“Clavilux”, short story by Robert A. Wait (1929)

The audience stirred in an uneasy manner. The curtain should rise in one minute. The absence of music seemed to bother a few. Others raised their heads expectantly from the bright colored programs in their hands. The buzz of an excited audience suddenly stilled as the rose velvet curtains before them parted, revealing a dapper gentleman in evening clothes smiling down upon them.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” began the blond young Frenchman. “I am Monsieur Du Bois. That is only by way of introduction, for it has no part in this evening’s entertainment. Behind me you observe my instrument of pleasure.”

He gestured toward the main stage. Upon it stood a huge box-like arrangement much like the console of a theatre organ with a regular organ bench and keyboard and pedals, very similiar to the ones found in most pipe organs. It was gorgeously done in gilt and spangles, and the spot lights from above shifted over the machine, as the Monsieur continued his interesting monologue.

“At the back of the stage you will observe a screen so situated that any light rays from my color organ will be reflected to you directly. “In physics we would say the angle of incidence is such that you are in line with the angle of reflection.”

So saying, he reached back to the console of his organ and touched a key. Instantly the theatre was brilliantly flooded with a cool green glow. The screen seemed a bottomless sea of emerald.

“No doubt many of you wonder how the whole audience may be thrown into the line of angle of reflection. I have back there an unusual screen. It is what is known as parabolic in shape, which means it is concave in a very definite mathematical curve. The source of light from my machine throws a diverging beam of light at this peculiar curve and, because of its shape, the screen reflects all of the impinging rays in nearly parallel lines; thus each one of you receives a few rays reflected directly from the light source with no confusing cross interference of one ray with others.”

Seating himself, the young man signalled the spot lights out. Only a dim bulb lighted his keyboard.“The house was as still as a summer calm while greens flowed into purples, flashed into scarlets, and faded to soft yellows and blues.

“You note I do not have any music. I find that music is detrimental to the moods I desire to carry my audience through. Anyway, light and color correspond very closely to noise and musical notes. Color is primarily a function of frequency, not of wave lengths, just as high musical notes are produced by frequencies as high as 15,000 vibrations or more per second. Low notes may go as low as twenty vibrations per second and still be heard by the ear.”

“Reds are light waves of extremely slow vibrations while violets approach the extremely rapid vibrations such as those of ultra-violet light which you all know to be present, yet invisible to the eye. Corresponding to these ultra-high frequencies we have the infra-reds or colors of such low frequency that our eyes will not detect them. Our senses feel their warmth, however, just as they feel the warmth of red rays if either kind is focused by means of a burning glass.”

He turned to his organ with the announcement that his first number would be an overture in color, built up much as an overture is written for music. Before him was a peculiar type of score, similar to, but different from, musical scores.

With a crash of color, if such can be conceived, the overture began and for ten minutes the audience watched breathlessly while colors flooded the screen; reds danced through blues; circles of green sailed through and behind pink and white clouds; black thunder clouds melted to golden mists; blue sky showed through with the flashes of purple and scarlet of birds. Abruptly the theme changed. A cool dark; green with moving lines of brown and patches of greys and blues took on through the woods where birds flickered among the trees. A streak of rusty red across one corner of the picture showed where sly br’er fox had slipped through—a flare of yellow as the traveler again came into the bright sunlight of the open field. Soon the multi-colored roofs of a village floated by and hazy clouds of dust rose from a herd of sheep scampering down the lane.

As the piece ended, the audience sighed in ecstacy. Never had it had that particular side of its nature stirred. As Du Bois rose, applause broke forth, and the spot lights searched out the smiling artist.

“You enjoy it, yes?” He fell into the broken English of his earlier days in the States. “May I explain, friends? This is my color-organ, my clavilux. I revel in its playing just as a pianist revels in his musical masterpieces. In music the artist must skillfully combine pitch with pitch at a certain tempo to produce a harmonious series of sounds. This constitutes a work of art if properly done. I combine color —red, blue, and so on—with form—clouds, circles, squares, and others; this combination I move in a graceful way at certain speeds. Thus the clavilux combines color, form, and motion to delight its player and audience. Even more skill is necessary to play a clavilux or color-organ than is required for a piano. By these consoles of keys I can secure 100,000 combinations of color and form which I can move at will— up, down, around, across. You have all heard sad and doleful music, I am sure. Now I ask you to listen with your eyes to this tragic piece of color—shape.”

Seating himself, the artist again secured darkness and began to weave magic colors and shapes before his spell-bound audience. Predominating were blues and reds, the more somber reds, and finally the very deepest reds or those of extremely slow vibration. Faster the colors flowed, melted into one another, flashed suddenly out—scarlet, then azure, cobalt, cerise, and somber dull grey. Frenzied they boiled and splashed about the screen, shapes jumbling about chasing each other, dissolving into nothing, racing toward the front of the field, speeding off into that blue grey void beyond, slipping into that fierce fiery border of reds. The trend was more terrifying than sad.

The audience was on edge. Hard-headed men breathed quickly and clutched their hats with destructive force. Faster the colors flared and streamed. The screen was nearly devoid of definite visible color now, yet a devilish warm glow played about the flashing forms of pale yellow and green. Perspiration streamed from the brows of half the audience; children cried, men and women shifted uneasily, murmuring and whispering. Still the musician played madly at his keyboard. A scream of terror split the air as the upper console of the clavilux splintered. The screen flared a terrific series of reds and burst into genuine fire.

Clavilux Clavilux short story illustration from Amazing Stories

It all happened in less than ten seconds, and Monsieur Du Bois stood aghast at the turmoil. He shouted for quiet, wildly gesticulating, and falling into French in his excitement. The audience hesitated, whimpered, and slowly sank back to its seats, muttering and gazing at the ashes of the ruined screen. Stage hands had soon extinguished the fire.

Mesdames, monsieurs, I beg of you to calm yourselves. No harm can befall you. I am to blame for your fright. Two things are to blame. First, I have played for you one of the new modernistic compositions entitled ‘Collapse of the Cosmos.’ It has never been played before and is evidently too violent for a beginning audience. The emotion I stirred in you was a blind fear of catastrophe. Many musical compositions produce anger, some fear, others laughter—so it is with the clavilux. Compositions may be written for producing any desired mood. Very little is yet known about the effect of concerts in color on audiences, so you will please forgive if I have frightened you. We are none of us educated in the art of enjoyment of combination of color, form, and motion. May I relieve you with a light composition full of sunshine and laughter? A new screen has been placed by the stage crew. Please?”

Seating himself he ran his fingers over the keys not affected by the splintered console, and the colors flashed out once more. This time bright gay forms danced and floated; warm blues, cool greens, delightful yellows, and fluffy pinks chased about the screen, ever shifting, ever changing in shape, melting and flowing about. Children laughed happily and clapped their hands. Women smiled again and men relaxed their grim features to pleasant enjoyment. Evidently the simple sketch of light color was having its soothing effect.

“May I play my newest composition for you, ladies and gentlemen?” The performer looked expectantly at the calm faces turned up to him. No dissenting voices arose, so he proceeded.

“Musicians are able to distinguish a single pitch from a group of sounds. Notes usually are accompanied by groups of pitches called overtones. Few of you have heard a single pure pitch. Nearly every instrument, has its overtones. “I wish to play for you a piece in color, form, and motion in which I emphasize the “overtones” of those three phases. Doubtless you have heard church organs whose lowest note was a “16 foot,” as the deep tones are called. These may be played by a skilled operator in combining several of the lower and middle notes to give the effect of a very low note which is known as a “64 foot” note. Naturally this has a very low vibration. If an 128 foot note could be produced, it would be apt to wreck the building in which it was played.”

“It is my ambition to produce an extremely low vibration in color by the same general method used in obtaining the low organ note and with the overtones. With this in mind, I wish you to be my judge.”

Colors began to flow as they had never been seen before. Colors that man had never before witnessed splashed and ran across the screen. Forms that the wildest imagination had never before conceived of, jumped and skulked about through the maze of color. Gradually the trend was more and more to the red, and motion and form slowed to a few regularly appearing pulses. Men grew warm about the collar. Women fanned themselves with programs. Children moved restlessly. Still the color flowed. Perspiration trickled down the organist’s face; his features became distorted, his eyes wild. He had glanced at the screen whereon his composition glowed. Too late he realized what was going on. Overtones, to be sure. He’d give them plenty! What was that buzzing in his ears? Drat these hot nights! Where was that heat coming from? That chord again—it was immense! Feel that thrill and wild exultation it sent through you. What was that tumult—the audience felt it too. Well, let them—give them more. That low vibration—what was the combination he had figured would produce it?

