There WAS a time before video. There was a time before video digitizing. There was a time before video editing on the computer and being able to post those videos for the world to view. Mind you, I’m not waxing lyrical about ‘the old days.’ I don’t much miss ‘em… mainly because it was more expensive to create motion/sound work. Shooting 100 feet of film cost, in the day, about $500 when you factor in the film cost, the processing of the camera footage, paying for an editable copy then, an answer print, and the subsequent viewable copy (and I’m not including the cost of the editing itself or marrying an audio track to the visual). And, believe me: five hundred bucks was worth a heck of a lot more then than it is now. It also took weeks. It was costly to fix errors or to act on second thoughts. That’s changed. Still… there IS the charm of that period that’s tough to beat.
These few examples were among my very first attempts at creating creativity. Before these, I’d done only television news stories and documentaries (I’m not counting my college Super-8 class projects). To these early attempts, silliness reigns. It was more important to me, at the time, just to ‘make something.’ I was experimenting and didn’t want content to get in the way of action. All part of creative growth, I should think.
And, it should be stated here (or somewhere) that my energy was primed by my good friend, Paul DeNooijer. He’s still my dear friend and he still inspires me. The last example below is a short piece he and I created during one of my numerous visits to his home in Holland. Ultimately, he and I worked together on quite a number of similar projects—one of these days, I’ll count them.
I’ve often been intrigued by what is just around the corner… what is just over the hill… what just moved in the corner of my eye. Many of us are. Human nature. With that question in mind, I’d created a series of images based on those visual components that only suggest—they never tell a complete story. Of course, every image does this to some degree because all images have four sides where the image stops. But, by showing a full frame of an image and blocking out most of it with a field of color, I was hoping the intrigue becomes more palpable. More annoying.
As with almost any audio exercise I set out to create, very little is predetermined. That was true in this case except I did give myself one basic parameter: all of the sounds were to be recorded using ‘things’ in my house. On some, I’d simply place the microphone near an object or machine that was manufacturing a sound by its own function. On others, I’d intervene and move, drop or slide the object and record the resulting sound that action created. After an hour or so of recording these varied objects and operations, I loaded them onto the computer and set out to trim, stretch and/or repeat the recorded snippets based on a standard BMI (beats per minute) timeline using Apple’s Logic Pro audio software. Of course, when it hit my fancy, I’d add the occasional echo, reverb or distortion to embellish certain sounds. This recording is the result. Only those sounds I recorded and edited that day are included.
Sometimes, it’s just a matter of following through on an idea that pops into one’s head. With a very respectable nod to Marcel Duchamp—one of my heroes:
We see movies (‘film’ or ‘video’) differently than we see life around us. The effect of flashing a certain number of sequential images within our field of vision is known as ‘persistence of vision.’ It’s a trick on our eyes. Video uses the standard of 30 of these images flashing before our eyes each second. At the movie theater, you’re usually watching 24 images per second. The effect is the illusion of motion. But, those images also have to sequentially relate to optimally complete the illusion. Showing 24 completely different images only causes angst (an interesting, but chaotic, effect). These ‘frame rates’ (3o for video/24 for film) have been arrived at as the minimum number of images within a second to effectively convince us of real-life motion. Can the brain take that leap of illusion with far fewer sequential images? Perhaps it depends on each of us and how willing we are to suspend time and space. Are 12 images enough? Or, can it even be done with a single image? It depends on how persistent we are in our vision of the world.
During a sweltering July in 2004, I was looking at an old spinet piano a relative had given us. I was staring at it because I couldn’t really play it, as it would no longer hold tuning (not to mention my skills being rudimentary). We’d gotten it tuned a half dozen times and those visits were getting sooner and sooner. I’d called around, hoping to sell it. No value… at least, none to speak of. No getting around it, it had to be junked. I hated the idea. No, it wasn’t particularly special. Wood, ivory (I suppose), iron, wires. But, otherwise, not much. I’d made arrangements to have it picked up in a few days. But, I thought it’d be interesting to break it down and see how it functioned and how it was put together. As I discovered, even this common spinet was put together well (we’d estimated somewhere in the late 30s or early 40s). Some parts were tough to remove. But, eventually, I got it down to a bunch of parts, wooden segments and panels, and the large, heavy soundboard. Exhausted on the floor, I leaned back and studied the soundboard. It was rather beautiful, tilted against the wall. When I’d first moved the piano away from the wall, I found an old tennis ball. It now was beside me. I grabbed it and lobbed it against the stretched strings of the soundboard. It hit somewhere toward the lower range of strings. The combination of notes sounded slightly dissonant and beautiful at the same time. I lobbed it again at another section. Again, beautiful. I was surprised by how long it resonated. Then, I got the notion: I’d make a video of this process.
Choose interesting angles as I drop, skip and roll the tennis ball over the taut strings of the soundboard. Later, edit the shots into some sort of cantata for junked piano and video lens. Early on, I realized that the tennis ball wasn’t visually appealing. I discovered a blue, transparent, acrylic ball from an old trackball mouse to replace it. Its hardness made the sounds even more clear. I shot the entire thing in less than an hour and spent the rest of the day editing it together. The result is the video shown here. But, before the piano carcass was carted away, I retrieved the piano keys. I bundled those into a piece I usually call ’88,’ but have also named ‘Arthritis.’ Recycling, my friends. Recycling.
©2004 Jerry King Musser
Among the common objects I seem to have an affinity for—like ‘ladder,’ ‘chair,’ ‘stripes,’ and ‘square’— is the idea of ‘packages.’ I’ve not really deeply examined why this is the case but it might have something to do with idea of hidden potential or even the basic notion of having a space well-defined. There’s a controlled order to packages (especially cardboard boxes) that I enjoy—six sides defining a space. To demonstrate this interest, I’d created both a series of photographs at one point and even produced a short video on the general subject.
The short video involved the repetition of wrapping and unwrapping a box. The box is wrapped in brown paper and, additionally, tied to hold the paper against the box. As with a number of my short videos, the concept is in the examination of the simplified act. There may or may not be a conscious meaning assigned. Mostly, I’d rather not think about it. I much prefer just doing it, first, then concern myself with any meaning later.
The photographic series takes a single open box as I examine it from sixteen different angles and attitudes. I arrived at sixteen views because I wanted to display them in four rows of four boxes. Reason enough. I’m showing, here, the separate box images and as the final composite.
Some years ago, my wife (artist, Janette Toth) and I were invited to exhibit together at the Penn State University, Capital Campus in Middletown, Pennsylvania. The exhibition space wasn’t large but it was located in an area with a lot of foot traffic. With the limited space, I confined my work to ten pieces, measuring only 8 x 10-inches each. Giving myself this metric limitation, I began to ruminate on the number ’10.’ This soon evolved into the Roman numeral, ‘X.’ Since I’m graphically-inclined to begin with, I imagined how I might take the simple ‘X’ shape and vary it in style and layout… ‘ten’ different ways. Ten to the power of ten, if you will. Here are those resulting variations: