Film: Trance'd be a fine thing

The cutting edges of dance music and film clashed last Thursday on the South Bank. Fruitful engagement or mere self-indulgence? By Chris Darke
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The Independent Culture
Advertised as "a night of avant-garde film and new music", Score filled the Queen Elizabeth Hall with an unlikely congregation: part bobble- hatted, cutting-edge dance-music crowd, part hard-core cinephiles. DJ and master remixer Andrew Weatherall performed with Keith Tenniswood as Two Lone Swordsmen, accompanying the American experimentalist Hugo Young's 1952 watery abstract film Bells of Atlantis. He described the musical modus operandi that, one suspects, lay behind a lot of the work: "What you get in the end is the sound of two blokes who are very, very stoned having a good time in front of a video."

Thankfully, solipsistic electronic noodlings were not the order of the evening. Rather, the musical experimentalists demonstrated an imaginative engagement with their brief of being soundtrack composers for a night. As Deli, Ashley Bates and Simon Rowe provided a highly cinematic score for Maya Deren's 1943 classic of black-and-white American surrealism, Meshes of the Afternoon. Combining the skittery blurting of drum-and-bass rhythms with washes of ambient sound and guitars, Deli also added sound effects to accentuate the film's dreamy, menacing eroticism. Performing live as Wishmountain, Matthew Herbert accompanied Jan Svankmajer's 1969 Czech Surrealist shenanigans A Quiet Week in the House like a foley artist. Whether rustling newspaper pages for the sound of a pigeon trapped in a room or slurping through a tube, Herbert's performance was an effective on-stage counterpart to the onscreen action.

Organised by Sight and Sound magazine and The Arts Council of England, the interesting thing about Score was its implicit acknowledgement that avant-garde film is the chief repository of the visual techniques that advertising and music video depend upon. It was a kind of cross-cultural history lesson then, with a sense of the experimental thrown in by three of the five acts playing live. Score might also be seen as exploring the question of what it means to be avant-garde these days. In Britain, music is the most variegated, truly experimental of the all the artistic forms.

Far more so than film. But this is to downplay the fact that experimental film-makers, when not using musical forms to guide their practice, have traditionally had players accompany public performances of their works.

The encounter between "classical" avant-garde film and current musical experimentalism worked best when the trance elements of both forms were bought to the fore. Simon Gotel and Andrew Sherriff, collaborating live as bio.com, provided a mesmerising soundtrack to Norman McLaren's 1968 Pas de deux. Two classical dancers, silhouetted with rear lighting against a black backdrop and filmed in varieties of multiple exposures, become abstracted into liquid parabolas of light and movement. As Slab, Lol Hammond and Nina Walsh lent Kenneth Anger's 1950 black-and-white avant-kitsch Rabbit's Moon an appealing edge of B-movie camp with Walsh picking out a walking guitar line within the dance beats.

My only reservation about Score was that it appeared that the films were projected in video blow-up, which seems a bit cheap of the BFI. But the overall idea was an excellent one well executed. With the flourishing London film-club scene, and the obvious vitality of experimental dance music, it would be good to see a Score 2 give present-day experimental film-makers their place in a sound-and-vision clash with their techno collaborators.

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