Oh, yes, press all the reds and all the violets to cause sufficient interference of vibrations. There, it was done!

The screen flamed. The back stage smoked for a second, flashed into a mass of fire and with a roar the audience rushed for the exits, fighting, screaming, scratching.

He had done it! What was that awful ache in his head—they were wild—the building had caught fire— must have produced that low vibration—heat ray below the infra-reds. Ah, it was well—damn that buzz in the ears—snap, flash—blackness.

Morning found an article in the paper concerning a peculiar performance of the color-organist in which the electric wiring seemed to have caused a fire and frightened the audience. None of the audience could give an accurate or connected account of the affair.

The performer, so the news item said, had fainted under the extreme heat, but he was doing nicely in the local hospital.

“Clavilux”, short story by Robert A. Wait, Amazing Stories v04 n03 [1929-06].

Cyberpunk moments where I live. Just warming you up.

Blade Runner cyberpunk GIF tears

Blade Runner (1982)

All those cyberpunk moments where I live. Just warming you up. Walking alone. Walking alone when all of a sudden you look down. Doesn’t make any difference. Maybe you wanna be by yourself. I understand what you mean.

You reach down. It’s a test designed to provoke an emotional response. A new life awaits you in the Off-world. Custom-tailored, genetically engineered humanoid. Climb and maintain. Over the landing threshold.

Sit down, cyberpunk.

Blade Runner cyberpunk GIF sit down

Walking the streets. Stop right where you are. Reaction time is a factor where I live. Three nights ago they tried to break through an electrical field crawling towards you on intergalactic runs. Incept date: 2016. Optimum self-sufficiency.

A basic pleasure model in the outer colonies to copy human beings. Fail-safe device. Go put the machine on it. Fluctuation of the pupil. Involuntary dilation of the iris. Just relax.

Plus the killing cyberpunk.

Blade Runner cyberpunk GIF smoking

I’d take him to the television. I’d kill it. He likes it so much he hangs it on your bedroom wall. A banquet is in progress. Commerce is our goal here. An experiment, nothing more. A strange obsession.

emotionally
inexperienced

Watched – June 2016

Cosa avete fatto a Solange? (1972).
Soylent Green (1973).
Addio zio Tom (136 minutes version, 1971).
Addio zio Tom (123 minutes version, 1971).
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944).
Игла (1988).
Città violenta (1970).
C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005).
Appropriate Behavior (2014).
Pride (2014).
Butter on the Latch (2013).
Wadjda (2012).
Passage à l’acte (1993).
Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (1998).
Outer Space (1999).
Instructions for a Light & Sound Machine (2005).
Michael Kohlhaas (2013).
Lifeforce (1985).
Barefoot (2014).
The Three Musketeers (1948).
Go (1999).
Stage Beauty (2004).
The Nice Guys (2016).
En kort en lang (2001).
October Gale (2014).
The Doom Generation (1995).
Sei donne per l’assassino (1964).
The Hitcher (1986).
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976).
Winter’s Bone (2010).
The Raspberry Reich (2004).
Two Moon Junction (1988).
Green Room (2015).
The Conjuring (2013).
Sinister (2012).
Television Delivers People (1973).
Oculus (2013).
Bloodsucking Bastards (2015).
Get Real (1998).

Poison (1991)

Poison

Poison (1991), Todd Haynes.

I think that Poison was the first film I watched by Todd Haynes, many years ago. I’ve seen all his films and I like all of them, but Poison and Velvet Goldmine hold a special place in my heart (Velvet Goldmine is probably on my top 10 favourite films of all times).

Psycho 60/98

WARNING: This film contains flashing images.

“Psycho” (1960) by Alfred Hitchcock and “Psycho” (1998) by Gus Van Sant collide in a frame-by-frame editing that assaults the eyeballs and assassinates the normative consciousness of the viewer. The footage seem to penetrate us, as though it was a knife or a threatening phantasmagorical entity. The fast succession of single frames and extremely short audio files produce afterimages and aftersounds—entoptic and endaural phenomena—creating a film that does not happen on the screen, but in our brain cells.

