Alastair Cook

Filmpoem 34/ The Shipwright’s Love Song

I spent some time with Jo on her narrow boat, Tinker, and recorded Tinker’s sounds, alongside her moving through the water. This is a male voiced poem, so I was persuaded to read it. I shot it last month on Kodak Ektachrome Super8, which is now so rare as to be prohibitively expensive. This will be the last filmpoem for a little while as Luca, Chris and I concentrate on partnering Felix Poetry Festival for next year’s Filmpoem Festival, alongside working with Absent Voices in Greenock and delivering Filmpoem Children’s Workshops in schools throughout the land. Busy times for Filmpoem!

This film was made with the support of the Poetry Society, the Canal & River Trust and Arts Council England.


Dave Bonta • Native Land

Videorenga: linked verses in which each verse is part image, part text.

Footage via the Prelinger Archives at old home movies, authors unknown. Sound: Corsica_S (Tim Kahn), recorded in southeastern Oregon, via (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial).

Text, concept, editing etc. by Dave Bonta. Aside from the soundtrack, the videopoem is available for remix and distribution under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 licence. (See the remix by Marie Craven: )
Blogged: An excerpt:

Haiku, as we now call it, developed from a tradition of Japanese linked verse (renga), specifically haikai no renga or renku. These were multi-author, collaborative improvisions in which each two adjacent verses could be read as if they were two stanzas of a longer poem. Displaying the Japanese aesthetic preference for asymmetry, verses of 17 mora (sound units akin to syllables) alternate with verses of 14 mora. Native land attempts to do something vaguely similar, stitching together videohaiku of unequal lengths, with lines in intertitles completing a verse (videopoetic unit) begun with the preceding shot. But each line or couplet could also be read as the first part of a verse concluding with the shot that followed it. Realizing that this ambiguous connectivity might easily be lost on a first-time viewer, I decided to make two versions of the sequence, cleverly titled “obverse” and “reverse.”

Native land deviates from Japanese linked verse tradition in two significant ways: it doesn’t have multiple authors, and it’s too thematically unified. The second deviation might be a direct consequence of the first, actually. Had it been made by two or more people, it would be less likely to bear the stamp of a single poet’s didactic concerns. I would argue that it does contain a strong element of multi-authorship, though, inasmuch as I sourced the video footage from six different anonymous home movies in the Prelinger Archives, presumably shot by (at least) six different people.

Tom Konyves • Channeling Gertrude

Film by Swoon for the poem ‘Channeling Gertrude’ written and read by Tom Konyves
Words & voice: Tom Konyves
Concept, treats, editing & music: Swoon
Thanks: Arlekeno Anselmo, Dava Bonta & Qarrtsiluni

There are 5 principal forms of videopoetry, including a combination of any of these:

KINETIC TEXT is essentially the simple animation of text over a neutral background. These works owe much to concrete and patterned poetry in their style – the use of different fonts, sizes, colours to create unusual visual representations of text.

VISUAL TEXT, or words superimposed over video/film images, presents the most significant challenge to the videopoet – to integrate the 3 elements. The role of the videopoet is to be an artist/juggler – a visual artist, sound artist, and poet combined – to juggle image, sound and text so that their juxtaposition will create a new entity, an art object, a videopoem. Text can include “found text”, i.e. text as image.

SOUND TEXT, or poetry narrated over video/film, is the videopoem without “superimposed text”. The “text” of the videopoem is expressed through the voice of the poet, accompanying the video/film images on the screen. Of the five forms of videopoetry, SOUND TEXT – with or without music – is the most popular; essentially, this is due to the facility of working within the traditional form of video/film, i.e. using the narrative techniques of the medium – without the additional difficulty presented by visual text – to illustrate a previously written poem. Once the illustrative function is removed, the work appears as the non-referential juxtaposition of sound and image.

PERFORMANCE is the appearance of the poet, on-camera, performing the poem. Some poets will mimic the MTV-music video style of presentation.

CIN(E)POETRY is the videopoem wherein the text is superimposed over graphics, still images, or “painted” with the assistance of a computer program. It closely resembles VISUAL TEXT, except the imagery is computer-generated, not captured by a motion picture camera. The term was introduced by George Aguilar, who works most often in this form.

