utorak, 13. studenoga 2012.

Michael Snow - La Région Centrale (1971), Corpus Callosum (2002)

Michael Snow «The Central Region» | La Région Central

La Région centrale je 3 sata dug film u kojem se, prvi put u povijesti, uz pomoć robotičke ruke kamera kreće kanadskim pejzažem u unaprijed programiranim kretnjama - vrti se, okreće u svim smjerovima... Apstraktno-kozmička, znanstveno-hladna vožnja pejzažom možda Mjeseca, možda eksterijerom western-filmova a možda NASA-inim simulacijskim pejzažom... Škrta divljina meditativno skenirana postaje istovremeno duhovno-strana i emotivno bliska... 

Temeljno djelo jednong od najvažnijih autora eksperimentalnog filma.

La Région Centrale (1971) 

«La Région Centrale» was made during five days of shooting on a deserted mountain top in North Quebec. During the shooting, the vertical and horizontal alignment as well as the tracking speed were all determined by the camera’s settings. Anchored to a tripod, the camera turned a complete 360 degrees, craned itself skyward, and circled in all directions. Because of the unconventional camera movement, the result was more than merely a film that documented the film location’s landscape. Surpassing that, this became a film expressing as its themes the cosmic relationships of space and time. Cataloged here were the raw images of a mountain existence, plunged (at that time) in its distance from civilization, embedded in cosmic cycles of light and darkness, warmth and cold.
Martina Sauerwald 
I can tell this is a film that should be seen in a theater, no, that needs to be seen in a theater. It has no story, but unlike a Brakhage film which you may want to study at home and watch over and over, this is meant as an experience, more a ride than a movie. So I’ve done the movie great harm by watching it on my laptop, a reproduction of a reproduction of a TV screening, all low resolution with the corner of the image defaced by a station logo. One could already convincingly argue that I haven’t seen La Region Centrale at all, under those conditions – but wait, it gets worse. The experience builds (probably) over its three-hour running time, becomes (probably) more mesmerising and abstract as the third hour wears on. But I kept putting it on after midnight then falling asleep watching it, continuing the next night, as if picking up the story where I’d left off. And wait, there’s more. I thought for sure I could handle the last 45 minutes at a time without falling asleep again (wrong, lasted 35) but I soon got tired of the constant whirring sound effects (conforming to the strict rule that avant-garde films need always have annoying soundtracks) so I muted the movie and put on the latest Mogwai album instead.
All these crimes I committed against the movie, but I still liked it quite a lot, certainly better than Wavelength. Most of the Michael Snow movies I’ve been able to see have been interesting, but also more fun than tedious (again, all but Wavelength) which is exceptional in the avant-garde scene.

The writeup at Shooting Down Pictures is better than anything I could come up with:
Arguably the first feature filmed by a robot, Michael Snow’s three hour exploration of the possibilities of camera movement over a barren Arctic landscape suggests many things: sci-fi space probe footage more authentic than George Lucas; a rebuff to the romantic frontier landscapes of Hollywood Westerns; an avant-garde equivalent of an amusement park simulator ride. Lensed by a specially designed rotating camera mount pre-programmed to move with stunning variety, the film begins as a slow, soothing meditation on the otherworldly textures of the Canadian wilderness, but gradually morphs into a dizzying, terrifying freakout, a relentlessly spinning gaze that pummels the equilibrium of the human eye. The film pushes the boundaries not only of human sight but of the physical earth, destroying gravity and transforming a lifeless vista into a cosmic force of light and energy. Clinically scientific in its approach yet yielding an organic, even spiritual wonder, La region centrale does not merely vindicate the oft-neglected genre of experimental film, but thrusts itself into the center of cinema at its most vital.
My favorite motion is twenty minutes before the film’s end, the camera rotating while turning, but not in synch with each other, making the landscape look small and spherical but ever-changing.

