently advanced that it could actually improve the actor’s performance, but only degrade it to a given setting or crudely accentuate pre-existing attributes. Metcalf told a court:

"It is only by using my reductive plug-in method that you can ensure unity across the performance of your entire cast. In a sense, it is a lowest common denominator approach, as it ensures that no-one performs any better than your worst actor. In certain circumstances you may prefer to use plug-ins to highlight the performance of a key cast member, so that the entire cast is levelled out with a basic performance-quality plug-in, but the hero also runs a charisma augmentation plug-in parallel to this. Or, if a certain subsection of your cast are representing characters with non-British accents, they might use a common application to ensure their accents are no worse or better than each other, whist running the same core acting-method plug-in as those playing the British. It is a question of performance resolution: it is no good one actor being clear and another all grainy."

The notoriously fickle Nola Luna IV, whose technique during her brief digital period was to video each actor separately and then digitally composite the performances in post-production, used the term to refer to the removal and replacement of entire screen elements long after a film had been finished and had its first release: "By the time it comes to re-release a movie, the main actor may have lost his or her public appeal, through an unfortunate child abuse case or the disfigurement that comes with a bio-chemical assault, for example. When your actors weren’t actually interacting with each other or any of the digital props, sets or noises, how easy now to simply unplug the unwelcome actor from the original edit and clip on today’s hot thing. The same can be done with props and locations, for example a stick of carrot or memory can replace a cigarette, or a lovely garden replace an urban site that has since tactlessly associated itself with some terrorist atrocity or architectural hiccup."

Friday, 23 September 2011

Nola Luna IV

An entry in the Glossary project

A filmmaker and contemporary of Nanneman, Nola Luna IV’s style was openly trashy - although she preferred to term her films ‘entertainments’ or ‘invigorations’: the opening line of her only (unpublished) novel reads "They both loved industry, and hated abstract films about the aesthetics of industry." She was not always that way, however: her graduation film was a dense, disorienting piece titled A Running Race For Those Who Hate Music.

Luna was the great-great-grandaughter of the real-life historical figure of the same name, who was represented in the UNIVERSAL EAR episode A Flea Orchestra In Your Ear (portrayed by Briony O'Callaghan in the 2010 premake, below). Of Romanian descent, Luna IV lived her whole life in Manchester but only dated the Japanese.

Selected filmography: Furniture Of The Parasite, I Yearn For Yen (a.k.a. This Bastard Is Greedy), Lunatic Jeweller, This Isn’t Goodbye It’s Goodbyeeeee, Wh-what Are The Rules?, Witness To A Prang

Monday, 19 September 2011

Eyeline

An entry in the Glossary project

Questioned as to why it was so difficult to create the correct eyelines when lining up Catalogue-generated characters in dialogue scenes - from shot to shot and even within the same frame - Nanneman responded that of the 65, 536 character templates that his system had generated, it so happened that the majority of them turned out to be of a type that finds it difficult to maintain eye contact. Careful study of the sample scenes has indeed shown that in a large proportion of apparently mismatched eyelines, the characters portrayed are in fact very accurately looking at fluff on the other’s shoulder, the toes of their own boots, or a door handle in the background. Eyeline discrepancies between characters and objects were far rarer and can mainly be attributed to shortsighted or confused characters.

cf. The films of Harris Metcalf, who liberated the representation of eyes from the realm of physical realism, used eyeline angle as an expressionist device and whose characters’ unseeing eyes only ever met by accident.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Intern's Palette, The

An entry in the Glossary project

Having hunted, indexed and categorized his (revised) target of 16, 384 colours, Nanneman set the work experience boy the task of creating full back-stories for each hue. Given the vigour with which the unnamed teen took to his work, he must either have believed Nanneman’s lie-by-omission that the project was a genuine City Council task passed on by colleagues tired just by the scale of the project, or been enthusiastic and quite stupid as many of the happier of people are, or, as is most likely, some of Nanneman’s quixotic fervour rubbed off on him. Whatever way around, it was some feat for him to complete, as he did, biographies several pages long for each of precisely 256 colours in the two weeks before he was obliged to return to school. There are indications that Nanneman was all the same disappointed at the tiny dent made in the full spectrum of redestructivish colours and, given that his superiors refused him custody of any further work experience students, progress on further colour back-stories was sporadic. The work experience boy’s accomplishment stands therefore as the largest fully-documented colour range in the Catalogue, and it is from the informal name that this collection became known by that the phrase "the intern’s palette" passed into popular use to indicate a naïve and incomplete glimpse of a utopian new system within the breakaway department of an immoveable institution.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Character Type