– Tom Konyves
Videopoetry: A Manifesto

Pipilotti Rist

Meet the sensuous Swiss video artist Pipilotti Rist, whose work full of colour and playfulness. She here argues that videos can have painterly qualities and tells the story of one of her most famous videos, where a woman smashes car windows with a flower.

“There is no rule for when and where I get my ideas – some are survival tactics, some are psychotic tics, some are very well thought over.” The video ‘Ever is Over All’ (1997) was Rist’s response to a chief editor, who wouldn’t let her do the things she wished to do – even though he had given her a carte blanche. She felt like smashing his car, but instead chose to make a video, which challenged and even altered her aggression: “That was my catharsis.”

“I’m not more colourful than life is.” The screen is like “a moving glass painting” to Rist, who enjoys the playful use of colours. Moreover, she feels that a lot of people distance themselves from colour, even finding it intimidating. Rist, however, wants to fight for colour: “They call it superficial, but actually it’s dangerous.”

Elisabeth Charlotte “Pipilotti” Rist (b. 1962) is a Swiss visual artist, who works with video, film and moving images, which are often displayed as projections. She takes her name from Pippi Longstockings, heroine of Swedish author Astrid Lindgren’s much-loved series of children’s books. Early on in her career she began making super 8 films, which generally last only a few minutes and contain alterations in their colours, speed and sound. Among the themes her work centres on are gender, sexuality and the human body. In 1996 her work was first featured in the Venice Biennial, where she was awarded the ‘Premio 2000 Prize’. Other awards include the ‘Wolfgang Hahn Prize’ (1999), the ‘Joan Miró Prize’ (2009) and the ‘Cutting the Edge Award’ at the 27th Annual Miami International Film Festival (2010). Rist’s works are a part of prominent museums worldwide such as MoMA in New York City and Tate Modern in London.

For more about Pipilotti Rist see:

Pipilotti Rist was interviewed by Christian Lund at the Hayward Gallery in London, November 2011.

Gravity Be My Friend

Pixel Forest

Mercy Garden

Steve Reich

Steve Reich was recently called “our greatest living composer” (The New York Times), “America’s greatest living composer.” (The Village VOICE), “…the most original musical thinker of our time” (The New
Yorker) and “…among the great composers of the century” (The New York Times).. From his early taped speech pieces It’s Gonna Rain (1965) and Come Out (1966) to his and video artist Beryl Korot’s digital video opera Three Tales (2002), Mr. Reich’s path has embraced not only aspects of Western Classical music, but the structures, harmonies, and rhythms of non-Western and American vernacular music, particularly jazz. “There’s just a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history and Steve Reich is one of them,” states The Guardian (London).

In April 2009 Steve Reich was awarded the Pulitzer prize in Music for his composition ‘Double Sextet’.

Performing organizations around the world marked Steve Reich’s 70th- birthday year, 2006, with festivals and special concerts. In the composer’s hometown of New York, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Carnegie Hall, and Lincoln Center joined forces to present complementary programs of his music, and in London, the Barbican mounted a major retrospective. Concerts were also presented in Amsterdam, Athens, Brussels, Baden-Baden, Barcelona, Birmingham, Budapest, Chicago, Cologne, Copenhagen, Denver, Dublin, Freiburg, Graz, Helsinki, Los Angeles, Paris, Porto, Vancouver, Vienna and Vilnius among others. In addition, Nonesuch Records released its second box set of Steve Reich’s works, Phases: A Nonesuch Retrospective, in September 2006. The five-CD collection comprises fourteen of the composer’s best-known pieces, spanning the 20 years of his time on the label.

In October 2006 in Tokyo, Mr. Reich was awarded the Preamium Imperial award in Music. This important international award is in areas in the arts not covered by the Nobel Prize. Former winners of the prize in various fields include Pierre Boulez, Lucian Berio, Gyorgy Ligeti, Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Richard Serra and Stephen Sondheim.

In May 2007 Mr. Reich was awarded The Polar Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of music. The prize was presented by His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. The Swedish Academy said: “…Steve Reich has transferred questions of faith, society and philosophy into a hypnotic sounding music that has inspired musicians and composers of all genres.” Former winners of the Polar Prize have included Pierre Boulez, Bob Dylan, Gyorgi Ligeti and Sir Paul McCartney.

In December 2006 Mr. Reich was awarded membership in the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest and in April 2007 he was awarded the Chubb Fellowship at Yale University. In May 2008 he was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.

