Ecstasy Trilogy

Here are three ambient movies that I put online recently, each of them about 30 minutes long: “Mouse Pointer Feedback Ecstasy”, “Arboreal Ecstasy”, “Symmetric Jellyfish Ecstasy”. Wow, 90 minutes of ecstasy?

Ecstasy is not something we usually encounter in our daily lives, and different people have very different ideas about what it is. I just saw that Wikipedia has three different definitions!

The effect of the videos on the observer will vary, but all of them slow down time like the motion of liquid in lava lamps, or like Marian Zazeela’s extremely slow ornamental videos to La Monte Young’s drone music.

For the MTV generation that is used to very fast and hectic cuts, this will be unbearable to watch ­čÖé

1. Mouse Pointer Feedback Ecstasy


I used a toy microscope and filmed the microscope output on the screen – I pointed the microscope to its own images. This creates a video feedback loop, resulting in all sorts of effects. Because nothing much happens when filming an empty screen, resulting in more of nothing, I chose to film the mouse pointer from very close. Some postprocessing was applied (mainly, slowing down). The music is ambient music that I played on synthesizers and tape delays, back in the mid-eighties.

2. Arboreal Ecstasy


This was the first video designed to use as a backdrop for Georgina Brett‘s set on my livelooping festival from last April. I filmed these trees out of my car while driving through forests in Washington and Northern California (usually, Sabine was driving and I held the camera). Postprocessing: Slowing down and some motion blur, and a mirror effect at the bottom of the video, to take out the street that was visible in the original. The mirror creates a nice effect that looks like a reflection on water.

I chose Georgina’s piece Leanate as soundtrack for this, and I slowed it down considerably using Paulstretch. Then two weeks before the festival it turned out that someone else had also planned to use trees for a backdrop video, so I dropped this, and created something new for Georgina:

3. Symmetrical Jellyfish Ecstasy


I had filmed these amazing creatures in an aquarium in Oregon. Postprocessing included slowing down, changing the colors, and introducing symmetry. The music I chose for this imagery consisted of a loop I had created a while ago (I have forgotten in the meantime how I did it); during the piece, several instances of this loop, running at different speeds, get superimposed.

Georgina’s gorgeous set with the jellyfish video behind her can be watched here.

2011: A Livelooping Weekend

This was the weekend of the 2nd international Livelooping Festival in Cologne – I had organized the first one almost 3 years ago, and for various reasons I felt it was time to do another one.

I wish more liveloopers would organize such a festival. It doesn’t have to be a mammoth, several-days-70-loopers festival such as Rick Walker’s festivals in Santa Cruz (which he now has stopped doing because it kept him busy for months). This Cologne festival presented 10 acts again (this time, 9 soloists and 1 trio) and so was small in comparison. Many people seem to think that it is very difficult or lots of work to do that, but in fact, it is not so much work, but lots of fun, especially if one chooses nice loop musicians and everything turns out to be a success. It helped a lot that the cultural office of Cologne and the culture trust of the Cologne-Bonn Sparkasse bank sponsored me again to an extent that allowed me to hire people who did sound, videotaping, video projection, photography, and other support work.

Cologne Loopfestival 2011
Cologne Loopfestival 2011 / Image (c) Alan Jaras

Some of the loopers stayed in hotels, but Georgina Brett, Per Boysen, and the boys from Darkroom stayed at our house.

The day of the festival was very warm and sunny … good for us at first, so we could hang out on the terrace in the morning … of course in the evening, there were less people in the audience than we had expected because some of them had preferred a lazy evening in a beer garden over hours of difficult music in the darkened hall of the Loft …


Setting up was less chaotic than one could expect with 12 musicians and tons of electronics all squeezed together on a few square meters. Then Thomas Elbern started with his Twilight Worldz guitar drones, followed by Uwe Schumacher (who I knew from two concerts in his church based KlangSpielRaum) and his world music influenced improvisations on bass, percussion, and voice …


Patty Stucki sang, played synths and saxophones, and transported the audience into other worlds …

… before I entered the stage with my guitar and delivered several quite multifaceted pieces of music, some of which were successful (i.e. came out similar to my plans) and some didn’t. Oh well. I am still learning!

Sjaak Overgaauw had been inspired by the first Cologne loopfestival to create his own annual festival in Antwerpen. His Premonition Factory produced beautiful ambient music, and after this, David Cooper Orton played guitar somewhere between folk, rock, jazz, and minimal music. Both Sjaak and David had been among my livelooping colleagues in Santa Cruz in 2009 …

It was a special treat for me to finally see Georgina Brett on stage. I had met her in London in 2007 where she introduced me to her ethereal vocal canon music. This time she sung a complex 30 minute piece based on words by Pythagoras. The video backdrop I had created for her, starring slowly moving psychedelic jellyfish (which I had recorded in an aquarium in Oregon) was a great visual addition to her composition I thought. (Georgina was too concentrated to even notice ­čÖé )

Georgina was followed by Stockholm based looper Per Boysen, one of my favorite looping musicians (I remember being in awe watching him on festivals in Z├╝rich and Rome). Instead of guitar, flute, or saxophone, he presented his newest instrument, a Chapman stick. It seems that a good musician can create magic on just about any instrument!

Reyn Ouwehand from Amsterdam was the only livelooper I hadn’t met before. He turned out to be not only fun to spend time with, but also a much more proficient keyboard player than I had expected – jawdropping even. He finished his set with a nice impromptu improvisation with Georgina.