An entry in the Glossary project

Nanneman was pressured, during a washroom encounter with his line manager, to keep to the latter's list of "16 character types (17 for an art-house film)" when designing the character-generating feature of his filmmaking kit. So as not to jeopardise the continued asssembly of the Catalogue - which had already been vetoed from above and which his line manager, having stumbled upon Nanneman's misuse of city council lab space by mistake, was by turns tolerating and interfering with - Nanneman ostensibly integrated his superior's list, but reduced each of the 16 broad 'types' to its key trait and generated 65,536 new character types by exploiting every possible combination of those qualities. (He excluded the arty 17th type for obvious reasons). The psychological complexity of these new redestructivish archetypes meant that Nanneman was able to create distinct imprints of every one of them using just two actors: himself and his second wife*. Every time one of these intricately designed algorithms was given a new name, wardrobe, haircut and surroundings he or she became a unique character (excepting the improbable eventuality of another filmmaker happening to choose the same type, name and look and putting this ‘new’ character into the same situation).

It is not known which 16 traits Nanneman divined from his line manager's original types, but we do know that he excluded any 'opposites' which might have cancelled each other out. Instead, Nanneman assumed that certain traits - e.g. faith - are an a priori human characteristic so included only their opposite - e.g. incredulity - amongst the 16 potential attributes: if a character lacked any one of the 16 'nurtured' traits he was assumed to have its opposite through nature. Whilst Nanneman acknowledged that such opposites don't always exist in pure dichotomy but on a sliding scale, he considered such nuances to be uncommon and irrelevant to the cinematic representation of human nature, certainly in a time when audiences needed reassurance, not speculation. In the circus and in the civil service, it had tended to be Nanneman's experience that people were one thing or another, and any apparent gradation in between usually boiled down to a case of deception or illness. Hanni, charged with finding "8 good rules" with which to shape the Nannemans' performanced blueprints of the thousands of archetypes Volodymyr had created, briefly looked into the old social networking websites, and discovered that everything Nanneman had suggested about human nature was more or less true. However, in response to the publication of Francis Dove's misanthropic Undepth In Real People And Those Who Believe They’re Real, Nanneman relented, creating a set of digital faders for the adjustment of the archetypes' character trait level-settings, allowing access to the middle ground between opposing traits. The knobs on the interface were all the same deliberately designed "stubborn" to discourage their use.

On discovering the zealous manner in which his underling had misinterpreted his original instructions, Nanneman’s line manager is said to have remarked that, the Nannemans having between them taken the time to create 65,536 characters, perhaps the unremittingly earnest Volodymyr should, from then on, himself be referred to as "Character Zero".

*(we know from his tattoos that she was called Hanni)

Monday, 29 August 2011

Sounds

An entry in the Glossary project

On learning that all complex sounds have as their basic unit or building block the 'sine wave', Nanneman was enticed by a city council colleague into purchasing a "bundle" of sine waves with which he intended to construct the Catalogue's sound library. Although a conscientious canteen assistant intervened in the sale, Nanneman was evidently wounded by the attempted fraud as, rather than building his sounds bottom-up, he now stated his intention to carve them from pre-existing noise. (He played down this change in approach, commenting that it "[made] sense given that we’re at the noisy end" - though whether he was referring to the "noisy end" of creation at which point any naturally occurring pure tones had surely already been merged into complex sounds or to his Town Hall lab at the comparably noisy John Dalton Street end of Manchester's Albert Square is not clear).

In fact, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that, in the event, Nanneman assembled his various sounds any which way he could: bottom-up, top-down, cobbled together, found, stolen, hummed etc. His contemporaries, however, could only speculate about the process, which was hidden from them by the temporary suspension of an interlaced membrane of tarpaulin around Nanneman’s lab, covering walls, ceiling, windows and doors and through which only the initiated might find their way before becoming consumed with panic. The purpose of the tarpaulin was and remains a case for speculation: was it hung, for example, to soundproof the lab, to replicate the circus tents of Nanneman's youth for his own comfort, or to replicate same in order to create the familiar sense of aural 'interiority' he required for his sounds? There was even talk at the time of his using the tarpaulin as a sheath to contain such emissions as might occur as a by-product of his attempts to identify and harness the "smell waves" which, so his colleagues had it, Nanneman was far more familiar with than the sonic variety and which he might therefore be attempting to synaesthesiatize into more manageable sounds using such digital alchemy as was at his service. The chief result of the tarpaulin, whether intentional or not, was then to have kept the precise materials used to generate the 131,072 discrete audio files* that comprised the Catalogue's sound bank a secret.