*Just a technical note for those interested on how things are made, this film consist just of both shower scenes fragmented in frames; the odd frames are the shower scene from the Hitchcock movie and the even frames are the shower scene from the Van Sant remake. No image or sound effects of any kind, just the frames. Sense-destructive cinema, enjoy! :)

But this will be the end of our civilisation

“But this will be the end of our civilisation, when people will not work because work has become so intolerable to their senses, it nauseates them too much, they would rather starve. Then we shall see the hammer used only for smashing, then we shall see it. Yet here we are—we have the opportunity to make beautiful factories, beautiful machine-houses—we have the opportunity—”

Women in Love (1920), D.H. Lawrence.

The loudness of that noise

Unnecessary noise.
Lots of noise.
Noise commencing in my ears.
So huge a noise.
A noise like thunder.
Din and noise.
Objective noise.
Noise without noise.
The noise of conflict.
The loudness of that noise.

It takes two people to make a murderer

“‘No man,’ said Birkin, ‘cuts another man’s throat unless he wants to cut it, and unless the other man wants it cut. This is a complete truth. It takes two people to make a murderer: a murder and a murderee. And a murderee is a man who is murderable. And a man who is murderable is a man who in a profound if hidden lust desires to be murdered.'”

Women in Love, D. H. Lawrence.

The uneventful events constitute the fabric of our existence

“When seeing a James Bond film … one expects only the exciting parts of Bond’s life to be portrayed: shootouts, explosions, sexual liaisons. One can imagine what the audience reaction might be if—in the interest of realism—a film devoted a substantial amount of time to Bond sleeping, eating a meal, getting a haircut, and using the restroom. Yet these uneventful events constitute the fabric of our existence. One is reminded here of the narrator’s insight in E. M. Foster’s A Passage to India: ‘Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it, and the books and talk that would describe it as interesting are obligated to exaggerate, in the hope of justifying their own existence'”.

Motion[less] Pictures: The Cinema of Stasis, Justin Remes.

A perfectly adjusted organism would be silent

“Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it and the books and talk that would describe it as interesting are obliged to exaggerate, in the hope of justifying their own existence. Inside its cocoon of work or social obligation, the human spirit slumbers for the most part, registering the distinction between pleasure and pain, but not nearly as alert as we pretend. There are periods in the most thrilling day during which nothing happens and though we continue to exclaim, ‘I do enjoy myself,’ or, ‘I am horrified,’ we are insincere. ‘As far as I feel anything, it is enjoyment, horror’—it’s no more than that really and a perfectly adjusted organism would be silent.”

A Passage to India, E. M. Forster.

El día que descubrí la violencia

Cuando inicié la serie de remixes sonoros de películas titulada The Sound Screen, lo hice sin ninguna idea preconcebida, la única condición era que todo el sonido procediese de películas. Quizás por esta razón la segunda entrega de la serie no se parece en nada a la primera. The Sound Screen #001 (Droolworthy) surge de dos comedias románticas comerciales y termina siendo una pieza experimental, mientras que The Sound Screen #002 (The Day I Discovered Violence) nace de una película independiente un tanto atípica (Bronson de Nicolas Winding Refn), aunque no experimental, para terminar siendo un remix «clásico».

No me planteé en ningún momento ese resultado, al menos no de manera consciente, pero inconscientemente creo que no podría haber concebido nunca un remix sonoro de Bronson sin ciertas canciones que salen en la película, porque no puedo pensar en Bronson sin escuchar en mi cabeza The Electrician de The Walker Brothers o Digital Versicolor de Glass Candy.

Por otro lado, está la pregunta de por qué elegí Bronson. La elección de películas para remezclar viene dada por una atracción subjetiva. No obstante, mientras las dos películas de las que salió Droolworthy simplemente me gustan, Bronson me fascina. Hay películas buenas, películas bien hechas, película entretenidas, películas que me gustan y películas que me hipnotizan profundamente, y Bronson es un agujero negro en el que podría perderme para siempre.

