Monday, 29 August 2011


An entry in the Glossary project

On learning that all complex sounds have as their basic unit or building block the 'sine wave', Nanneman was enticed by a city council colleague into purchasing a "bundle" of sine waves with which he intended to construct the Catalogue's sound library. Although a conscientious canteen assistant intervened in the sale, Nanneman was evidently wounded by the attempted fraud as, rather than building his sounds bottom-up, he now stated his intention to carve them from pre-existing noise. (He played down this change in approach, commenting that it "[made] sense given that we’re at the noisy end" - though whether he was referring to the "noisy end" of creation at which point any naturally occurring pure tones had surely already been merged into complex sounds or to his Town Hall lab at the comparably noisy John Dalton Street end of Manchester's Albert Square is not clear).

In fact, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that, in the event, Nanneman assembled his various sounds any which way he could: bottom-up, top-down, cobbled together, found, stolen, hummed etc. His contemporaries, however, could only speculate about the process, which was hidden from them by the temporary suspension of an interlaced membrane of tarpaulin around Nanneman’s lab, covering walls, ceiling, windows and doors and through which only the initiated might find their way before becoming consumed with panic. The purpose of the tarpaulin was and remains a case for speculation: was it hung, for example, to soundproof the lab, to replicate the circus tents of Nanneman's youth for his own comfort, or to replicate same in order to create the familiar sense of aural 'interiority' he required for his sounds? There was even talk at the time of his using the tarpaulin as a sheath to contain such emissions as might occur as a by-product of his attempts to identify and harness the "smell waves" which, so his colleagues had it, Nanneman was far more familiar with than the sonic variety and which he might therefore be attempting to synaesthesiatize into more manageable sounds using such digital alchemy as was at his service. The chief result of the tarpaulin, whether intentional or not, was then to have kept the precise materials used to generate the 131,072 discrete audio files* that comprised the Catalogue's sound bank a secret.

Each sound had the qualities of being both familiar, in having been sculpted from pre-existing noise, and disorienting for having been chosen and categorised according to Nanneman's own lonely agenda. Furthermore, as he neglected to provide compatible tools (EQ, reverb) with which to modulate these sounds according to the contexts in which they appeared, any given sound would at each occurrence sound identical to its previous use. Thus the single noise created, for example, to represent a mobile phone hitting the floor, would sound nothing like that particular event might sound in reality, yet 'rang true' through some obscure chain of association (the audience would 'get it' without quite knowing why): and should several mobile phones hit several floors in several acoustic spaces over the course of the same movie they would all sound exactly the same. Any effort to place the sound in its environment or to differentiate each event from its predecessor would have to take place in the audience's own minds. An over-used sound, lacking environmental nuance, would effectively fade with use in the passive moviegoer's mind in the same way that we gradually blank out supraliminal awareness of any repetitive alert that contains no new information. Nanneman had inadvertently hit on a way of degenerating a digital signal in a manner comparable to the degradation in quality of successive generations of tape-recording or photocopying, albeit in this case at the receiver-end. Sound engineers were reported to be "astonished and dismayed" and Nanneman himself was never satisfied with his accomplishments in the field of sound. "If only," he wrote in one of many unfiled reports to his seniors, "there hadn’t been something fishy about that sine wave deal".

*(including silences, but not ambience, dialogue or music)

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Mossley, As In A Dream

Home movie from a ramble around the hills of Mossley, April 2010, shot on expired AGFA Moviechrome, slowed down but otherwise un-edited.

I really wanted to experiment with sound design on my home movies but the Institute's steam-powered editing chambers aren't currently up to anything beyond sticking a sound file and a video file together and waiting to see if the old Macintosh engine gives out. So instead I shamelessly lifted Delia Derbyshire & Barry Bermange's The Dreams: Land piece from 1964, which seems to create a few interesting juxtapositions and, you know, keeps their work alive.

If anyone would care to add their own soundtrack I will happily provide the video file and reward them with an over-familiar pat on the shoulder upon completion of the work.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Colour Hunt

An entry in the Glossary project
As a young trapezist, not only was Nanneman's training restricted to the technical matters of physical fitness, aerialist technique and rope drill, but even his leisure time was policed against his pursuing any interest in the frills of his trade: music, costume, colour. Naturally, being forbidden from involving himself in what his superiors termed the "realm of the frivolous" only made those glimpses he caught of it more exotic, more unsettling - and more dangerous: music came to hold secret, incendiary meanings, and the unpredictable modulation of shirt colour in the audience, from performance to performance and even moment to moment, was fully capable of disorienting him as he swung, should he ever have let his concentration lapse (that he never dropped might be considered a fluke of disposition).

