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Douglas Gordon’s TV Installation at SFMOMA (San Francisco)

The title to Douglas Gordon‘s exhibit currently at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art — Pretty Much Every Film and Video Work from about 1992 until Now — could mistakenly give the impression that it’s a single compression, a montage, of elements of various moving-image works by various creators from the past five years.

In fact, the works in question are all Gordon’s own, and they’re displayed (as shown, above, in an image from the sfmoma.org website’s exhibition page), not as a constant stream but as an installation, a darkened and nearly silent room full of monitors of varying sizes, some equipped with headphones.

Of course, a sizable percentage of Gordon’s work is built from elements of pre-existing films, like the one where he sets two copies of the famous “You talkin’ to me” scene from Taxi Driver beside each other as mirror images, so it appears that Robert De Niro (as Travis Bickle) is talking to himself, not that he wasn’t already.

But Gordon’s film memory reaches much further back than 1992, deep into the film noir of the 1940s. And the audio part of the audio-visual pairing plays a substantial role in his work, which is why much of his productivity overlaps with sound art. Music and sound are often on his mind, as many of the works in the exhibit evidence, the following in particular. Douglas Gordon: Pretty Much Every Film and Video Work from about 1992 until Now runs Saturday, October 27, 2007, through Sunday, February 24, 2008.

  • “Feature Film” (1999): This is, for me, having just visited SFMOMA this holiday weekend, the highlight of the Douglas Gordon show. The soundtrack to the piece is Bernard Herrmann’s score to the Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo, but the image is not of the film itself. It’s a carefully edited series of close-ups of the hands and face of James Conlon as he conducts the score — thus, we hear the music that accompanies tensions with which we are all familiar, but the images are entirely removed from any sense of horror. That the Conlon clips match the familiar music so well further removes the score from its original context. The work finds a strong corollary in Manon de Boer’s Bartók video, “Perfect Sound” (2006), currently at P.S.1 in Queens, and which I wrote about earlier this week (disquiet.com). In “Perfect Sound,” we hear a violinist playing a Bartók piece, but only the video clip of the performance divulges that the recording was, in fact, stitched together from several run-throughs. Much video art takes the sound component for granted. Both “Feature Film” and “Perfect Sound” take it as their subject.
  • “Bootleg (Big Mouth)” (1995): This consists of slowed-down concert footage of the Smiths, silent. It complements Gordon’s “Feature Film” by focusing the audience on half of the original; pop stars rendered mute often look like they’re in intense pain.
  • “Bootleg (Cramped)” (1996): Slowed-down concert footage of the Cramps, silent.
  • “Bootleg (Stoned)” (1996): Slowed-down concert footage of the Rolling Stones, silent.
  • “24 hour Psycho” (1993): Gordon has slowed down the 110-minute film until it takes a little over 24 hours to play in full. It brings to mind Andy Warhol’s 1964 eight-hour film Empire State Building (footage of which serves as raw material for another Gordon work on display here), and also recent slowed-down performance pieces, such as Leif Inge’s “9 Beet Stretch,” which stretches Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 until it takes a full day to hear in its entirety.
  • “Douglas Gordon Sings ‘The Best of Lou Reed & the Velvet Underground’ (for Bas Jan Ader)'” (1993) — similar to the Phil Collins’s work “The World Won’t Listen” (2005), in which people in Turkey are heard singing along with recordings of the Smiths, a parallel emphasized by the “Bootleg (Big Mouth)” mentioned above. The Bas Jan Ader of the title is an early Dutch conceptual artist.
  • “Remote Viewing 13.05.94 (Horror Movie)” (1995): The background of a brief scene from the 1945 film Leave Her to Heaven has been separated from its original context and set on loop. The image is of a row boat afloat in a river; the sound is reportedly of radio static. For some reason, despite the role of sound in this piece, the monitor at SFMOMA was not equipped with headphones.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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