Born in New York and raised there and in California, Mr. Reich graduated with honors in philosophy from Cornell University in 1957. For the next two years, he studied composition with Hall Overton, and from 1958 to 1961 he studied at the Juilliard School of Music with William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti. Mr. Reich received his M.A. in Music from Mills College in 1963, where he worked with Luciano Berio and Darius Milhaud.

During the summer of 1970, with the help of a grant from the Institute for International Education, Mr. Reich studied drumming at the Institute for African Studies at the University of Ghana in Accra. In 1973 and 1974 he studied Balinese Gamelan Semar Pegulingan and Gamelan Gambang at the American Society for Eastern Arts in Seattle and Berkeley, California. From 1976 to 1977 he studied the traditional forms of cantillation (chanting) of the Hebrew scriptures in New York and Jerusalem.

In 1966 Steve Reich founded his own ensemble of three musicians, which rapidly grew to 18 members or more. Since 1971, Steve Reich and Musicians have frequently toured the world, and have the distinction of performing to sold-out houses at venues as diverse as Carnegie Hall and the Bottom Line Cabaret.

Mr. Reich’s 1988 piece, Different Trains, marked a new compositional method, rooted in It’s Gonna Rain and Come Out, in which speech recordings generate the musical material for musical instruments. The New York Times hailed Different Trains as “a work of such astonishing originality that breakthrough seems the only possible description….possesses an absolutely harrowing emotional impact.” In 1990, Mr. Reich received a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Composition for Different Trains as recorded by the Kronos Quartet on the Nonesuch label.

In June 1997, in celebration of Mr. Reich’s 60th birthday, Nonesuch released a 10-CD retrospective box set of Mr. Reich’s compositions, featuring several newly-recorded and re-mastered works. He won a second Grammy award in 1999 for his piece Music for 18 Musicians, also on the Nonesuch label. In July 1999 a major retrospective of Mr. Reich’s work was presented by the Lincoln Center Festival. Earlier, in 1988, the South Bank Centre in London, mounted a similar series of retrospective concerts.

In 2000 he was awarded the Schuman Prize from Columbia University, the Montgomery Fellowship from Dartmouth College, the Regent’s Lectureship at the University of California at Berkeley, an honorary doctorate from the California Institute of the Arts and was named Composer of the Year by Musical America magazine.

The Cave, Steve Reich and Beryl Korot’s music theater video piece exploring the Biblical story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac, was hailed by Time Magazine as “a fascinating glimpse of what opera might be like in the 21st century.” Of the Chicago premiere, John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “The techniques embraced by this work have the potential to enrich opera as living art a thousandfold….The Cave impresses, ultimately, as a powerful and imaginative work of high-tech music theater that brings the troubled present into resonant dialogue with the ancient past, and invites all of us to consider anew our shared cultural heritage.”

Three Tales, a three-part digital documentary video opera, is a second collaborative work by Steve Reich and Beryl Korot about three well known events from the twentieth century, reflecting on the growth and implications of technology in the 20th century: Hindenburg, on the crash of the German zeppelin in New Jersey in 1937; Bikini, on the Atom bomb tests at Bikini atoll in 1946-1954; and Dolly, the sheep cloned in 1997, on the issues of genetic engineering and robotics. Three Tales is a three act music theater work in which historical film and video footage, video taped interviews, photographs, text, and specially constructed stills are recreated on computer, transferred to video tape and projected on one large screen. Musicians and singers take their places on stage along with the screen, presenting the debate about the physical, ethical and religious nature of technological development. Three Tales was premiered at the Vienna Festival in 2002 and subsequently toured all over Europe, America, Australia and Hong Kong. Nonesuch is releasing a DVD/CD of the piece in fall 2003.

Over the years, Steve Reich has received commissions from the Barbican Centre London, the Holland Festival; San Francisco Symphony; the Rothko Chapel; Vienna Festival, Hebbel Theater, Berlin, the Brooklyn Academy of Music for guitarist Pat Metheny; Spoleto Festival USA, West German Radio, Cologne; Settembre Musica, Torino, the Fromm Music Foundation for clarinetist Richard Stoltzman; the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra; Betty Freeman for the Kronos Quartet; and the Festival d’Automne, Paris, for the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.