Years later, then, when he began to compile his standardized filmmaking kit, he had at least two good reasons for creating a reductive colour system - specifically, categorized palettes of up to 256 colours with the facility to utilise only one such set per individual movie: firstly, that the complexity of the colour aspect of his filmmaking system should not exceed his own limited understanding of that domain; and secondly, that it was his goal to facilitate the making of "reassuring" films, and only by control, by unity of colour, could he preclude the unbalancing effect he assumed that audiences had continued to suffer across what he considered to be the largely undisciplined history of the colour movie.

Perhaps it is this perceived autonomy of colour, then, its wildness-in-need-of-taming, that inspired Nanneman to term his city-wide colour sampling expeditions "Colour Hunts". Certainly there is evidence that these spontaneous adventures tended to be embarked upon during periods of professional stress and frustration - that the sheer thrill of unearthing and capturing a feral hue was accompanied by a sense of regained control proportionate to the borderline chromatophobia of Nanneman's aerialist youth. A comment scribbled on the back of the only known photograph (now lost) of such a hunt even suggests that the catharsis and primal satisfaction ("flush!") that came with the successful capture of a desired hue was entirely justified even if that hue was not in motion: whilst capturing a moving colour might seem the greater sport, the hunter himself is always in motion (in an ocular sense at the very least) and, in an uncontrolled environment, the movement of light provides an irregular and unpredictable ("fiendish") dynamic camouflage for a static ("cowering") hue. No colour comes cheap.

Although he did take others on the hunts (including Hanni, and the occasional jobseeker who wandered into the lab having taken the wrong direction on their way to the Town Hall's temporary JSA bureau), it was Nanneman who bagged the great majority of the 16,384 colours that eventually formed the full redestructivish palette. It is not known whether his decision to name and provide full back-stories for each shade was motivated by a desire to honour his fallen quarry or was rooted in aesthetic concerns. Neither is it known whether his decision to outsource most of this written work to others is an example of his personal predilection (through conditioning?) for practical work or an unwillingness to stare any longer than was absolutely necessary into the soul of any individual colour.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The revolution isn't finished - it's at home watching TV

The revolution in Manchester lasted barely three days, but it gripped the nation’s undernourished imagination and laid the groundwork for a new utopia founded on tolerance, economic equality and cha-cha-cha. I was there - or nearby - and this is my testimony.

Tuesday 9th August, 2011

Manchester erupts in a frenzy of erotic wanting and violent taking as the disaffected, the dispossessed and the dizzy plunder city centre shops of plasma TVs, training shoes and ‘high-end’ gadgets. Listening in on the wireless, I experience a sense of liberation at the thought of the ordinary, ordered folk of Britain turning on their heels and telling the powers that be: "you say it’s like that, but we say it’s like this." I am particularly inspired by a live report on looting at the Argos, where enterprising rioters have instinctively split into four teams and are working together to obtain the objects of their desire, one team filling in the little order forms, a second processing them, a third team fetching the loot from the storeroom and the final team operating the collections desk. Of course, no money changes hands, but several of the youths involved find the work so enjoyable that they naively leave their CVs behind upon leaving. Before the night is out, they will be arrested, tried and jailed.

Switching off the radio to instead mentally map the chaos by the direction of passing sirens, my mind starts to wander: those first few successful revolutionaries will already be home by now, wiring up their plasma TVs. But is there ever anything on? And besides, aren’t these front room monoliths in fact the inherently exploitative cornerstones of the very capitalist pseudo-democracy we’re up in arms against, pumping out constant reminders of what else we don’t have and why the system to perhaps, eventually, get it all, works? Destroying our environment and our hard work as they break down at a time pre-allotted according to the standard practice of planned obsolescence? And the warrantee isn’t even valid when you stole the telly in the first place.

These thoughts prey on my mind, and it is while I am cooking my tea that I decide to become a revolutionary leader. Seeking encouragement, I text my mum (neither of us has a Blackberry):

This is me: Viva la revoluciĆ³n!

This is my mum: O.K. xx

Wednesday 10th August, 2011

All night I dream of shooting men in top hats, garrotting bankers with the strings of their own squash rackets and laughing freely but seriously in forest idylls with lank-haired revolutionettes. When one’s very dreams are shaped by the presumption and disinformation of the media one should not sleep in. I rise early and head into town to confront and inspire my people, but most of the other revolutionaries rise late, no doubt tired by a night of rioting and phone-in Bingo on the wide-screen.