Michael Snow:
The film will become a kind of absolute record of a piece of wilderness. Eventually the effect of the mechanized movement will be what I imagine the first rigorous filming of the moon surface. But this will feel like a record of the last wilderness on earth, a film to be taken into outer space as a souvenir of what nature once was. I want to convey a feeling of absolute aloneness, a kind of Goodbye to Earth which I believe we are living through. … It will preserve what will increasingly become an extreme rarity: wilderness. Perhaps aloneness will also become a rarity. At any rate the film will create a very special state of mind, and while I believe that it will have no precedent I also believe it will be possible for it to have a large audience. - deeperintomovies.net/ 

La Région Centrale   

Peter Rist

La Région Centrale (Quebec, 1971, 180 min., 16mm, color) is arguably the most spectacular experimental film made anywhere in the world, and for John W. Locke, writing in Artforum in 1973, it was “as fine and important a film as I have ever seen.” If ever the term “metaphor on vision” needed to be applied to a film it should be to this one. Following Wavelength, Michael Snow continued to explore camera/frame movement and its relationships with space and time in Standard Time (1967) an eight minute series of pans and tilts in an apartment living room and (Back and Forth) (1968–69), a more extended analysis. But with La Région Centrale, Snow managed to create moving images that heretofore could no possibly be observed by the human eye. For this project he enlisted the help of Pierre Abaloos to design and build a machine which would allow the camera to move smoothly about a number of different axes at various speeds, while supported by a short column, where the lens of the camera could pass within inches of the ground and zoom into the infinity of the sky. Snow placed his device on a peak near Sept Îsles in Quebec’s région centrale and programmed it to provide a series of continuously changing views of the landscape. Initially, the camera pans through 360° passes which map out the terrain, and then it begins to provide progressively stranger views (on its side, upside down) through circular and back-and-forth motions.
The weird soundtrack was constructed from the electronic sounds of the programmed controls which are sometimes in synch with the changing framing on screen and sometimes not. Here, allusions to other films occur, especially science fiction works like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) which similarly reveals a barren, human-less primal landscape (with odd sounds) and spatially disorients the spectator. In La Région Centrale’s second hour, the world is inverted for so long, that when the camera swings vertically through a full circle to restore the horizon line to its rightful position, above the earth, it looks wrong. In the complete absence of human or animal forms, one can imagine the outlines of animals in the silhouetted shapes of rocks at twilight. It is impossible not to notice “camera movement” in this film, and, as Locke notes, one is inclined to observe the frame edge leading the movement (rather than the center) much of the time.

Michael Snow, Région Centrale, 1970. Courtesy of the Daniel Langlois foundation. © Michael Snow.

Michael Snow, Région Centrale, 1970. Courtesy of the Daniel Langlois foundation. © Michael Snow.
I can only imagine what it would have been like to see La Région Centrale, captivated in the extreme dark and quiet of New York’s Anthology Film Archive theater built specifically for the screening of experimental films in the 1970s. But, in any event, seen under any condition, the last hour offers up an incredible experience, with unbelievably high speed twisting and swirling motions rendering dynamic color and line abstractions. Finally, by rephotography —of the film jumping out of the gate— and flaring out of the image to red and yellow colors, and, closing with the camera apparently motionless on the sun, Snow presents a reflexive impression of the camera as the ultimate transformative, creative apparatus, capable of any magic. La Région Centrale presents a definitive “metaphor on vision.”
Credits: cinematography/editor: Michael Snow, sound: Bernard Goussard, Assist cinematography: Joyce Wieland design, fabrication and programme adaptation for camera-activating machine Pierre Abaloos, producer: Snow
Selected Bibliography:
John W. Locke. “Michael Snow's La Région Centrale: How You Should Watch the Best Ever Film I Ever Saw.” Artforum, Vol. 12, no. 3 (November 1973): 66–71.
J. Hoberman. “Secrets of the Hand-Held Camera: Films Hollywood Won’t Allow.” Village Voice (5 April 1976): 77–78.
Annette Michelson. “About Snow.” October, No. 8 (Spring 1979): 111–24.
Bill Simon. “A Completely Open Space: Michael Snow’s La Région Centrale.” Millenium Film Journal, Nos. 4–5 (Summer–Fall 1979): 93–100.
An abridged version of this text appeared in Guide to the Cinema(s) of Canada, Peter Harry Rist, ed. (Westport Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2001): 188-189.

