Digging around old notes collected during research in london, found an interview with William Raban from the â€œilluminationsâ€ series. I had watched these interviews, with raban and also guy sherwin, while sitting in the office of the british artists film research unit at central st martins college. Stephen ball emailed me the raw transcriptions. There are a few statements in there by William which shed light on our work in trying to nut out two minutes forty five.
first, on a conceptual level, raban confirms his awareness of, and the influence of, john cageâ€™s 4â€²33â€³:
â€œI suppose the idea for the film really stems from John Cageâ€™s work, a title, a very similar title I think four, Four minutes forty-four seconds, where the pianist sits at the piano for that period of time and that is the work, thereâ€™s you know, no keyboard work as such [â€¦]â€
In Rabanâ€™s film, the analogy to Cageâ€™s â€œno keyboard work as suchâ€ is the fact that there is no filming work as such, at least not prior to the first event being staged. If Cage was working from within the idiom of music, in his attempt to make the audience aware of the ambient noises in the room at the present moment, to strive to conceive of these unstructured environmental sounds as music, then Raban was, to a certain extent, attempting to do the same thing but from within the idiom of cinema. Retaining the essential ingredients of cinema (visible projection of light over time, in the presence of an audience) but relinquishing the need for prior-recorded material. The desire to focus the audienceâ€™s attention on the here and the now was assisted by deliberately not â€œpreparingâ€ material before the show – so that we are all co-present in the moment of the workâ€™s coming into being (rather than simply the consumerâ€™s of a creative act carried out some time in the past. This fits perfectly with Malcolm Le Griceâ€™s contemporary manifesto, in which he described this process as a focus on â€œreal time/spaceâ€. (see http://www.luxonline.org.au/articles/real_time_space(1).html)
Cageâ€™s method was incredibly simple. By not doing anything, the work is made. Rabanâ€™s by contrast (as we have been discovering) involves considerably more work, a kind of framing work in order to draw and focus that attention whilst retaining the idiom of cinema. Whereas Cage wrote a piece of music consisting of three movements each without anything more technical than a long pause, Rabanâ€™s required a technical intervention of a larger scale:
â€œ[â€¦] I really liked the idea that with film and using the black and white negative process one could actually create a Dutch picture of screens within screens, so that the film process became the event, the projection event that the audience would see, and that the projection of the film was the subject of the film itself.â€
Itâ€™s possible that these technical requirements for the making of Rabanâ€™s work take it a little distance from the intentions of Cage. They produce a set of fascinating actions which hold the audienceâ€™s attention â€” these amount to a kind of visual pleasure, certainly a driving question like â€œhow is this done?â€ which maybe takes us away from the present momentâ€¦ (These are observations based on trying it out ourselves (albeit imperfectly)). Does this return us to the state of spectators of an event over which we have no control?
It seems that the audience members are aware that what they do in this moment will carry over into future iterations of the work – thus we are responsible in some way for the making of the work, at least for its content. And the nature of this interaction by an audience, I reckon, would be entirely dependent on the social makeup of a particular group. And THATâ€™s where things could get interesting â€” but youâ€™d only know by trying it out.
Some technical things we noticed by reading the Raban interview:
â€œTwo minutes forty-five seconds involves running a projector with no film in it at an empty screen and setting up a camera at the back of the audience so that their silhouettes are caught in that frame and the frames slightly larger than the projected screen and thereâ€™s a microphone placed at the front and I would go up to the front of the audience and I would announce Two minutes forty-five seconds, a camera is filming the audience watching the blank screen, sounds of the projection and the audiences responses are being recorded and Iâ€™d also give the date the time and the place of the projection event. After that projection Iâ€™d go away process the film to a black and white negative and the next day, if it was in a film festival or at the next occasion for doing the performance I would project the negative and again film that negative projected to this days audience and after Iâ€™d seen myself go off the screen, having announced the first day, I would go onto the screen again and announce into the microphone the title of the piece the date and the time and the fact that the audience were watching the film of last, of the last audience watching the blank screen and so on and so it would build up over a series of different performances but the film would only ever be two minutes forty-five seconds long because its history was contained within these receding screens that went back in perspective, positive negative, positive negative.â€
Interesting to note from this:
â€œsounds of the projection and the audiences responses are being recordedâ€ â€” so he WAS recording and playing back the sounds.
â€œif it was in a film festival or at the next occasion for doing the performance I would project the negative and again film that negative projected to this days audienceâ€
â€“ it seems from this that Raban is saying that there was only ever one version of the film – that it was nomadic in a way, that it travelled from one â€œfilm festivalâ€ or â€œoccasionâ€ – which goes against our theory that he did the work anew for each audience/venue/festival situation.
Questions remaining from this discussion by Raban: did the sound begin to have that Alvin Lucier resonation effect? Did the image start to break down and become incomprehensible? Was there an optimum amount of iterations? Did the audience become rowdy? Did they become docile? What kinds of experiences did audiences report in this work? What was the duration of two minutes forty five like?
William Raban got in touch to help us out!
The following is from an email he sent me:
“I’ll try answering some of the above.
Yes sometimes you are quite right that the work was nomadic though it probably worked best when performed in same space over successive days because the scale and proportion of the filmed space were consistent.
The sound got really interesting after 3 or so stages in the re-recording. The way I did it, I think the ideal number of “iterations” was about 7. Once in Bristol I had a rowdy audience though on refilming the young man who shouted “who is paying for this shit” becomes curiously staid (incorporated into the performance). The more times I performed the piece (more screens within screens) the shorter became the 2′ 45″ duration because I had to move quite smartly to get 7 different performances into a single performance.
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