An early blow is dealt to the revolution when David Cameron appears on TV to calm the nation and disparage the rioters. Several revolutionaries, seeing our glorious P.M. in high definition for the first time, immediately repent and break back into the very shops they’d previously looted in order to return their plasma TVs and ‘high-end’ gadgets. They are quickly arrested, tried and jailed.

I identify a small band of revolutionaries in Piccadilly Gardens and make myself known to them. I have deliberately not shaved so as to be taken seriously. Robbing the tools of our own oppression, I tell them, has to stop. By stealing such status symbols, we highlight the arbitrary retail value of the desired items and so reinforce our own economic subservience. One of the revolutionaries starts crying and his sister takes him home. I am pleased my words have had an impact but disconcerted when I see a ‘fed’ who has been listening in gives me a nod of approval.

I break for lunch, gazing around the shopping centre at capitalism’s last stand as the red burrito juice of revolt drips down my chin and onto my overcoat.

Despite the electric atmosphere of a town where everyone’s waiting for the punchline, the insurgency fails to materialise. The word on the jealously guarded screens of our communication devices is that it’s "too rainy" and that many of the revolutionaries would prefer to stay in with their new plasma TVs. There are some skirmishes around 10pm when they pop out to loot some snacks but all in all it is a quiet day for the revolution.

Like many of those who returned empty-handed from the previous night’s riots, I start to wonder if maybe I waited too long to move and somebody else got all the best ideology.

Thursday 11th August, 2011

I rise late having stayed up trying to subvert all manifestations of the mass media as found in my digs. I short-circuited my radio in the sink (partly by accident) but had less success with my record collection. You can’t detourn Cugat - he’s just too good.

The last of the sirens fades into the distance. The morning is spent drawing up plans for the new world order, although to be honest my heart is no longer in it. Most ideas are either self-defeating or too long-term to really get excited about. I settle on the following four-step revolution:

1. Wait for new model of plasma TV to come out. Mobilise comrades by exploiting their desires.

2. Hold pre-riot meeting (new tie?). "This time we won’t steal plasma TVs, we’ll steal MediaCityUK."

3. Non-violent, non-burny revolution.

4. Some kind of lengthy mass indoctrination process for revs and counter-revs alike. Elimination of mutual suspicion, one-upmanship, fetishisation of luxury goods, bourgeois post-industrial concepts of "quality", and television gameshows; and the propagation of mutual respect and empathy, selflessness, slowing down a bit, art as leisure, leisure as art, robot slaves and Cugat.

As I now have no means of following the aftermath of the first, failed revolution, I pop over to the paper shop to buy an MEN. The shopkeeper is in good spirits, boasting about the deterrent power of our "vigilant community": I tell him that "one man’s vigilant community is another man’s vigilante community" but he doesn’t seem to appreciate the nuance and I pick up a TVTimes to change the subject.

The MEN predictably tows the counter-rev line, mocking the revolutionaries for not fully understanding the nature of their own misery and condemning them for rioting in a confusing and ungentlemanly fashion. I mention this to a neighbour as she wheels in her recycling bins, and she sagely replies, "let he who has never lashed out irrationally due to a lifelong build-up of undefined frustration cast the first stone." She is immediately arrested, tried and jailed for incitement to riot.

(In other news, privileged NatWest customers are invited to buy a £12 ticket to a promotional screening of the latest Anne Hathaway flick at Heaton Park. It is not clear where the big screen came from. Bring a picnic. Bring your friends.)

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

6.92 Billion Portraits: an ongoing side-project

Having been dispatched to Valencia, Bucharest and Poitiers last Autumn to represent L'Institute Zoom at screenings of our short film It's Nick's Birthday, I decided that rather than clog the Institute's archive with further shambolically improvised Super-8 travelogues I would instead set myself the task of exhaustively documenting the people and places I encounted in a series of 10-second audio-visual portraits.

"Circumstances" (wine, time, cowardice) prevailed and I was only able to take three portraits in Valencia, three in Bucharest and none at all in Poitiers. Thus, to preserve my own dignity I have adjusted the terms of the project so that this handful of films should now be considered the first batch in my ongoing task of creating a portrait for every living person on Earth - which, day to day fluctuations in world population figures notwithstanding, should eventually account for around 6.92 billion of us.

Below are the first six, the inaugural portrait subject remaining anonymous as an exercise in legend-making. The remaining 6,199,999,994 will appear here in reverse-chronological order as they are produced. Whilst the basic tenets of the portrait-taking process will remain consistent, I sincerely hope my technical skills show some improvement as the millions and billions pass.

Please contact me to arrange your sitting ASAP.

