Video might’ve killed the radio star, but beginning in the 1960s, new media inspired musical avant-gardists to grab cameras and create complex 16mm collages (and later, VHS palimpsests). Results range from static to sublime, and renaissance man Jim O’Rourke and Anthology archivist Andrew Lampert have gathered key examples of such synchronization for the three-week series “Eye & Ear Controlled.”
The tag was plucked from Michael Snow’s 1964 New York Ear and Eye Control, a frenetic documentation of mid-’60s NYC avant-jazz. Snow will discuss the classic—perhaps best known for its ESP soundtrack (Albert Ayler perched atop the masthead)—along with his newest work Short Story and 1974’s epic Rameau’s Nephew by Diderot (Thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen. George Manupelli, alumnus of arts collective Once Group, will present the rare Dr. Chicago trilogy. Starring new-music maestro Alvin Lucier as a “sex exchange” surgeon, installment one finds Chicago hiding out in a cabin with female associates and a silent herbalist before jetting to Sweden to start a clinic. Lucier’s monologue on “Little [Albert] Schweitzers” is not to be missed.
If the event has a center, it’s inimitable Pythagoras punk-slapper Tony Conrad, who will host four days of his visual works while also re-enacting filmic performances, e.g., a ’70s film-stock fry. Conrad’s works for public access are especially invigorating, but his 1966 debut and structuralist mind melt, The Flicker, remains the most arresting: a 30-minute b&w strobe soundtracked with an electromechanical synthesizer, tape delay, and reverb effects to create a total sensory immersion. (It comes attached with a warning re mild symptoms of shock treatment.) Conrad’s Straight and Narrow (1970) makes transcendent horizontal/vertical use of John Cale and Terry Riley’s explosive “Ides of March.”
For those who enjoy musicians wearing oven mitts, absurdist Argentine Maurcio Kagel represents big-time, especially via Ludwig Van (1969), which fixates on a reproduction of Beethoven’s sheet-music-wallpapered studio. Other highlights include a pair of Charlemagne Palestine videos; minimalist Phill Niblock’s The Magic Sun (1966-68), a super-constrasty documentation of an ecstatic Sun Ra performance; and Gunvor Nelson’s My Name Is Oona (1969), a sunspot portrait of his daughter backed with Steve Reich voice loop. Takahiko Iimura’s 10-minute 16mm Kuzu (Junk) is perhaps the most haunting. Featuring an almost subliminal score by Takehisha Kosugi, the downcast elegy takes place on Tokyo Bay’s industrial beach amid dead animals, craggy garbage, playful children, and the filmmaker’s shadowy footprints. Each oddly baroque frame is crammed with gloomy nostalgia, lodging resonances that refuse to budge.