He de confesar que la primera vez que vi Bronson me pareció un poco tediosa, tiene mucha voz en voz y mucho monólogo a cámara, lo que en general no suele atraerme, pero al mismo tiempo tiene algunos momentos tan fascinantes que a los pocos días volví a verla, y cada vez que la veo me engancha más y más. Esto significa que por un lado hacer un remix era fácil porque me sé la película de memoria, pero por otro era complicado porque me gusta demasiado como para estar satisfecha con nada que pudiera hacer con ella.

Cuando empecé a escoger los fragmentos de la película y a editar el remix, lo hice sin un concepto claro, pero al poco tiempo me di cuenta de que solo podía hablar sobre violencia, impotencia, la necesidad de destruir y la mutación de persona a personaje, o leyenda.

Bronson es una persona real, «el preso más violento de Gran Bretaña», y el remix comienza con algo que me parece clave, su cambio de nombre, el paso de persona a personaje. La voz que se escucha inmediatamente después es la del Bronson real (el único fragmento que no procede de la película, sino de los extras del DVD), integrada con la de Hardy, ambos diciendo «Charles Bronson», y seguida de «and all my life I wanted to be famous». La dicotomía múltiple entre persona real, personaje público, personaje interpretado y actor que lo interpreta…

Curiosamente, la primera vez que vi a Tom Hardy pensé en esa dicotomía entre realidad e interpretación. Fue en una comedia bastante olvidable titulada Scenes of a Sexual Nature en la que Hardy hace de postadolescente de extrarradio. Aunque no sale ni diez minutos, en cuanto lo vi pensé: «Este tío o es así de verdad o es un actor como la copa de un pino». No era así de verdad… El Bronson de Hardy es absorbente, embriagador, una mezcla esquizofrénica de furia y ambigüedad. De ahí la idea de mezclar el techno pop gay de Pet Shop Boys con la pelea a puñetazos.

De todas formas, cuando pienso en Hardy/Bronson pienso sobre todo en el plano que más me desconcierta y cautiva de la película; esa mirada al vacío, inmóvil, en silencio, con la chica bailando semidesnuda detrás y Digital Versicolor. Aunque quizás sea solo porque me obsesiona el color azul… y Tom Hardy, vale… y Nicolas Winding Refn, sí, también…

The Sound Screen (o sobre cómo a veces terminas haciendo las cosas por los caminos más insospechados)

Siempre he tenido en la cabeza hacer un podcast o similar basado en bandas sonoras de películas, y con banda sonora no me refiero a música, sino a todo el conjunto sonoro. No obstante, nunca he llegado muy lejos porque es un trabajo lento y complicado (admito que soy muy vaga), y además no tengo mucha maña, ni conocimientos, para editar sonido. Tras procrastinar el asunto una y otra vez, esta semana ha terminado tomando forma bajo el título The Sound Screen de una manera un poco laberíntica.

De vez en cuando, aparecen entes que de repente me fascinan profundamente, tanto que tengo que hacer algo con ellos, lo que sea. Ese ‘lo que sea’ suele adquirir forma sonora, no tengo muy claro por qué, ya que en realidad de lo que yo sé, lo que he hecho siempre, es cine/vídeo, no sonido. Sospecho que esta necesidad incongruente de llevar lo que me fascina hacia el terreno de lo sonoro tiene que ver con lo que soy y lo que deseo. El cine es algo que tengo dentro prácticamente desde que nací, algo tan asumido, tan interiorizado, que solo puedo verlo como lo que soy, mientras que el sonido es la otra cara de la moneda, el yin del yang, lo que me hipnotiza porque es el otro, lo que me completa.

Volviendo al tema que nos ocupa… Este podcast, o serie de piezas sonoras o lo que vaya a ser finalmente, era una entelequia hasta que hace unas semanas apareció uno de esos entes fascinantes viendo All That Heaven Allows. El ente en cuestión es Rock Hudson, un actor en quien nunca había pensado demasiado porque la verdad es que sus dotes interpretativas nunca fueron cosa del otro jueves. Es uno de esos actores inexpresivos incapaces de resultar creíbles en según qué papel, pero cuando esa impasibilidad está bien llevada, como en All That Heaven Allows, resulta mucho más atractiva que cualquier aspaviento, que por otro lado es algo que no soporto… ¿Muecas? ¿Sobreactuaciones? No, gracias.