Each sound had the qualities of being both familiar, in having been sculpted from pre-existing noise, and disorienting for having been chosen and categorised according to Nanneman's own lonely agenda. Furthermore, as he neglected to provide compatible tools (EQ, reverb) with which to modulate these sounds according to the contexts in which they appeared, any given sound would at each occurrence sound identical to its previous use. Thus the single noise created, for example, to represent a mobile phone hitting the floor, would sound nothing like that particular event might sound in reality, yet 'rang true' through some obscure chain of association (the audience would 'get it' without quite knowing why): and should several mobile phones hit several floors in several acoustic spaces over the course of the same movie they would all sound exactly the same. Any effort to place the sound in its environment or to differentiate each event from its predecessor would have to take place in the audience's own minds. An over-used sound, lacking environmental nuance, would effectively fade with use in the passive moviegoer's mind in the same way that we gradually blank out supraliminal awareness of any repetitive alert that contains no new information. Nanneman had inadvertently hit on a way of degenerating a digital signal in a manner comparable to the degradation in quality of successive generations of tape-recording or photocopying, albeit in this case at the receiver-end. Sound engineers were reported to be "astonished and dismayed" and Nanneman himself was never satisfied with his accomplishments in the field of sound. "If only," he wrote in one of many unfiled reports to his seniors, "there hadn’t been something fishy about that sine wave deal".

*(including silences, but not ambience, dialogue or music)

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Mossley, As In A Dream

Home movie from a ramble around the hills of Mossley, April 2010, shot on expired AGFA Moviechrome, slowed down but otherwise un-edited.

I really wanted to experiment with sound design on my home movies but the Institute's steam-powered editing chambers aren't currently up to anything beyond sticking a sound file and a video file together and waiting to see if the old Macintosh engine gives out. So instead I shamelessly lifted Delia Derbyshire & Barry Bermange's The Dreams: Land piece from 1964, which seems to create a few interesting juxtapositions and, you know, keeps their work alive.

If anyone would care to add their own soundtrack I will happily provide the video file and reward them with an over-familiar pat on the shoulder upon completion of the work.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Colour Hunt

An entry in the Glossary project
As a young trapezist, not only was Nanneman's training restricted to the technical matters of physical fitness, aerialist technique and rope drill, but even his leisure time was policed against his pursuing any interest in the frills of his trade: music, costume, colour. Naturally, being forbidden from involving himself in what his superiors termed the "realm of the frivolous" only made those glimpses he caught of it more exotic, more unsettling - and more dangerous: music came to hold secret, incendiary meanings, and the unpredictable modulation of shirt colour in the audience, from performance to performance and even moment to moment, was fully capable of disorienting him as he swung, should he ever have let his concentration lapse (that he never dropped might be considered a fluke of disposition).

Years later, then, when he began to compile his standardized filmmaking kit, he had at least two good reasons for creating a reductive colour system - specifically, categorized palettes of up to 256 colours with the facility to utilise only one such set per individual movie: firstly, that the complexity of the colour aspect of his filmmaking system should not exceed his own limited understanding of that domain; and secondly, that it was his goal to facilitate the making of "reassuring" films, and only by control, by unity of colour, could he preclude the unbalancing effect he assumed that audiences had continued to suffer across what he considered to be the largely undisciplined history of the colour movie.

Perhaps it is this perceived autonomy of colour, then, its wildness-in-need-of-taming, that inspired Nanneman to term his city-wide colour sampling expeditions "Colour Hunts". Certainly there is evidence that these spontaneous adventures tended to be embarked upon during periods of professional stress and frustration - that the sheer thrill of unearthing and capturing a feral hue was accompanied by a sense of regained control proportionate to the borderline chromatophobia of Nanneman's aerialist youth. A comment scribbled on the back of the only known photograph (now lost) of such a hunt even suggests that the catharsis and primal satisfaction ("flush!") that came with the successful capture of a desired hue was entirely justified even if that hue was not in motion: whilst capturing a moving colour might seem the greater sport, the hunter himself is always in motion (in an ocular sense at the very least) and, in an uncontrolled environment, the movement of light provides an irregular and unpredictable ("fiendish") dynamic camouflage for a static ("cowering") hue. No colour comes cheap.

Although he did take others on the hunts (including Hanni, and the occasional jobseeker who wandered into the lab having taken the wrong direction on their way to the Town Hall's temporary JSA bureau), it was Nanneman who bagged the great majority of the 16,384 colours that eventually formed the full redestructivish palette. It is not known whether his decision to name and provide full back-stories for each shade was motivated by a desire to honour his fallen quarry or was rooted in aesthetic concerns. Neither is it known whether his decision to outsource most of this written work to others is an example of his personal predilection (through conditioning?) for practical work or an unwillingness to stare any longer than was absolutely necessary into the soul of any individual colour.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The revolution isn't finished - it's at home watching TV

The revolution in Manchester lasted barely three days, but it gripped the nation’s undernourished imagination and laid the groundwork for a new utopia founded on tolerance, economic equality and cha-cha-cha. I was there - or nearby - and this is my testimony.

Tuesday 9th August, 2011

Manchester erupts in a frenzy of erotic wanting and violent taking as the disaffected, the dispossessed and the dizzy plunder city centre shops of plasma TVs, training shoes and ‘high-end’ gadgets. Listening in on the wireless, I experience a sense of liberation at the thought of the ordinary, ordered folk of Britain turning on their heels and telling the powers that be: "you say it’s like that, but we say it’s like this." I am particularly inspired by a live report on looting at the Argos, where enterprising rioters have instinctively split into four teams and are working together to obtain the objects of their desire, one team filling in the little order forms, a second processing them, a third team fetching the loot from the storeroom and the final team operating the collections desk. Of course, no money changes hands, but several of the youths involved find the work so enjoyable that they naively leave their CVs behind upon leaving. Before the night is out, they will be arrested, tried and jailed.

Switching off the radio to instead mentally map the chaos by the direction of passing sirens, my mind starts to wander: those first few successful revolutionaries will already be home by now, wiring up their plasma TVs. But is there ever anything on? And besides, aren’t these front room monoliths in fact the inherently exploitative cornerstones of the very capitalist pseudo-democracy we’re up in arms against, pumping out constant reminders of what else we don’t have and why the system to perhaps, eventually, get it all, works? Destroying our environment and our hard work as they break down at a time pre-allotted according to the standard practice of planned obsolescence? And the warrantee isn’t even valid when you stole the telly in the first place.

These thoughts prey on my mind, and it is while I am cooking my tea that I decide to become a revolutionary leader. Seeking encouragement, I text my mum (neither of us has a Blackberry):

This is me: Viva la revolución!

This is my mum: O.K. xx

Wednesday 10th August, 2011

All night I dream of shooting men in top hats, garrotting bankers with the strings of their own squash rackets and laughing freely but seriously in forest idylls with lank-haired revolutionettes. When one’s very dreams are shaped by the presumption and disinformation of the media one should not sleep in. I rise early and head into town to confront and inspire my people, but most of the other revolutionaries rise late, no doubt tired by a night of rioting and phone-in Bingo on the wide-screen.

An early blow is dealt to the revolution when David Cameron appears on TV to calm the nation and disparage the rioters. Several revolutionaries, seeing our glorious P.M. in high definition for the first time, immediately repent and break back into the very shops they’d previously looted in order to return their plasma TVs and ‘high-end’ gadgets. They are quickly arrested, tried and jailed.

I identify a small band of revolutionaries in Piccadilly Gardens and make myself known to them. I have deliberately not shaved so as to be taken seriously. Robbing the tools of our own oppression, I tell them, has to stop. By stealing such status symbols, we highlight the arbitrary retail value of the desired items and so reinforce our own economic subservience. One of the revolutionaries starts crying and his sister takes him home. I am pleased my words have had an impact but disconcerted when I see a ‘fed’ who has been listening in gives me a nod of approval.

I break for lunch, gazing around the shopping centre at capitalism’s last stand as the red burrito juice of revolt drips down my chin and onto my overcoat.

Despite the electric atmosphere of a town where everyone’s waiting for the punchline, the insurgency fails to materialise. The word on the jealously guarded screens of our communication devices is that it’s "too rainy" and that many of the revolutionaries would prefer to stay in with their new plasma TVs. There are some skirmishes around 10pm when they pop out to loot some snacks but all in all it is a quiet day for the revolution.

Like many of those who returned empty-handed from the previous night’s riots, I start to wonder if maybe I waited too long to move and somebody else got all the best ideology.

Thursday 11th August, 2011

I rise late having stayed up trying to subvert all manifestations of the mass media as found in my digs. I short-circuited my radio in the sink (partly by accident) but had less success with my record collection. You can’t detourn Cugat - he’s just too good.

The last of the sirens fades into the distance. The morning is spent drawing up plans for the new world order, although to be honest my heart is no longer in it. Most ideas are either self-defeating or too long-term to really get excited about. I settle on the following four-step revolution:

1. Wait for new model of plasma TV to come out. Mobilise comrades by exploiting their desires.

2. Hold pre-riot meeting (new tie?). "This time we won’t steal plasma TVs, we’ll steal MediaCityUK."

3. Non-violent, non-burny revolution.

4. Some kind of lengthy mass indoctrination process for revs and counter-revs alike. Elimination of mutual suspicion, one-upmanship, fetishisation of luxury goods, bourgeois post-industrial concepts of "quality", and television gameshows; and the propagation of mutual respect and empathy, selflessness, slowing down a bit, art as leisure, leisure as art, robot slaves and Cugat.

As I now have no means of following the aftermath of the first, failed revolution, I pop over to the paper shop to buy an MEN. The shopkeeper is in good spirits, boasting about the deterrent power of our "vigilant community": I tell him that "one man’s vigilant community is another man’s vigilante community" but he doesn’t seem to appreciate the nuance and I pick up a TVTimes to change the subject.

The MEN predictably tows the counter-rev line, mocking the revolutionaries for not fully understanding the nature of their own misery and condemning them for rioting in a confusing and ungentlemanly fashion. I mention this to a neighbour as she wheels in her recycling bins, and she sagely replies, "let he who has never lashed out irrationally due to a lifelong build-up of undefined frustration cast the first stone." She is immediately arrested, tried and jailed for incitement to riot.

(In other news, privileged NatWest customers are invited to buy a £12 ticket to a promotional screening of the latest Anne Hathaway flick at Heaton Park. It is not clear where the big screen came from. Bring a picnic. Bring your friends.)

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

6.92 Billion Portraits: an ongoing side-project

Having been dispatched to Valencia, Bucharest and Poitiers last Autumn to represent L'Institute Zoom at screenings of our short film It's Nick's Birthday, I decided that rather than clog the Institute's archive with further shambolically improvised Super-8 travelogues I would instead set myself the task of exhaustively documenting the people and places I encounted in a series of 10-second audio-visual portraits.


"Circumstances" (wine, time, cowardice) prevailed and I was only able to take three portraits in Valencia, three in Bucharest and none at all in Poitiers. Thus, to preserve my own dignity I have adjusted the terms of the project so that this handful of films should now be considered the first batch in my ongoing task of creating a portrait for every living person on Earth - which, day to day fluctuations in world population figures notwithstanding, should eventually account for around 6.92 billion of us.


Below are the first six, the inaugural portrait subject remaining anonymous as an exercise in legend-making. The remaining 6,199,999,994 will appear here in reverse-chronological order as they are produced. Whilst the basic tenets of the portrait-taking process will remain consistent, I sincerely hope my technical skills show some improvement as the millions and billions pass.


Please contact me to arrange your sitting ASAP.



SUBJECT: Anon
LOCATION: Valencia
DATE: 20.11.2010



SUBJECT: C.L.
LOCATION: Valencia
DATE: 20.11.2010



SUBJECT: C.M.
LOCATION: Valencia
DATE: 20.11.2010



SUBJECT: S.M.
LOCATION: Bucharest
DATE: 26.11.2010



SUBJECT: A.S.
LOCATION: Bucharest
DATE: 26.11.2010



SUBJECT: A.B.
LOCATION: Bucharest
DATE: 26.11.2010

Monday, 8 August 2011

Current

An entry in the Glossary project

The flow of a movie; the synergy of its components as experienced in time; the essence of a movie’s movieness. The nagging meta-question, beyond language, theme or character, to be resolved or at least defused. That which each aspect of the movie strives to generate. A term chosen by Nanneman to repudiate the primacy of narrative, which even in a narrative movie should be working for the movie rather than vice versa. (Other commentators referring to other films may refer to ‘story’ or ‘plot’ when really they mean - or would be doing better to address - ‘current’.)