Wavelength (1967)

 Wavelength Revisited

Donato Totaro

Thirty-five years after its inception, Wavelength (Ontario, 1967, 45 min.) remains one of the most vital and (still) groundbreaking films in the history of experimental cinema. It is, quite simply, the “Citizen Kane” of experimental cinema. Screenings of Wavelength in and out of academic situations have probably generated more mixed emotions -frustration, boredom, exhilaration and awe (sometimes in the same spectator)- than any other film. I can vouch from personal experience of teaching this film, that Wavelength retains its power to evoke these emotions. In fact the only time in over ten years of teaching that I “lost my cool” in a classroom setting was after a lecture/screening of Wavelength, when, during the discussion period, a group of students responded angrily to being subjected to the film. After such comments as “why do I have to watch this film,” “what a waste of film stock,” “why was this film even made,” or “the film was poorly made,” I raised my voice in a mini-diatribe against the commercial trash that they gladly sit through on a regular basis (at over twice the length) and the general lack of spectatorial willingness to engage in anything that questions traditional viewing habits (i.e. no plot, no characters) and raises abstract formal or thematic issues.
But Wavelength has also been a challenge for the seemingly more informed, film critics and theorists who have all too often incorrectly described the film as a “continuous” zoom taken from a single fixed camera position. The film begins at the widest setting of the zoom lens and concludes at its shortest, but this trajectory is neither continuous (but intermittent), nor taken from a fixed position (but slightly altered camera positions). On the soundtrack we hear (among many other things) an aural equivalent to the zoom lens shot(s), a sine wave which goes from its lowest note (50 cycles per second) to its highest note (12000 cycles per second). As Snow notes in his Offscreen interview, he is perhaps most shocked when these so-called experts fail to even mention the sound, let alone comment on how important the sound is to the film’s overall experience and the illusion of continuity (even to the point where the image of the wave acts partly as a visual pun to the aural ‘sine’ wave).
The events which occur in-between (too complex to adequately describe here), both formal and “narrative,” give Wavelength its varied philosophical and cinematic meanings. There are four linked human events in the film, briefly: 1) a woman enters, followed by two men carrying a bookcase 2) two women enter the loft, one turns the radio on then off, the other shuts the window 3) a man staggers into the frame and falls onto the floor 4) a woman enters and makes a phone call to report the fallen man. The events trigger a pretense of narrative, but our concentration soon changes from an interest in the meaning of the events to an interest in the teleological purpose of the zoom: where is it heading? In Wavelength cinematic interpretations (as an examination of filmic narrative; as an ontology of filmic time/space; as a representation of transcendence) co-exist alongside non-filmic philosophical interpretations. The philosophical meaning most often ascribed is to read Wavelength as a metaphor for consciousness. In support of this I quote John Belton, who notes, “every zoom makes an epistemological statement, contemplating man’s relationship not with the world itself but with his idea or consciousness of it.” (p. 21) Hence whereas in a moving camera shot there is a physical movement of the camera through space, in the zoom shot there is no physical movement of the camera, except of course the slight back/forth movement of the lens itself, but movement in a more abstract sense: into a character’s mind, as an expression of an emotion, through an imaginary cinematic space, etc.)
In addition, the many textural changes that occur in the course of the film, subtle and radical color changes, exposure changes, black & white shots, clear images, negative images, light flares, day to night changes, visible splices, and different stocks, recall David Hume’s belief that the mind is but a “bundle of perceptions.” Snow’s own description that the film was a “summation of...religious inklings....” supports a reading of the zoom’s trajectory, from a view of the loft to a full frame view of the ocean wave in the wall photo, as a transcendental journey where the spectator is “carried” from one space/time to another. It is not surprising that Michelangelo Antonioni, one of the greatest ciné-philosophers, may have been influenced by this trajectory for the design of his famous penultimate shot in The Passenger (1975). There the camera also begins on a defined space, the interior of a hotel room, and dollies past a seemingly dead man lying on the bed to the window seen in the background, then out through the window to investigate the surrounding courtyard with a 360 degree dolly that ends looking back into the room from the outside (this is not a zoom shot, although there is a combination of zoom/dolly at points in the shot). Strangely enough, Wavelength’s portentous movement into the photo of the wave has influenced, consciously or not, several narrative films (in addition to The Passenger, Barton Fink 1991, Things Never Said in Playa Perdida 2001, The Shining 1980 (in their endings) and The Decline of the American Empire 1986 (in the beginning).