LOCATION: Valencia
DATE: 20.11.2010

LOCATION: Valencia
DATE: 20.11.2010

LOCATION: Valencia
DATE: 20.11.2010

LOCATION: Bucharest
DATE: 26.11.2010

LOCATION: Bucharest
DATE: 26.11.2010

LOCATION: Bucharest
DATE: 26.11.2010

Monday, 8 August 2011


An entry in the Glossary project

The flow of a movie; the synergy of its components as experienced in time; the essence of a movie’s movieness. The nagging meta-question, beyond language, theme or character, to be resolved or at least defused. That which each aspect of the movie strives to generate. A term chosen by Nanneman to repudiate the primacy of narrative, which even in a narrative movie should be working for the movie rather than vice versa. (Other commentators referring to other films may refer to ‘story’ or ‘plot’ when really they mean - or would be doing better to address - ‘current’.)

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Monday, 1 August 2011

New Deal For Audiences, A

An entry in the Glossary project

Mentioned in the Catalogue only in passing, Francis Dove’s A New Deal For Audiences manifesto was written in response to his ongoing inability to break out of TV and into cinema: every time he was offered a shot at fully expressing his vision with a feature-length, the dismal commercial and critical response would force him back to another decade or more of frustration and barely-noticed small screen subversion.

Dove printed thousands of copies of his manifesto (rather than the millions or billions it would surely take to make the necessary adjustments to the world’s movie audience) and took the fight to the front line, intending to picket Friday night screenings of contemporary box office hits but retiring mid-way through the trailers on his first night, quoted as complaining that "the problem with audiences is, they’re just people."

"A New Deal For Audiences

Hello. You can call me Frank. Even my mother doesn’t call me Frank. But my wife does. I am the one who makes the films. You are the one who watches them. I thought we might come to an agreement:

1. Just bear with me on this.

2. You are the centre of the universe.

3. That doesn’t make you special. It doesn’t free you of responsibility.

4. You won’t have to interact. You won’t even have to stand anywhere that you’ll feel self-conscious. But you will have to think now and then, to the extent of questioning what you know and unlearning how you watch.

5. Don’t be threatened by the unusual. I’m not doing it to hurt you or make you feel stupid, though I can’t speak for my colleagues.

6. Include the environmental factors of your screening situation (sounds, objects, light, seating, smell and people) as fully part of the film you’re watching. Accept that I put them all there on purpose.

7. The best filmmaker makes a film that requires no prior knowledge of its own or any other terms.

8. The best audience accepts a movie on that movie’s terms, whether it conforms to the previous statement or not, learning those terms if necessary whilst watching them and afterwards on the bus.

9. Some of my colleagues are responsible for making academic films. Their collective filmographies represent a conversation between academics. Others stick to a basic grammar that by itself stultifies the content and furthermore, in extension of this laziness, tend to pile the grammar clumsily on top of itself until it comes crashing down on you. They still get their point across. A third sect play it vernacular. Some of these are the academics in disguise, some are still lazier grammarians and the worthwhile ones you’ll have to search energetically to find. And even then it’s a risk if you’re on a date.

10. My duty remains, however personal, cerebral or experimental a film should be, to make you at the very least go "Yeah!" and ideally to make you want to hug yourself and those around you. The nature of the hug may vary from film to film and you will have to police the situation yourself.

11. About toilet breaks: I can’t stop you. Why not try taking the characters in with you?

12. Story is essential to the human animal, but the idea of what story is has been monopolised by our oppressors. Don’t feel you have to look for "A Story" - just be ready to absorb "some story". If you need your hits delivered at pre-defined intervals, get yourself a drugs problem.

13. About realism: the visible world is all around you. The cinema is about illuminating the invisible. You trust and worship the realists because, in photographing the natural world, approximating its everyday occurrences and hiding the artifice, they appear to be honest and serious. It takes no effort to go along with because it looks just like the outside. It is a greater and more rewarding leap of faith to give oneself up to ostentatious artificiality. Artificialists use the language of lies to search for coded truths. Your nightmares are the only important issue. Come on - you’re sophisticated enough now to at least play along with us. And laugh the earnest cavemen out of the cinema.

14. If you’re scared of looking silly in front of your friends, then you’re scared of life - and that may be because you have the wrong friends. Take it from someone who’s scared of life.

15. Really, if you’re not going to try, you may as well have a nap. It’s cheaper for you and saves me having to see that look on your face.

16. This isn’t an argument I’m trying to win. It is an understanding I am trying to reach.

Thanks for reading.

Yours faithfully,

Francis Dove. (Frank)."

This was just the first of several such manifestos of greater or lesser, mostly lesser, effect.