Artist of the Week: Video Jam Special!

Video Jam returns to Liverpool on Friday 14 November, with a very special event at the Kazimier – book your tickets here. Editor Sinead Nunes caught up with the curatorial team and artists behind this tour to find out what we can expect from the next instalment of this truly unique event.

Video Jam Curators – SH: Sarah Hill / SP: Shereen Perera

For those who haven’t never been to one of these events, what is Video Jam?

SH: Initiated from scratch by a very small team of emerging artists, curators and promoters, Video Jam is an ongoing series of unique, experimental events which seek to explore and reexamine the relationship between moving image and live sound. Each of our programmes feature a wide variety of contemporary short films of all genres, with a particular emphasis on experimental and independent moving image by emerging and professional artists alike. For each of these films we commission a different musical act or sound artist to compose an original soundtrack of their own interpretation to be performed as a live accompaniment, resulting in what we call a ‘blind collaboration’. As curators we act as the go-between, bringing together these two elements to create a new, third entity to be witnessed as a live experience.

How do you go about finding artists to take part?

SH: There are two approaches to finding artists, which we have used in equal measure: putting a call out for submissions, and actively scouting people. We are continually open for submissions; artists are free to contact us through our website but typically we will put a tailored call out for films and musicians in advance of a specific event. This has proven to be a fantastic way of discovering new artists and their work. For our first events we started out by putting our call outs in bars and student noticeboards and working with mostly local artists, which we remain very keen to do. Since then our approach to reaching artists has largely concentrated on social media platforms and various online listings, enabling our network of artists to quickly expand to a national and international scale.

A large number of the artists we have worked with in the past have been recommended by word of mouth, scouted through platforms such as Vimeo, and discovered through festivals, local screenings, student shows etc. We are interested in discovering people working at all stages in their career, so it’s necessary to maintain an interest in a variety of outlets. A large part of the role of a curator is to take a committed interest in new work and what is current within your particular fields of interest. There is a huge amount out there to be discovered, so using this approach it’s necessary to develop a very discernible eye, remain active and do your research thoroughly. It also helps that I’m an artist working in film myself, and as such am continually mixing in circles of people relevant to what we do.

Has there been a thematic approach to this particular series?

SP: For SPACES we’ve departed from our original ‘blind collaboration’ concept. In many ways the tour marks a very focussed return to Video Jam’s original premise to explore the relationship between sound and moving image. The project has allowed time/space/resources for each SPACES pairing to work closely together to create a new audio/visual work from scratch. There hasn’t been a theme for the project. Instead the focus of the project is centred around the title ‘SPACES’ and its implications which include our commitment to allowing the artists time and space for creative ideas to flourish, and exploring 3 new physical spaces as settings for new works.

What do you think are the benefits of producing site-specific events?

SP: Producing site-specificevents requires us as curators to examine, reexamine, imagine and re-imagine the spaces we have either chosen or are required to use. Putting on site-specific events allows us to take on a theatrical approach to curating our programmes, and we always like to insert a bit of spectacle and performance here and there!

Some of the venues we have worked with such as Liverpool Cathedral’s Lady Chapel, The Vaults, Manchester Art Gallery and Islington Mill all come with their own distinct identity and characteristics which we try to draw attention to however we can; whether that be unusual staging, the placement of the projection screen, the proximity of audience to the musician etc…Some venues suggest grandeur and formality whilst others suggest grittiness and ramshackle. What’s particularly exciting is allowing a way of ‘reseeing’ and ‘rethinking’ familiar spaces to local people to encourage a critical/different way of viewing public spaces.

SH: Just to clarify our particular spin on this: we are presenting work that is site-specific to not only one space, but three. The work was made over a period of 6 months with these chosen venues in mind. SPACES presents the fruits of this labour as 3 distinct experiences which morph and change over the course of the tour, as opposed to simply screening the same work 3 times. Thus, one event alone is just a third of the complete picture.

This approach recognises the bodies of work created as non-static and adaptable, and plays around with the potential of performance, space/place and ‘liveness’ in relation to film and sound. It requires the artist not only to focus on the immediate work they’re creating, which could technically be screened anywhere, but equally importantly, the event they’re creating with us as a transient, unique experience in relation to a specific place and time. It challenges artists and curators to go further with their creative thinking, and makes, we hope, for a more exciting and immersive audience experience.

Watch the trailer:

You last came to Liverpool as part of AND Festival in 2013. What does it feel like to be heading back?

SP: Being part of AND Festival’s event Experiment Perilous & Video Jam was a great introduction to Liverpool’s arts scene. It feels quite nerve racking to come back on our own to deliver a large scale event at The Kazimier which is undeniably Liverpool’s most exciting venue. We’re bringing a little bit of Manchester to The Kaz with scrappy indie/punk band Sex Hands & boy girl pop duo Bernard & Edith as well as shipping in Brighton’s electronic genius Wanda Group. We’re psyched to be working with event curation masters Deep Hedonia who are hosting a special AV Party featuring DJs Onika, Kepla and AKASA this promises to be the best Video Jam After Party yet.

