VA: Optofonica

Can we give some kind of award to Line overseer Richard Chartier for ensuring that material of this rarefied and elaborately presented kind—especially in such fragile economic times—finds it way into the marketplace? Though issued in a run of only 1000 copies, the deluxe release perpetuates Line's high standards by packaging its DVD case and fifty-two-page full-colour booklet within an embossed slipcase—an embarrassment of riches, visually speaking. On Optofonica, Optofonica, a platform for art-science situated in Amsterdam and founded in 2006 by TeZ, presents two-and-a-half hours of twenty-three video-sound projects (involving forty-two artists from thirteen different countries) of the synaesthetic kind you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else. It also makes for an incredible headphones listening experience, especially when the Surround Sound option is selected. In some cases, a piece pairs a visual artist and a sound artist; in other cases, the work is the product of a single individual or outfit.

Some pieces naturally turn out to be more memorable than others, including Marcel Wierckx's “Black Noise White Silence,” a three-minute, achromatic blizzard of eruptive convulsions and rapidly fluttering forms; Otolab's “Animula,” which pairs animation suggestive of caged electronic fireflies and clangorous buzzing and combustion; and Rayxxxx's dizzying “Pulse,”  which conjoins jagged, stroboscopic shapes to rubbery techno-like rhythms. In the mesmerizing “Rhythm Exp.,” Frank Bretschneider brings his meticulous rhythmning to a beautifully spare display of snowy dot galaxies. In Quayola, Mira Calix, and Autobam's “Strata #2,” a spectral setting in a ‘holy minimalism' vein, piano and orchestral elements (horns, strings) provide a jarring but not unwelcome change in musical style from the release's predominating style; the piece is as striking visually in depicting shards extending out of stain glass windows and in synchronizing them to the electronic intrusions—a bold merging of the medieval and the modern in audio and video terms.

Also noteworthy is “Waterfall,” a collaborative piece by Ryan Jeffery and Scanner, which laces a mini-soundtrack by Robin Rimbaud of synthetic whooshes and Japanese voices with menace and paranoia while visually alternating between the illuminated interior of a night-time office and the amplified crackle of tree branches. Ulf Langheinrich's vaporous drone “It Would Have Been Fantastic” shows a dust storm of white particles morphing into a flickering blue-dominated colour field display; David Muth & Hiaz's “Counterclockwise” configures transluscent veils into fan-like displays; and Kanta Horio's “Em#3”—talk about minimalism!—deploys magnetism to direct tiny nail-like rods, whose rapid motion generates magnified noise, along hard surfaces. Relatedly, “Sonolevitation” by Evelina Domnitch, Dmitry Gelfand, and Chartier shows flat, vertically aligned shapes suspended in mid-air with a droning field of sine tones and whirrs as accompaniment. “Raindrops #7” by Jason Graham, Kim Cascone, and Tez pairs rivulets of rain on windows with the kind of creeping digital sounds—like factory sounds ricocheting through the galaxy—one associates with Cascone.

There's more, of course, with contributions coming from Skoltz_Kolgen, Martijn Van Boven, Ryoichi Kurokawa, Kurt Hentschlager, and Natalie Bewernitz and Marek Goldowski (whose “Life at the Witch Trails” deserves a prize for best title). In certain cases, yes, the audio portion delivers pretty much what one would expect—granular, glitch-laden material where melody is absent, rhythm surfaces rarely, and textural sculpting is paramount—but the release (whose works span three years) features enough captivating audio-visual synchronicities to earn its recommendation (in a perfect world, there'd be page numbers included in the booklet but even mentioning it seems churlish in light of what's provided).

December 2009