Aquí he de hacer un inciso para confesar que siempre he sido muy esteta. No soporto la estética vacía, eso sí, la forma sin contenido, pero siempre me han fascinado cineastas muy estetas, desde Peter Greenaway a Carl Theodor Dreyer o Nicolas Winding Refn. Douglas Sirk es uno de esos estetas, y en All That Heaven Allows lo lleva quizás más lejos que en ninguna otra de sus películas.

All That Heaven Allows es pura belleza visual, y lo más visualmente hermoso es ese personaje masculino sencillo, directo, abierto y ajeno al mundo capitalista. Rock Hudson/Ron Kirby es el sonido de fondo que se cuela en la banda sonora anodina de los Estados Unidos más bucólicos de los años 50, el ruido desestabilizador que interrumpe la nada cotidiana. La gran contradicción es que es un ruido mucho más hermoso que el sonido impecable en el que interfiere. Y no es solo hermoso por la pureza que destila, obviamente, hay una cuestión de atractivo físico que está muy patente en toda la película.

No obstante, la primera pieza de The Sound Screen no sale de esta película, sino de dos comedias románticas que recuperé al hilo de ella (las había visto de pequeña y no las recordaba mucho): Pillow Talk y Lover Come Back. En All That Heaven Allows, aunque Hudson es visto por algunos personajes como un puro objeto de deseo, no funciona esencialmente en ese sentido, mientras que en Pillow Talk y Lover Come Back sí se ciñe básicamente a eso.

Precisamente durante los días en los que vi estas películas, una de las palabras del día de Oxford Dictionaries Online fue droolworthy, que significa ‘extremadamente atractivo o deseable’, aunque literalmente se podría traducir como ‘digno de que se te caiga la baba’. La palabra me hizo gracia, y me remitió inmediatamente a Hudson en las dos comedias mencionadas, porque al verlas queda muy claro que está ahí simplemente como señor rematadamente atractivo por el que pierden la baba todas las señoras.

Teniendo ya un ente de fascinación y un título, estaba claro que tenía que hacer algo con eso. La verdad es que lo primero que salió de todo el asunto fue una imagen que surgió de casualidad al hacer un data bending con una foto de Hudson. La imagen no está retocada, quedó así tal cual al abrir el archivo; con la boca, la oreja y el cigarro. La oreja fue la señal definitiva, tenía que empezar ya mi serie sonora sobre películas.

Lo primero que probé fue a convertir la imagen en sonido, que viene a ser lo que hago siempre debido a mis reducidas aptitudes musicales. Como era de esperar, salió un ruido insoportable que, además de ser la cosa menos droolworthy posible, no tenía nada que ver con el concepto, que era el deseo sexual femenino.

Pensando en sonidos droolworthy, en lo sublime e irreal, decidí que tenía que ser un drone, y de alguna manera me las apañé para generar un drone (quasiarmónico, como me dijo alguien) a partir de un fragmento de Pillow Talk. Para mí ese drone era algo onírico y etéreo, el sonido de una construcción quimérica que no tiene lugar en la realidad, solo en el objeto de deseo imaginado, o generado, a través del universo ficticio del cine, o quizás de la psique femenina (e incluso gay, no olvidemos que en las dos películas hay subtexto en ese sentido).

El drone se termina, como todos los sueños, con un corte repentino a la realidad. Nos despertamos de nuestra utopía del deseo con Doris Day diciendo: «Oh, he tenido un sueño maravilloso». Curiosamente, en la película dice esto al despertarse medio desnuda, en la cama, con su objeto de deseo, tras una noche de ‘borrachera blackout’ que termina en el primer polvo. Todo sugerido, pero no mostrado, que esto es una comedia romántica ‘amable’ de 1961…

El resultado de esta primera pieza de The Sound Screen tiene muy poco que ver con la estética típica del remix sonoro, que en principio era lo que pretendía hacer con las películas, pero es que nunca se me ha dado bien hacer lo que se supone que debería hacer… De todas formas, para la segunda pieza sí estoy intentando hacer algo que se acerca al remix al uso, en este caso a partir de Bronson, que es una película que me fascina, de un director que me fascina y con un actor que me fascina. Just fascination, just fascination, just private fascination