Has Video Jam ever teamed up with Slip Discs before?

SP: We piloted our ‘active collaboration’ SPACES concept for ‘project reRite’, in which four musicians and four filmmakers (including Slip Discs promoter Tom Rose and Video Jam’s film curator Sarah Hill) worked in pairs to deliver a reworked audio/visual rendition of Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring. We extended our relationship with Slip Discs by designating them a slot in each of our Video Jam programmes starting with Video Jam at Manchester Art Gallery in Jan 2014, for which they chose a musician represented by their label (Chaines) who we paired with a filmmaker (Mary Stark). SPACES is the most ambitious project both collectives have embarked upon yet – we’ve complimented each others creative energies, ideas and attitudes and have inspired and developed each others practice to a new level of professionalism.

What can we expect at the Kazimier (next week) in 3 words?

Spectacular, Visceral, Celebration

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SPACES Artists

Mary Stark / Chaines (Caroline Haines)

You two have worked together before, so what can we expect that will be new and exciting for this event?

Chaines: This time round, you can expect a grander spectacle, and, on my part, a more fully-realised work. When we first collaborated back in January, it was something of a dive into the unknown for me. There was relatively little time in which to come up with something, and importantly, it was my first time working with an artist like Mary, who is not a traditional film maker. Setting music to a hard copy of the film, which I’d done before, wasn’t what was on the cards. In order to write the piece, I had to compile a collection of sounds, chords and passages, and take my equipment to Mary’s studio to decide upon the final structure there, triggering and manipulating the sounds in real time. In the end, I performed alongside Mary’s work, part-film, part-moving sculpture. This time around, I’ve had more time to think about Mary’s output and where we have common ground, and a greater mutual understanding has meant we’ve gotten more out of each other’s ideas. The luxury of time has also benefitted us a great deal, meaning we’ve both been able to advance our practices on our own terms, as well as creating a unified final piece.

Mary Stark: The SPACES commission is a really exciting opportunity to see work with 16mm film made during a recent four week residency at LIFT, the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto. The SPACES events will be the first time this work has been shown in the UK. In Toronto I had four weeks to really push my filmmaking, and access to unrivalled filmmaking facilities. I spent a lot of time in the darkroom printing fabric patterns onto film. I also developed new ways of working with the filmstrip, light and shadow and began to use analogue filmmaking apparatus such as film trim bins and rewind arms, which are barely seen now in the UK film industry. The performance plays on the sculptural material nature of the film strip and literally moves the film editing bench to centre stage.

Having my work scored by a musician is a challenging concept because I work with sound and the performance has its own stand-alone soundtrack. Working with Caroline, however, has been a fascinating way to see work I’ve spent a lot of time on alone in a completely different way, as well as pushing me to consider using my own voice as an integral aspect. This new work for SPACES has benefitted from a lot of time, thought and collaborative discussion. The time we’ve had to discuss the ideas that drive my work with film has allowed me and Caroline to build up a rich lively dialogue, which is reflected in the final performance. Caroline’s strong narrative sense really emphasises the different aspects involved in working with the film strip and film projection, hard industrial noise and soft bright shadows, embodied processes and rigid mechanics, dark relentless intensity and expansive blissful beauty.

We are interested in the idea of narrative in your art Caroline – is this why you work so well with a filmmaker like Mary?

Chaines: Through the course of this project, I’ve been struck by the sheer amount of history and philosophy behind Mary’s output, which isn’t necessarily immediately apparent, due to its more abstract leanings. When we first collaborated, I remember thinking that her area of interest (the use of film strip as fabric and thread) was so incredibly specific, and I wasn’t initially sure what else there was to it. Having talked with her more about her work, her background and her travels, I realise that I was seeing only a small portion of a substantial web of ideas, motivations and research, and hence had a myriad of things to draw upon. I hope that my music allows a viewer to more immediately grasp another few layers of meaning already present but more hidden in Mary’s visuals. I think my my leanings towards narrative work well with such stark visuals; neither is the obvious choice for the other, but their partnership generates further possibilities, meanings, layers, sensations. Additionally, I’ve been using extracts of my conversations with Mary, mostly in the latter half of the piece, so hopefully the audience will also have a more literal window into her artistic processes.

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WULF (Scout Stuart, Tom O’Meara and Paul Daly) & Spaak (Joe Snape)

There are a lot of people involved in this particular project. Tell us about your creative process.

Joe: The Internet! There weren’t just many people, there were many people in many places, and so sharing work online was a big help from the start. We worked fairly independently to a brief throughout, but were sure to keep each other in the loop as we went along. Rough mixes, sketches, visual mockups were all part of how we managed. And Skype, of course.

Scout (WULF): Following what Joe said, there were three filmmakers and one musician involved in this particular collaboration, all of whom were based in different cities (Manchester, London, Coventry and Berlin) and so sharing ideas and later, work, online was a necessity. Tom O’Meara, Paul Daly and I (WULF) have very different styles of filmmaking and so it became apparent that we would create three individual films rather than work on a longer piece together.