Steve Reich’s music has been performed by major orchestras and ensembles around the world, including the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, New York Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta; the San Francisco Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas; The Ensemble Modern conducted by Bradley Lubman, The Ensemble Intercontemporain conducted by David Robertson, the London Sinfonietta conducted by Markus Stenz and Martyn Brabbins, the Theater of Voices conducted by Paul Hillier, the Schoenberg Ensemble conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw, the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Robert Spano; the Saint Louis Symphony conducted by Leonard Slatkin; the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Neal Stulberg; the BBC Symphony conducted by Peter Eötvös; and the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.

Several noted choreographers have created dances to Steve Reich’s music, including Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker (“Fase,” 1983, set to four early works as well as”Drumming,”1998 and “Rain” set to “Music for 18 Musicians”), Jirí Kylían (“Falling Angels,” set to “Drumming Part I”), Jerome Robbins for the New York City Ballet (“Eight Lines”) and Laura Dean, who commissioned “Sextet”. That ballet, entitled “Impact,” was premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, and earned Steve Reich and Laura Dean a Bessie Award in 1986. Other major choreographers using Mr. Reich’s music include Eliot Feld, Alvin Ailey, Lar Lubovitch, Maurice Bejart, Lucinda Childs, Siobhan Davies and Richard Alston.

In 1994 Steve Reich was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, to the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts in 1995, and, in 1999, awarded Commandeur de l’ordre des Arts et Lettres.

Pierre Schaeffer

The father of musique concrète, French composer Pierre Schaeffer was among the most visionary artists of the postwar era; through the creation of abstract sound mosaics divorced from conventional musical theory, he pioneered a sonic revolution which continues to resonate across the contemporary cultural landscape, most deeply in the grooves of hip-hop and electronica. Born in 1910, Schaeffer was not a trained musician or composer, but was instead working as a radio engineer when he founded the RTF electronic studio in 1944 to begin his first experiments in what would ultimately be dubbed “musique concrète.” Working with found fragments of sound — both musical and environmental in origin — he assembled his first tape-machine pieces, collages of noise manipulated through changes in pitch, duration and amplitude; the end result heralded a radical new interpretation of musical form and perception.

In October 1948, Schaeffer broadcast his first public piece, Etude aux Chemins de Fer, over French radio airwaves; although the public reaction ranged from comic disbelief to genuine outrage, many composers and performers were intrigued, among them Pierre Henry, who in 1949 joined the RTF staff, as well as future collaborators Luc Ferrari and Iannis Xenakis. (Olivier Messiaen was also a guest, bringing with him students Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez.) Schaeffer forged on, in 1948 completing Etude Pathetique, which in its frenetic mix of sampled voices anticipated the emergence of hip-hop scratching techniques by over a generation; by 1949’s Suite pour 14 Instruments, he had turned to neo-classical textures, distorted virtually beyond recognition. In 1950, Schaeffer and Henry collaborated on Symphonie pour un homme seul, a 12-movement work employing the sounds of the human body.

Working with the classically-trained Henry on subsequent pieces including Variations Sur une Flute Mexicaine and Orphee 51 clearly informed Schaeffer’s later projects, as he soon adopted a more accessible musical approach. Together, the two men also co-founded the Groupe de Musique Concrète in 1951; later rechristened the Groupe de Recherches Musicales, or GRM, their studio became the launching pad behind some of the most crucial electronic music compositions of the era, among them Edgard Varèse’s Deserts. However, by the end of the decade most of the GRM’s members grew increasingly disenchanted with the painstaking efforts required to construct pieces from vinyl records and magnetic tape; after later, tightly-constructed works like 1958’s Etude aux Sons Animes and the next year’s Etudes aux Objets, even Schaeffer himself announced his retirement from music in 1960.

Leaving the GRM in the hands of Francois Bayle, some months later Schaeffer founded the research center of the Office of French Television Broadcasting, serving as its director from 1960 to 1975; in 1967, he also published an essay titled “Musique Concrète: What Do I Know?” which largely dismissed the principles behind his groundbreaking work, concluding that what music now needed was “searchers,” not “auteurs.” In later years, Schaeffer did explore areas of psycho-acoustic research which he dubbed Traite de Objets Musicaux (TOM); these experiments yielded one final piece, the 11-minute Le Triedre Fertile. He also hit the lecture circuit and agreed to produce radio presentations. Pierre Schaeffer died in Aix-en-Provence on August 19, 1995.