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Monday, 1 August 2011

New Deal For Audiences, A

An entry in the Glossary project

Mentioned in the Catalogue only in passing, Francis Dove’s A New Deal For Audiences manifesto was written in response to his ongoing inability to break out of TV and into cinema: every time he was offered a shot at fully expressing his vision with a feature-length, the dismal commercial and critical response would force him back to another decade or more of frustration and barely-noticed small screen subversion.

Dove printed thousands of copies of his manifesto (rather than the millions or billions it would surely take to make the necessary adjustments to the world’s movie audience) and took the fight to the front line, intending to picket Friday night screenings of contemporary box office hits but retiring mid-way through the trailers on his first night, quoted as complaining that "the problem with audiences is, they’re just people."


"A New Deal For Audiences

Hello. You can call me Frank. Even my mother doesn’t call me Frank. But my wife does. I am the one who makes the films. You are the one who watches them. I thought we might come to an agreement:

1. Just bear with me on this.

2. You are the centre of the universe.

3. That doesn’t make you special. It doesn’t free you of responsibility.

4. You won’t have to interact. You won’t even have to stand anywhere that you’ll feel self-conscious. But you will have to think now and then, to the extent of questioning what you know and unlearning how you watch.

5. Don’t be threatened by the unusual. I’m not doing it to hurt you or make you feel stupid, though I can’t speak for my colleagues.

6. Include the environmental factors of your screening situation (sounds, objects, light, seating, smell and people) as fully part of the film you’re watching. Accept that I put them all there on purpose.

7. The best filmmaker makes a film that requires no prior knowledge of its own or any other terms.

8. The best audience accepts a movie on that movie’s terms, whether it conforms to the previous statement or not, learning those terms if necessary whilst watching them and afterwards on the bus.

9. Some of my colleagues are responsible for making academic films. Their collective filmographies represent a conversation between academics. Others stick to a basic grammar that by itself stultifies the content and furthermore, in extension of this laziness, tend to pile the grammar clumsily on top of itself until it comes crashing down on you. They still get their point across. A third sect play it vernacular. Some of these are the academics in disguise, some are still lazier grammarians and the worthwhile ones you’ll have to search energetically to find. And even then it’s a risk if you’re on a date.

10. My duty remains, however personal, cerebral or experimental a film should be, to make you at the very least go "Yeah!" and ideally to make you want to hug yourself and those around you. The nature of the hug may vary from film to film and you will have to police the situation yourself.

11. About toilet breaks: I can’t stop you. Why not try taking the characters in with you?

12. Story is essential to the human animal, but the idea of what story is has been monopolised by our oppressors. Don’t feel you have to look for "A Story" - just be ready to absorb "some story". If you need your hits delivered at pre-defined intervals, get yourself a drugs problem.

13. About realism: the visible world is all around you. The cinema is about illuminating the invisible. You trust and worship the realists because, in photographing the natural world, approximating its everyday occurrences and hiding the artifice, they appear to be honest and serious. It takes no effort to go along with because it looks just like the outside. It is a greater and more rewarding leap of faith to give oneself up to ostentatious artificiality. Artificialists use the language of lies to search for coded truths. Your nightmares are the only important issue. Come on - you’re sophisticated enough now to at least play along with us. And laugh the earnest cavemen out of the cinema.

14. If you’re scared of looking silly in front of your friends, then you’re scared of life - and that may be because you have the wrong friends. Take it from someone who’s scared of life.

15. Really, if you’re not going to try, you may as well have a nap. It’s cheaper for you and saves me having to see that look on your face.

16. This isn’t an argument I’m trying to win. It is an understanding I am trying to reach.

Thanks for reading.

Yours faithfully,

Francis Dove. (Frank)."


This was just the first of several such manifestos of greater or lesser, mostly lesser, effect.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Dove, Francis

An entry in the Glossary project

When, on the advice of his soon-to-be collaborator Harley Byrne, the TV director Francis Dove had his wife permanently committed to an amnesiacs’ hospice, it was Dove who was left with the memories. In his attempts to monumentalise them, he chipped, sanded and warped these memories into the clunky, quite explicitly falsified stage sets of his own personal history; watched helplessly as the scenes that he replayed again and again in his mind became smooth-edged mythologies, lore without nuance.

Dove’s work began to take on the same clunky, mechanical nature: in over-defining the respective elements of his screen works, he was being sarcastic about certainty. This approach found an appropriate outlet in his cinematic serialisation of Byrne’s music-hunting memoirs, UNIVERSAL EAR. As with the compression and digital archiving of music, Dove sought to reduce, simplify and vacuum-pack the various physical and sonic aspects that the EAR scripts detailed. Yet these elements, although coldly configured in mutual isolation, were selected for their tactile, flawed, organic nature. It is this disparity between the cleanness of their juxtaposition and the imperfection of their individual states that Dove used to humanise the scientific, to devalue the authority of human logic and to dismiss - or ridicule - any definitive reading of the text.

Dove stated that his simplified caricatures of Byrne’s real-life experiences were the most complete picture that it was ethical to provide, however far that may have wandered from any ideal of naturalism: that the real movie did not occur on the screen, but in the eyes, ears and brains of the audience, where it would crystallize as a new memory before crumbling away into the recesses of the mind.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Mnemonic Control Effect

An entry in the Glossary project

Nanneman was not the first to hypothesize that films 'help' us by contextualising our experiences: that they interact with our memories, coaxing them into bolder relief that we might explore and understand them more fully. By standardising the basic materials that the state's filmmakers had to work with, however, Nanneman’s Catalogue created for the first time the possibility of an aesthetic and moral continuity across these filmmakers' output, providing a more consistent context in which the audience might analyse their inner worlds. This 'control' effect - the provision of a scientific standard of comparison - would not only have been useful during the viewing of any given redestructivish movie, but also later on when that movie itself became a memory. The human mind would be able to categorize these remembered movies more easily due to their consistency of appearance: had Nanneman's characters, colours and sounds been adopted as industry standard, the problem of wondering whether a memory was your own or stolen from a film you’d seen would have been phased out as memories of pre-Catalogue movies faded away.

Nanneman referred to this process in the Catalogue and in arguments as Mnemonic Control Effect.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Temporary Musical Lexicon no.1

An entry in the Glossary project

Over the course of one working day, Nanneman showed a movie scene to eight city council colleagues (Respondents A-H) in turn, asking each of them what meaning they thought the accompanying musical soundtrack was intended to convey. The eight answered respectively:

A. Apprehension
B. The secret presence of a third character (possibly an antagonist) within the scene
C. Resentment
D. Hunger
E. That one or both of the (visible) characters has an unspoken crush on the other
F. Some kind of alert regarding the main character’s bank account
G. Boredom
H. Sleepiness

The scene and its score had been identical for each viewer.

This was the first of a series of experiments designed by Nanneman to prove to his colleagues that the film score is, in its most familiar form, obscene: undisciplined, insular, a casual insult from the composer to the other technical departments of the conventional film set.

As music has no meaning outside of itself - is merely abstract sound selected or generated and organised according to taste - Nanneman postulated that to translate it into something meaningful for the purposes of a film score would require the invention and imposition of an internally consistent musical lexicon. Thus, for test purposes he invented a language of 1024 musical sounds with arbitrarily chosen but specific meanings, which could be combined polyphonically to either express that which isn’t otherwise manifest in a given scene or to reinforce that which is. He re-scored the sample scene from this new palette, and played it again to his test group. This time, the eight guinea pigs respectively understood the music as intended to evoke the following:

A. Terror
B. The secret presence of a third character (definitely an antagonist) within the scene
C. Resignation
D. Nausea
E. Sexual chemistry
F. The main character is ruined and will find out shortly in humiliating circumstances
G. Resentment
H. Sleepiness

For Nanneman, although the results lacked the consistency he sought, the fact that the respondents’ reactions had moved in broadly the same direction was encouraging. He speculated that for the consistency of his musical lexicon to take full effect, the test group would have to sit through several examples of its use so as to be able to infer meanings through context and repetition, as we do with any language: to hear a single theme in isolation means nothing by itself. Unfortunately, it appears that middle-management had by now grown wise to Nanneman’s misuse of his colleagues’ time, as several of the latter declared themselves unavailable for the next round of tests. In order to sustain the legitimacy of the experiment, he wrote up detailed character profiles of the absentees and asked Hanni to step in for them and answer as she believed they would. This time, the test scene was, for each respondent, preceded by an hour of preliminary scenes, each scored from Nanneman’s 1024-sound musical idiolect in order to familiarise them with its terms. Unfortunately, it is not known how many or which of the original eight guinea pigs Hanni stood in for. The meanings inferred were as follows:

A. Perplexity
B. The secret presence of a third character (possibly a gangster, and even if not that would be a good idea) within the scene
C. Perplexity
D. Perplexity
E. Erotic love
F. Perplexity
G. Sleepiness
H. Perplexity

These results represented a stunning vindication for Nanneman, and if the meaning his score was intended to convey could not yet be universally understood, he considered a degree of ambiguity to be forgivable - otherwise one might as well print the meaning of a score across the screen in plain letters. Discarding Temporary Musical Lexicon no.1, Nanneman now began work on a variety of automated composing systems for creating music of integrity, anchored scientifically to a movie’s fundamental qualities, internally consistent, and no longer obsessed with telling its own senseless story.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Subtext

An entry in the Glossary project

A supplementary screenplay explaining those unspoken or unacted but more or less important plot devices not made manifest in a movie’s shooting script. Nanneman made mandatory the provision of the subtext as a digital file available for display as sub- (dialogue) and super- (action) titles during the exhibition of any film made with the Catalogue’s components.

Not to be confused with the Implicit.

Implicit, The

An entry in the Glossary project

In its redestructivish sense, the Implicit is the inverse of Visual Matter or, to put it another way, the essence that fills the holes in the mise-en-scene.

Nanneman stated that although the Implicit was intangible and existed only as an unambiguous natural force that would come into being between any two or more of his components once activated, there would still be a small fee applicable for its use. Hanni took to referring to this fee as a "subtext tax", although Nanneman discouraged her use of this term as it just confused things. The Implicit was an aesthetic side-effect which, whilst unavoidable, could hardly be considered vital to any movie, while the subtext was an essential structural tool which Nanneman suggested had been, since the birth of cinema, "screenwriting’s dark little secret".

For Francis Dove, Nanneman's idea of the Implicit was too weighted and specific. The gaps between screen presences were "less, even, than essence". While visual matter could be used to contextualise (not define) the nothingness that it framed, that was not the same as making this nothingness something itself. From this perspective, Dove's use of ostentatiously artificial sets, props and performances as a moving architecture of absence can be considered an acknowledgement of the futility of artistic pursuit against the dumb mystery of the universe. His contemporaries alternately labelled Dove’s work as "clunkyist" or "nothingist" depending on the part of the screen to which they were referring: he might more accurately have been described as a nothingist wrapped up in a clunkyist (as a filmmaker) or vice versa (in his day-to-day life).

Dove’s creative partner Harley Byrne, who had enormous respect for Nanneman as a thinker (but not as a man), countered that "just because the unknowable isn’t defined, doesn’t mean we’re unsure what it is," though it is possible that Dove wasn’t listening.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Contract

An entry in the Glossary project

Nanneman issued Hanni and himself "contracts" for the creation of each redestructivish component: these contracts might otherwise be described as briefs, designs or scripts, but Nanneman’s preferred term (apparently arrived at without much in the way of forethought) indicates his ongoing need for discipline, and quite possibly an unconscious desire to add a sense of legitimacy to the pursuance of a project which had, after lengthy discussions both formal and otherwise, been vetoed by his superiors at the city council, and which Hanni and he were pressing ahead with anyway using city resources and apparently in a spirit of blinkered ignorance rather than insurrectionary defiance.

These contracts ran into the tens and possibly hundreds of thousands, ranging from single-word exhortations to individual sentences, statements and questions, scientific diagrams, abstract doodles, 3D structures made from paper clips and/or plasticine and often posed as questions, excerpts, cuttings, recorded conversations (with or without Hanni), knowing looks, mutual assumptions, the physical manipulation of Hanni’s and/or his own body, but - strangely - no collage, and each in the tone of absolute seriousness that characterized at least the public face of the Nannemans’ marriage.