And finally, Darkroom (Andrew Ostler and Michael Bearpark with Andrew Booker on electronic percussion) delivered a beautiful and relaxing piece of electronic music that reminded me of Krautrock psychedelia, probably due to the synth sequences created by Os.


We came home after the gig, exhausted but happy, and stayed up late. On the next morning, Sjaak and Ingrid and Patty came to watch us having breakfast, Georgina and Per did the dishes … some of us stayed until the evening, talking about music, but only Per stayed another night and left on Monday afternoon.


What a great weekend with such nice people! I wish we could all stay together for longer, but of course many of the loopers are parents and have to go back to their families and workplaces … the looper island that Michael Klobuchar dreams of will probably remain a dream …


Here is a very nice 5 minute WDR3 radio feature about the festival, containing short interviews and music snippets by Reyn, Patty, Thomas, Georgina, and Uwe:

      loopfestcologne2011_wdr3_tuulasimon - Michael Peters interview by Tuula Simon

(photos taken by Andrew Ostler, Mike Bearpark, Petra Schulten, Mike G├╝rgens, and myself)

My Avatar Is Not Blue


 
I went to an amazing concert yesterday – while sitting at home. Or shall we say, as my ‘real’ body was sitting at home? I was watching the performance while sitting in some kind of amphitheatre, surrounded by two or three dozen of very strange other people. Maybe I was the strangest of all because I didn’t even look like a human – for some reason, the avatar that I had chosen looks like a fox.

Since my first login to Second Life a couple of years ago, I had not spent much time there – I always thought it was a nice thing in theory, but disappointingly clunky in reality. I had originally come here with ideas of cyberspace (as William Gibson coined it) or the metaverse (as Neal Stephenson called his version), some other kind of immersive reality full of wonder (as if our regular reality wasn’t full of wonder).

Second Life was obviously inspired by these ideas, and even though we still can’t directly plug in using some kind of firewire plug in our heads, and instead have to type on keyboards and look on screens, and even though the graphics are far less perfect than I had expected, it has evolved (since its launch in 2003) into an amazing huge parallel universe full of people that interact in many ways (I read that about 60,000 people are logged in at any given moment) , and more places than one can ever visit.


 
Usually while my fox avatar had explored SL, he was more or less alone – I seem to be drawn more towards the lonely island than towards a busy bar full of strangers. It was nice yesterday though to be in the audience with at least one person that I knew (Jeff Duke, a fellow loop musician from Florida, who also took two photos during the performance – see below).

The Avatar Orchestra Metaverse is a collective of musicians from all over the world, one of them being Pauline Oliveros, to my surprise, a key figure of avantgarde music, livelooping, and deep listening. The orchestra has weekly rehearsals and performs in Second Life, but sometimes also in “First Life”. For their Second Life performances, special technology has been developed such as virtual instruments and interactive animations.

The concert yesterday lasted for about one hour. The orchestra consisted of about a dozen musicians this time (with funny Second Life names such as Flivelwitz Alsop, Bingo Onomatopoeia, Humming Pera, Gumnosophistai Nurmi, BlaiseDeLaFrance Voom), playing four compositions by four composers who also did the conducting. The performances were a mixture of very different kinds of electronic sounds, movements, and animations, and I found that I was quickly drawn into their special virtual reality kind of magic and the astonishing dynamics of the pieces.



 
Something interesting, but hard to describe, happens when one suddenly forgets about the virtuality of this, and gets drawn into this world, which is, after all, populated by avatars of real people. Amazing how quickly the brain gets adjusted to something that is so different to our usual reality. It felt similar to sitting in a really fascinating movie and forgetting about sitting in a movie theatre.

Getting out of this, and back into ordinary reality: the brain switches back, but it takes some minutes. Until then, I wonder about the amazingly high resolution of the trees on the hill and how smoothly I can move across the terrace.

Paradise is a state of mind

Our latest technological household item is a DVD recorder, several years old and bought used from eBay last weekend. It will eventually replace our crappy VHS tape recorder, and one of the wonderful things it can do is digitize VHS tapes and back them up to DVD.

The first tape to digitize that I grabbed this morning happened to be a 35 minute video from 1982 by Albert Falzon, called “Excerpt from The Kumbha Mela – Same As It Ever Was”. Falzon (who got known many years ago for his surf movie “Crystal Voyager” with a Pink Floyd soundtrack) went to India in the early eighties to film various religious festivities, one of them being the famous Kumbha Mela, a Hindu festival and possibly the largest religious festival on Earth. This particular video shows part of his travel towards that place: on a boat across the waterways of Kashmir.

For an inhabitant of cold Europe like me, this magical landscape seems very close to paradise. Falzon’s movie is completely filmed in slow motion, and he often uses a fish-eye lens – and there is of course the soundtrack by Harold Budd and Brian Eno. There are no words and there is no action – there is only a lush jungle landscape slowly drifting by, light reflections on water, people moving in slow motion. This stuff seems to come directly from a dream, from a timeless place. (Somehow it adds to the dreaminess that everything is lo-fi and blurry in an oldfashioned kind of way.)

How strange to enter this state of mind, watching this movie, while knowing that Kashmir has been the center and subject of wars for a long time, and is still far from being peaceful on many levels.

If you like the state of mind induced by Budd’s “The Pearl” or Eno’s “On Land”, you will like this video. Someone has put it on Youtube in the meantime (see below). You can also get it used on VHS tape if you search for it. Apparently it was also rereleased on DVD under the title “Same as it ever was”, together with a movie about the Kumbha Mela festival.