For the fifth, and final, instalment of my blog reviews of this year’s Netmage International Live Media Festival in Bologna I’ve decided to lump two separate ‘performances’ in one post not because there any direct similarities between the audio-visual component of each piece, but because both left me with the same feeling of disengagement and numbness.

The two pieces were

  • Camera Obscura  – Thomas Köner/Jürgen Reble (D)
  • The Room  -Luke Fowler/Keith Rowe/Peter Todd (UK)

Camera Obscura is a film made up of around 25,000 high resolution scans of ‘chemigrams’ in 16mm that Jürgen Reble produced in 1995 for the film Unstable Material. Chemigrams use  photo sensitive paper or, in this case, film. An  an online guide says how  it is possible to create “a controlled chaos with images taking on the appearance of the macro and microcosoms…from a tempest in a teacup to interstellar nebulae, it embodies the process of nature at work”. Two stills from the film are shown above.

The music of Thomas Köner accompanies this evolving sequence of mutating colours and shapes.  Köner is a multidisciplinary artist defined as the pioneer of “isolationist techno” interested in ‘sound colour’ rather than rhythm or melody. The result here are great slabs of dense ambient where the bass frequencies are so low that they pulsate through your body and make the whole room vibrate. The shapes and colours are intriguingly organic at first, but there is little variation and no obvious theme or narrative to sufficiently hold the attention for around 40 minutes.

The Room is about ten minutes shorter but also hard going. It comprises two 16mm films made by two British filmmakers/visual artists, Luke Fowler and Peter Todd,.  Musician Keith Rowe producing ‘live’ accompaniment although ‘Live’ is not really the right word for the music which is so mechanised and lacking any discernible human touch.

The programme speaks of Keith Rowe’s avant-garde guitar improvisations with the group AMM, but his soundtrack to this film doesn’t sound much like guitar music. It is more like Köner’s ‘sound colours’ minus the heavy bass and with a far greater minimalist content . The scrapes and clicks , which I imagine are produced using a prepared guitar,  are so alien and chilly that  the only ‘colours’  that you visualise are varying shades of grey.

You can get a flavour of the piece from this short video clip on Vimeo:

The first version of The Room was presented in 2008 at the Tate Modern in London. This is the fourth presentation of the work,  each time around a new room is added, filmed by either Fowler or Todd. The shots this time are of a bleak flat,  full of clutter.

The room is photographed mainly as an uninhabited space to show what is clinically referred to as “the residue of human activity”.  Near the end we briefly see what we must assume is the producer of  this residue  – a sad and unhealthy middle aged man who from the objects in the room spends most of his time reading

Both these pieces are obviously the result of long and patient labour but this human activity has focused so much on abstract sound and imagery that they discourage any interactive response . They are works that ought to stimulate the senses but, instead,  I found them very soulless and deadening experiences.