A version of Spectrum was published in 2012, on the pre-issue of Archivo
Spectrum at the Family Film Project, September 27, 2012. Passos Manuel, Porto, Portugal
Afternoon rehearsal of the Spectrum performance. This take has the sound of Miguel Pipa’s electronics alone.
In the evening he was joined by Miguel Ramos (bass) and Angélica Vasquez (harp).
Full sequence 33′ 5′
Diaporama starts at 3′ 30”
Spectrum, part 1, ESMAE Porto, May 8, 2011
Cesário Alves: slide manipulation and projection
Miguel Pipa: sound creation
Estúdio Fotografia Adriano: portraits (1930-32), Vila do Conde Municipal Archive, Portugal
SPECTRUM is an experiment of painting with light and sound. The visual material is mostly 35 mm slide reproductions of 1930’s album photographs (a portfolio from the popular photographic studio Adriano of Vila do Conde, Portugal), mixed with abstract graphics and colours from fragments of film strips, projected onto a canvas by the manipulation of 3 slide projectors and black cardboard masks. The variations of light and color interacts with the soundscapes created by Miguel Pipa’s bent FM radios, toys and instruments. In this experiment, we are discovering the possibilities of interaction of light and color with sounds from analog devices, a search for the unexpected trough improvisation.
University of Derby, June 17th, 2011
Live performance includes:
Vinyl recording of Dvorak’s SYNPHONY NO. 5 IN E MINOR, OP. 95 ‘FROM THE NEW WORLD’, London Synphony Orchestra conducted by Leopold Ludvig, an Everest Recording, The World Record Club LTD
Recording of Miguel Ramos electric bass improvisation in ESMAE, Porto, May 8, 2011
Brief description of ‘Train of Shadows’ (‘Tren de Sombras’, Spain, 1997), by José Luis Guérin, and how it influenced my way of thinking about photography and film
The first seconds of ‘Train of Shadows’ tell the viewer about the sudden disappearance of amateur film maker Gérard Fleury, a lawyer in Paris, after a stroll to capture the morning light on lake Le Thuit in Normandy, France, November 8, 1930.
A scrolling text continues to explain that before his death, Gérard Fleury had made what was considered his last domestic production. This black and white ‘found’ footage, faint and scratched, at times reduced to almost transparent film substrate with unrecognisable abstract forms of chemical destruction and silver remnants, irreversibly damaged by humidity and poor conservation, is now restored and presented. The spectator is led to believe that this is a real account and is witnessing a true amateur footage.
After these scenes of family pleasure times, ‘Train of Shadows’ goes on to show contemporary Normandy in color in a documentary style, slowly bringing to the frame the landscape and the house depicted in Fleury’s old footage. The camera leads the viewer through the house, revealing carefully represented details of the architecture, furniture and all sorts of objects, including framed photographs, convincingly aged like the black and white footage that introduced the film. Slowly, characters seen before in black and white come to life in full color and the viewer becomes more aware of the interplay between fictional and documentary reality.
The sound design and soundtrack play a very important role in conducting the viewer in this carefully constructed mischief. A solo piano, sounding just like a 30’s live performance for a silent movie, conducts the viewer through a melancholic time travel that helps to give the silent black and white footage an intimate feel. Then, live contemporary sound brings the viewer to a recognisable contemporary reality. Further into the narrative, the technical sounds and images of film manipulation and projection emerge as a kind of attempt to de-construct or re-construct a story in the black and white footage (an attempt at solving the mystery of the lawyer’s death). This helps to create an idea of the film dealing with real life memories. An orchestral soundtrack and silence precisely fit in certain moments also contribute to creating a cinematic atmosphere of expectation and desire, mixed with sounds of film sliding through fingers, film reels, projectors shutters at full speed indicating that ‘Train of Shadows’ deals with filmmaking, film history and film materials.
After watching a screening of the film for the first time I let myself be transported into some kind of dimension where fiction and reality intersect, and wanted to suspend disbelief for as long as possible. A careful look though, reveals everything in the film is carefully constructed, acted, framed, masterfully painted with light and sound, and edited like a song, with a deliberate use of repetition.
I actually had the chance to talk to José Luis Guérin concerning his methods to achieve the look of the old footage in ‘Train of Shadows’. He revealed that this footage made to look like it was recovered from an obscure archive was actually shot in contemporary film, destroyed chemically, manually frame by frame.
35 mm superimposed triple projection (reharsal for the performance)
This knowledge and experience of ‘Train of Shadows’ was seminal in the birth of the SPECTRUM project, reflected in the method of chemical destruction used in the family portraits, core of the performance’s image projection, an appropriation of 1930’s photographs from Vila do Conde (Portugal) public archive of the old photography studio Adriano.
SPECTRUM was intended as an essay on appropriation of found film material and historical archive photographs but the project became possible only when a few conditions came together coincidently: the focus on historical photographic materials and access to Vila do Conde public Archive; a desire to experiment with the projected image and the relative abundance of 35 mm projectors and still available film and processing labs; the possibility of involving a musician/composer in the creation of a soundtrack for the projection, amplifying the technological and aesthetics scope of a performance of this sort.
In many years of compulsive but dispersed personal photographic activity, driven by a passion for the medium technical and artistic potential, i was compelled to see, study and collect old photographs and related technical artefacts. In the mid 90’s I witnessed the oldest photography studio in Vila do Conde come to an end, after Carlos Adriano, the last photographer in the family became old and seriously ill. Being close to Carlos Adriano and his studio in their last days allowed me to contact with an extensive estate of photography materials spanning around 100 years of history. This event led to a growth in my awareness of the need to protect and study these historical photographs and a fascination for the signs and marks accumulated superficially by photographic materials, that reflect the inevitable effect of constant chemical change over long periods of time.
35 mm superimposed triple projection (reharsal for the performance)
For the main sequence of photographs in SPECTRUM, a few of the portraits found in the oldest albums of printed photographs of Adriano’s photographic studio (1930, 1931 and 1932) were selected. The selection is quite random and subjective, I kept in mind only that I would like to represent the diversity of people in the portraits by generation and genre and let myself be captivated by any kind of detail in the pictures that appealed to me personally.
After photographic reproduction onto 35 mm positive film, the pictures were submitted manually to a process of chemical destruction which has removed from the positive film most of the layers of dies, leaving only the cyan as a vibrant dominant color with different intensities. The selection of the portraits is an ongoing process, as everything really is in this project. Through successive projection and observation of the material, a narrative is slowly emerging, demanding a certain organisation and connection with the other visual elements introduced: leftovers from cinema reels and fragments of rejected film, with a variety of colours to counterpoint with the dominant blue/cyan of the portraits. These framed bits of coloured transparencies, already old and eroded, at times subject of montage and/or collage with other materials, become film matter, light, color and texture to add and subtract to the portraits, like paint.
Sound creation came into play after the decision of experimenting with the projection of these images. Miguel Pipa’s musical range is very diverse, blending fully analog instruments of his own creation with found sound devices and modified musical toys but also pure digital processing. To this project he brought sounds recorded in audio tapes to be played live in actual vintage tape players, revealing its unique kind of sound. The photographs have also suggested the making of field recordings of a wide range of subjects, from natural climatic events to machines in full motion, even the live capture of fm radio signals is incorporated live, with some risk. The result is a tapestry of sounds with a melancholic tone that emerges from experimentation, research, intuition and improvisation.
A fragment of a rehearsal of SPECTRUM
Audio samples from Miguel Pipa’s sound can be heard here:
Spectrum was presented at the Digital Hibridity + Sounds in Space conference, University of Derby, UK., 2011