Michael Snow, Wavelength, 1966. Courtesy of the Daniel Langlois foundation. © Michael Snow.
In her seminal piece “Against Interpretation,” written at the peak of Conceptual art movement and modernist art theorizing, Susan Sontag warned against art criticism that predetermines an artwork’s meaning through pre-packaged apriori interpretative grids (Freudian, Marxist, Psychoanalytical, Jungian, etc.). Sontag was not proposing that we eliminate interpretation altogether, but that interpretation should not take the place of the art, or more precisely, the experience of the art. More attention should be paid to describing the "surface" of art, in the case of cinema, camera movement, lighting, angles, composition, sound, editing, etc. To quote Sontag, "We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more." (p. 23) As we discovered earlier, such a descriptive approach that relies on the senses can still lead to inaccuracy, especially with a film as ‘busy’ as Wavelength. However, Sontag’s point was echoed in the Offscreen interview concerning Snow’s films in general: that in certain important ways Wavelength can only be fully understood through a phenomenological, sensuous, “Sontagian” viewing. That the bodily experience of the film is as important as its purely cognitive experience.
Credits: dir/scr/cin/ed /prod Michael Snow sound Ted Wolff Assistant Ken Jacobs act Hollis Frampton, Joyce Wieland, Amy Yadrin, Lyne Grossman, Maoto Nakagawa, Roswell Rudd
Selected Bibliography:
Bruce Elder. “Michael Snow’s “Wavelength.” Canadian Film Reader, ed. Seth Feldman and Joyce Nelson, 308-323. Toronto: Peter Martin Associates, 1977.
Regina Cornwall. Snow Seen: The Films and Photographs of Michael Snow, 60-79. Toronto: PMA Books, 1980.
Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation. New York: Dell Publishing, 1961, 13-23.
John Belton: “The Bionic Eye: Zoom Esthetics,” Cineaste 9/1 (Winter 1980-81): 20-27
An early, abridged version of this text appeared in Guide to the Cinema(s) of Canada, Peter Harry Rist, ed. (Westport Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2001): 235-236

  Corpus Callosum Movie Poster

 Corpus Callosum

I recently read in a film festival report that Michael Snow’s new 92-minute feature was a bit longer than it needed to be. This conjured up visions of a test-marketing preview — cards handed out at Anthology Film Archives with questions like, “Would an ideal length for this be 82 minutes? An hour? Three minutes? 920 minutes?” For even though this may be the best Snow film since the La Région Centrale in 1971 — a commemorative (and quite accessible) magnum opus with many echoes and aspects of his previous works   — it enters a moviegoing climate distinctly different from the kind that greeted his earlier masterpieces. In 1969, the late, great Raymond Durgnat could find the same “mixture of despair and acquiescence” in both Frank Tashlin and Andy Warhol; today, on the other hand, avant-garde art is expected to perform like light entertainment.

Up to a point, Snow seems ready to oblige with his irrepressible jokiness —- a taste for rebus-style metaphors (often banal) and adolescent pranks (a giant penis hovering over a blonde’s backside) that makes this the least neurotic experimental film about technology imaginable — the precise opposite of Leslie Thornton’s feature-length cycle Peggy and Fred in Hell. If the latter is a protracted meditation about technology as nightmare —- the nightmare we’re all trying to wake from (which is what James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus called “history”) — *Corpus Callosum views technology in general, and DV in particular, as an occasion for vaudeville and slapstick. Instead of Oscar Levant in The Band Wagon carrying both sides of a ladder, we find the same woman putting on make-up at two separate work stations during the same pan, then appearing a third time walking in the opposite direction. Even when a dollop of gay s & m gets thrown in, the spirit is no different from that of the expanding bubble-gum bubble overtaking an entire room, like The Blob.
Over four pleasurable viewings, I’ve sometimes found this cornucopia exhausting, but always assume this to be a function strictly of my own limitations. Maybe it should be called a snowjob: an encyclopedia of effects like Rameau’s Nephew… (1975) with a “false alarm” ending like the one in the 1969 Back and Forth (with credits appearing less than two-thirds of the way through, succeeded much later by a fast rewind); a meditation on consumption as messy destruction, as in Breakfast (1976) and the opening section of Presents (1982); and an overall day-to-night progression (as in the 1967 Wavelength) eventually culminating in a return to origins, the first thing Snow ever did on film: a short piece of drawn animation in 1956 of a man’s leg stretching endlessly.
The title —- referring to the tissue that passes messages between the brain’s two hemispheres —- appears in the first shot on a green door that the camera backs away from and that people pass through as Snow, offscreen, audibly calls out instructions to them (as he does throughout the film). Then the camera moves towards a surveillance TV monitor above the door, showing the same door from the same angle; a tall man and short woman pass through it, and a reverse angle finds them with the others in a waiting area, where Snow directs them to various work stations and computers. From here on, the film is mainly an almost continuous left-to-right pan across this open work space, proceeding in an apparent loop — a cityscape visible through large windows behind the computers — while DV does all sorts of things to stretch, compress, combine, and otherwise distort the human bodies within this area. The main alternative space is a living room crammed with chintzy furniture evoking 50s record-album art and many shifting objects on the wall, where the tall man, short woman, and a boy who periodically exchange their color-coded clothes and their shapes hover around a TV on a sofa in the same sort of quasi-catatonic stupor shown by the office workers in front of their computers.
In his theorizing, Snow generally comes across like a metaphysician, shunning social meanings like the plague. Yet an interesting historical and social commentary arises from the differences between these two interior spaces: computer screens overtaking TV screens, a sleek contemporary work space that’s all windows overtaking a windowless domestic interior resembling a fallout shelter where 50s kitsch either replicates itself or blows itself up. It’s easy to forget Manny Farber’s early perception that Wavelength was above all about a loft and its implied memory. This film uses camera motion, diverse sound–image combos, photochemistry, violence —- the main staples of Snow’s previous films, with a few of his Walking Woman icons thrown in for good measure -— to tell us something about how and where we live, past and present, and well as what objectification can do to us and for us.
Jonathan Rosenbaum Film Comment, July-August 2002

