VA: Colorfield Variations

As is typically the case with Line productions, Colorfield Variations is an exquisitely packaged release, in this case an audio-visual DVD project curated by Line main man Richard Chartier that features the work of upper-tier experimental electronic music names—Steve Roden, Stephan Mathieu, Frank Bretschneider, and Sawako among them. The contributors either provide their own video accompaniment or used the works of artists associated with the Colour Field painting tradition such as Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Morris Louis, Helen Frankenthaler, and others (with its emphasis on stripes, washes, and fields of solid color, the movement developed as a reaction to the more energetic and gestural style of Abstract Expressionism). If you're thinking that the style seems a natural fit for Line aesthetic, it goes without saying that you're correct.

What one gets is a synaesthetic experience that's tantamount to bringing the gallery exhibition into one's home, a set ideal for sitting back with the lights off, a big-screen monitor large enough to do the videos justice, and a surround-sound system powerful enough to distribute the micro-sounds around the room. There are thirteen pieces in all, with four exceeding the ten-minute mark alongside shorter settings, and naturally the visual and sonic materials coincide with flickers in the one mirrored by flickers in the other. The background info in some cases proves as fascinating as the work itself. “dark over light earth” by Steve Roden, for example, was designed to act as a smaller ninth painting to show alongside eight Rothko paintings at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. Roden used the colours in those eight paintings to generate a score for his own electronics and harmonium parts, while Jacob Danzinger played violin, unrehearsed, while listening on headphones to Morton Feldman's Rothko Chapel. The final work is much like a mutating Rothko painting, with colours shifting from gold and copper to red and blue-grey, often monochrome fields of varying saturation levels and changing light intensities, and sometimes speckled like magnified dust motes accumulating on glass. Sonically the piece is a slowly-shifting and generally peaceful field of electroacoustic sound with the natural pluck and saw of the violin and harmonium positioned at the forefront. Frank Bretschneider's “looping i-vi” is pretty much what you'd expect from the Raster-Noton mainstay: pristine, low-level clicks'n'cuts-styled music paired with light and dark horizontals rising and falling against a blue screen. Stephan Mathieu's “ Orange was the color of her dress” flickers rapidly through flat colour fields, the audio track a beautiful, crystalline sampling of Mathieu's Radioland . “Chronomanic Redux” by Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti pairs Rothko-like fields of red, blue, and green with placid ambient sounds of prog-like flute playing and softly blowing winds. Sawako opts for micro-sound gestures and mutating pastel shapes in her “Flirting 07121602,” which is based on color data from Helen Frankenthaler's painting, Flirt.

Interestingly, some of the most successful pieces happen to be the shortest. “AMP_SWELL,” which pairs video by Sue Costabile and audio by Beequeen, offers an abrupt change from the monochrome treatments that elsewhere dominate. Fluttering images of grid-like patterns fade in and out of the black base while guitar fragments, clinking noises, and electronics mingle in an animated and extroverted style that's pleasingly more conventionally song-like in form. The pairing of translucent clusters of beautiful flower-like shapes (pinks, reds, greys) with violent tearing and smeared sounds leaves a memorable impression in Ryoichi Kurokawa's “Scorch,” while “Chronomops,” with video by Tina Frank and audio by General Magic, is refreshingly frenetic in its aggressive coupling of wild sonics and dizzying colour; like a typhoon of raw digital noise and visual overload, the two-minute comes and goes quickly, flaring out like a dying flame. There are a few occasions where one dimension trumps another. “Ten Thousand Peacock Feathers in Foaming Acid” by Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfland, for instance, looks beautiful, and so it should: its flowing, green tendrils and shapes are actually the surfaces of nucleating and dissipating soap bubble clusters; sonically, however, the music accompanying it is a less striking mix of sub-atomic ripples, tears, and tones. Generally speaking, though, most of the featured works are symbiotic meldings of sound and vision, and Colorfield Variations is as magnificently designed as one would expect, given its Line origins.

April 2009