Album: Birth of Primary Cinema From The Spirit Of Sound
Author: Crawford Philleo
Publication: Foxy Digitalis
Though the two don't directly correspond, it's clear that Frank Rothkamm's DVD release "Birth of Primary Cinema From The Spirit of Sound" is meant to be experienced for its visual components as much as it is the audible. I guess that's obvious, what with the title of the release and the fact that it's a DVD and everything. But usually the juxtapositions to be found are too bizarre to make any kind of palpable sense at face value. An outdoor night shot of an apartment building is cut with a field recording of children playing in "Glockenspiel" (a quiet, nocturnal image placed alongside a busy, daytime-set soundtrack). An empty studio space is filled with random high-pitched micro-blips in "Bauhaus."
But in the absurdist world within which Rothkamm works, this "supermodernist" art is nonetheless mesmerizing—both of these elements separately, but especially when taken together as the whole in which they're presented. "Birth of Primary Cinema" is a series of still images, many of them striking in terms of their color and composition (rich tones, delicately beautiful geometries, subtle shading and motion sometimes violently removed from its subjects), each introduced with odd musical counterparts of static drones, shifting electronic ambience, field recordings and the like. And, as Rothkamm demonstrates, these curious combinations can ultimately be a source of humor, especially "Serenade," the album's last official track that pairs a man walking in a vast, flat expanse of land below a mountain range with an uber-cheesy MIDI synth samba groove as accompanying music. A light jab to anyone who might be taking the ominous tone of some of the album's previous tracks a little too seriously.
The explanatory text in the culminating "theory" track (titled "Rosa" on the disc's packaging), coupled with the liner notes, are key in terms of making some sense of Rothkamm's musico-philosophical approach to the suturing of image and sound. He's an artist who's interested in pushing, conflating, and questioning traditional understandings of what film is (or can aspire to be). One of the main ideas is that to remove motion from cinema unlocks a hyper-direct notion of reality within the medium's capabilities, as human perception of this phenomenon through film has up to now been illusory only (a mere string of static images), and is thus a poor approximation of reality. His solution to this dilemma is inherently tied to the music in that the sounds used add the missing element to keep these from being merely photographs—an auditory tool to represent time. So in targeting Hollywood and modern cinema (evidenced in one particular track, "Signal," which is a shot of the famous Hollywood letters sign, perhaps from the vantage point Rothkamm later describes in "Rosa") and its insistence on clinging tight to this creation of false reality, Rothkamm is after a bigger picture here.
It comes in the form of a complex puzzle that requires patience to piece together. In fact, I'm only beginning to unpack this thing. It's the type of composition that brings a museum's multimedia installation into your living room or onto your laptop (I recommend the latter, mainly for ease of headphone use with this). Some of these pieces can be tough to sit through, but that's not necessarily because they aren't interesting. Rather, the supermodernist approach arrives as a great challenge. In a world where music and videos are so constantly, consistently force-fed to us through blogs, etc. (yes, I'm guilty of doing a lot of the force-feeding), it's becoming too easy to negate the art of music. Maybe it's time we started working as hard as the work of art itself again.
It feels strange and wrong to tack a numbered evaluation on a piece like this, or even to write a review. This goes beyond lazy associations of "good" or "bad." Rothkamm's work (and the work of other supermodernists) deserves further investigation, analysis, essays, research…this stuff has “critical theory thesis paper” written all over it, wading through themes that recall thinkers like Lyotard, Barthes or Deleuze—stuff I haven't given much thought to in a few years now. Maybe someday I'll give a go at tackling this head-on. For now, this DVD is just plain fascinating.
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