Digitally Giving Time and Space the Silly Putty Treatment

The newest effort by the experimental director Michael Snow, ''*Corpus Callosum,'' which opens today at the Film Forum, is simultaneously static and elastic. Though Mr. Snow credits a cast, he really uses his actors like action figures and deploys postproduction technology to stretch their forms and switch them around like pieces on a game board.
The project, shot on digital video, is a playful parlor trick, a departure from the performance-art films that have made this director's reputation. In keeping with his lighter side, ''*Corpus'' is also fun; imagine a Looney Tunes segment or an episode of Nickelodeon's ''Kablam!'' directed by Red Grooms. But then it starts to feel as if things are going on for too long. Mr. Snow realizes he is literally playing with time, though, and even jokes about it: he inserts the credits in the middle of the picture.
Mr. Snow, who has spent his artistic life flouting preconceptions about narrative, dispenses with anything that could be considered narrative in ''*Corpus.'' There is, however, a literal linearity, a visual pun in which the camera moves in a straight line from left to right across the screen for much of this movie.
The title, ''*Corpus Callosum,'' refers to the core of the brain, which was once thought to be where a human's soul resided. Mr. Snow assaults us with imagery and sound. Set in a suite of offices, with a brief interlude in a living room, ''*Corpus'' uses an audio track filled with the white noise of an office: the whirring of hard drives, the grinding motor of vacuum cleaners, the irritating whine of fluorescent lights.
Through the techniques of video animation, the film's pixilated so-called cast members take to yanking on one another, yielding an effect resembling that of hot mozzarella as pizza slices are pulled apart.
They also mold colleagues into fetal balls or spin fellow workers like wooden tops. This surreal activity seems as much a reaction to the oppressive office noise as anything else. Mr. Snow seems to be using the droning sounds to suggest that offices can send workers into a dream state; the cubicle becomes a fantasy site.
Mr. Snow walks us into the offices after sending several workers through the glum, greenish doors at the end of a hallway. He also lets us overhear him directing the action, as well as other snatches of on-screen conversation, throughout the film. He pushes the lens through a vast work area that seems to be roughly the size of eastern Canada.
People are so interchangeable -- and dispensable -- in this office that Mr. Snow uses a standard workplace outfit to connote their uniformity. (For men it is a lime-green blazer and orange pants and for women a burgundy skirt-and-top ensemble.) We get the point, but the movie goes on and on, using repetition to comment on repetitive behavior.
With ''*Corpus Callosum'' Mr. Snow has made a confection that depicts the mundanity of office life and the need to escape it. And when he shifts to the living room, he pops figures and objects onto and off the walls and sofas like a demented elf. In effect, he has created an art-world companion piece to Mike Judge's wonderful anticorporate comedy, ''Office Space.'' The wanton slipperiness of ''*Corpus'' and its amiable jerking and reshaping of physical time and space would make it a great piece to watch with kids and use to introduce video as art.
Since the late 1960s, Canadian avant-garde writer, painter, musician, and filmmaker Michael Snow has explored the constraints and available manipulations of space and time. With *Corpus Callosum, Snow has made a rather large, sometimes unwieldy, but surprisingly fun (if one can ever refer to structuralists as fun-lovers, Snow must be the first cited) experimental joke about how our everyday environments affect us. In a world less real than virtual, *Corpus Callosum speaks of time and space as human constructs and thus as objects to be altered.
*Corpus Callosum is a postmodern mishmash of video effects, animation, and elusive characters who may be played by two, three, even five different actors. At one point, the celluloid itself appears to twist in the middle, then emerges upside-down and on the other side. Speaking to Snow’s perpetual concerns of the inherent malleability of space and time, this image contradicts audiences’ perceptions of what film should be: narrative, linear, and character-driven.