The dilemma we initially had then was how to link 3 diverse directors who would not be working with, but alongside each other for the duration of the project. So we developed a set of rules that would thematically connect independent work into a unifying whole whilst still giving as much space for creative freedom as possible. As well as our films being tied together sonically (via SPAAK’s soundtrack) we were tied around the theme of memory. Either in terms of literal memory e.g. us revisiting our own past, or a conceptual exploration of it. Because our processes was so varied (I worked with found footage, Tom with animation and Paul shot on film) we worked fairly independently to this brief throughout, but were sure to keep each other in the loop via Skype and telephone as we went along.

You also build instruments – will we see any fantastic creations being used for this piece?

Joe: Actually, this sort of leads on from your last question. One of the things SPACES was keen on from the start was to see projects develop from show to show. So at the first gig in Leeds, I’ll be playing with a fairly standard assortment of consumer electronics: laptop, mic, children’s’ keyboards. But during the two-week period of the tour I’ll be working on a special, carefully deconstructed synthesiser. A lot of the sounds I’m interested in are these fragile, flimsy, unsteady tones; electronics that sound like they feel and that their feelings could get hurt. So I’ll be working on a kind of box that allows for sounds to be run through a series of shabby electrical contacts that can be played by hand in a lot of detail, before being sent back to the mix in all their pathetic, distressed glory. Hopefully by the time we get to Liverpool, it’ll all be up and running…

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James Snazell / MFAAH (Max Hampshire)

James, is Max’s work the sort of sound you envisioned when starting work on your film?

Max’s work wasn’t the sort of sound I envisioned when first putting this film together. The very beginnings of this film I began before starting the SPACES project, which consisted of selecting particular sequences from films, most of which date back to the late seventies. I became really interested in The Black Hole and whilst taking sequences from an 8mm version of this film and manipulating them, I also started playing with a soundtrack vinyl record of the same film, taking recordings of the record playing on an old record player with a really worn needle making the sound jump, skip and repeat a lot and then manipulating this sound. At the same time as doing this I knew I really wanted to work with a sound artist/composer.

What I like about working with sound artists is that they can bring to a project a completely different angle to what I am doing with the visual aspect of the piece. You get to ‘see’ a piece through audio/sound in a completely different way, which is fantastic, particularly as one can get so involved in the production of the visual side of a piece of work. I also appreciate the way a musician can jam with other musicians and develop a sound as a collective; making indie and experimental film can be something that one does on one’s own in a singular way and working with sound artists or musicians gives one the sense of developing something together and not knowing exactly where it will lead.

I hope that this project will act as a starting point in terms of being able to work with Max in the near future and to see how we can crossover in terms of connecting our audio & visuals together. It has been really fascinating to see the way in which Max works and how it relates to my own methods, so it would be great to see how these connections can be continued.

Max, is your work always informed by film or do you also enjoy creating standalone tracks?

My work, prior to working with James, has never really been influenced by film in any meaningful sense. I’ve had several jams with friends alongside which we’d maybe project some visuals and I’ve also been part of an improvisatory audiovisual group which performed at a few events, but in terms of the stuff I make as MFAAH, I can’t say I’ve ever really made anything other than standalone tracks!

In terms of the music attached to the MFAAH moniker, prior to working with James, I’ve only ever been ‘informed’ (if by anything) by auditory environments; a lot of my music begins as field recordings, and the only way I’ve ever been able to properly balance these recordings in a way that I’m happy with the finished result is via the addition of synthesised material that almost sounds as if its emulating a field recording. Before this project, my process had always begun with a folder full of obliquely titled audio files which had come together from several weeks of warping and shaping field recordings. From here, I would begin to fit sections of these together with synthesised material, treating both types of material as completely disparate elements to be balanced out into finished tracks. Since the synthesised material I work with is culled from recordings of PureData patches that I’ve made to work as autonomous little noise environments, even this is sort of partially/readymade (once I’ve finished a patch, and I’m happy with the parameters that the patch is working within) in the same way that the field recordings are; the music attached to MFAAH, preSPACES, has always felt more like an exercise in balancing disparate elements into an interesting auditory mix than actual composition.

As such, this project has been incredible to work on, firstly because I’ve never before been influenced by film, and secondly because working with James feels more like consciously composing a set, thought-out and directed piece, rather than the ‘mixing and letting sit’ approach I’ve previously employed. This is the first time my work has had to be directly influenced either by something other than sound, or someone else’s material (similarly, it is the first time I have ever worked on anything collaboratively beyond live improvisation)! In a similar way to James’ above discussion of his reaction to people putting his work to music, I hadn’t ever really envisaged what sort of visual work would gel with any music I made, and as such was very surprised (in the best of ways) at just how well the two elements that we have both contributed to the project (and worked on almost in isolation from one another initially) gel together as a cohesive audiovisual experience. As James has already highlighted, our work has a lot of very fruitful crossover points; further collaboration is something that I’m very much looking forward to with James, as well as audiovisual work in general.

You can find out more about the event on Friday 14 November at the Kazimier, and book your tickets here.

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