Snow’s interests lie in human-made objects and spaces that take on computer-generated lives of their own. Offices and homes, familiar environments of the contemporary age, are here anything but typical. The office, for example, is populated by bored, overworked, and oversexed automatons, whose daily routines include large groups of people suddenly sticking together from enormous electric shocks, men literally tying each other into knots of erotic fixation, and godlike computer nerds whose monitor tampering results in grandiose color and light changes for the entire space. It’s like Office Space in the fourth dimension.
In a series of 360-degree pans across this environment, Snow shows us how this setting affects understandings of race, gender, and sexuality. Two men, one white and one black, shake hands as though closing a deal. As their hands meet, the “blackness” of one man drains into the body of the other, until what once was white now is black, and vice versa. A man and woman, attempting to fit through a door marked with bathroom-type male/female symbols, push and pull each other until they become a 3D rectangle of mixed-up gender. The rectangle then moves through the office by rocking from corner to corner; no one in the film pays much attention. Why doesn’t it register as shocking? Maybe because once you, like the dotcom-ish workers in the film, have seen advances like virtual reality, and so nothing is shocking anymore. Like space, like time, black and white, or male and female, become loosely defined once the malleability of cyberspace enters the picture.
Similarly, domestic life in *Corpus Callosum is irrevocably altered by innovations. The home is filled with televisions, pizzas, and empty glasses. Intense oranges and pinks make the living room seem alive and breathing. The walls are decorated with paintings, an eye-test chart, a crutch, and a skeleton. A mirror reflecting what appears to be Snow and his film crew forms the focal point, reminding us that this film has an author, just as our own environments have human creators. In one 12-minute sequence, objects on the walls begin exploding, one at a time, into beautiful pixel starbursts. Snow, the reflected “god” (for he is creator of this space and the characters who dwell within) appears here to be an Old Testament type: he can give and he can take away.
The home’s inhabitants—a father, a mother, and a boy (who may be the only character consistently played by the same actor)—regard these incursions as confusing but not altogether out of the ordinary. They sit back and continue watching television as their surroundings change behind them. Ironically, the one environment that remains the same is the perfectly blue sky with cotton candy clouds shown on the television screen; the flatness of virtual life implies safety from change, indeed, but also boredom and immobility. Where there is no variation, there can be no playfulness and discovery. Taken one step further, Snow could well be implying that narrative filmmaking has become flat and boring and that in order to remain fresh, filmmakers, like scientists, must seek out brand new territories freed from normal restraints of space, time, and story.
While it may seem like a cop-out to call *Corpus Callosum an “experience,” that’s really what it is. With Snow’s almost cute static-filled, electronic soundtrack of modem beeps, theremin wails, clicks, clacks, and high-pitched shrieks, the film washes over like a digital information wave. This could be what it would be like to have your brain connected to the internet, to read a computer’s “thoughts.”
*Corpus Callosum isn’t for everyone. Snow’s manipulations of space and time, while rewarding, can certainly grate on one’s nerves. Snow even pokes fun at the difficulty of his own work by rolling the credits halfway through the film; one can easily imagine him sitting behind a projector, gleefully watching confused and frustrated audience members glaring at their watches and sighing in resignation. But viewed with an open mind, *Corpus Callosum offers meditations on environment, -isms, information transfer, and filmmaking itself.
Granted, these meditations can be obtuse, even illegible. Snow appears sometimes to be so enraptured with his own digital capabilities that he forgets to offer fully formed ideas. In their place, however, he offers fully formed images that, while funny, disconcerting, or even disturbing, have a definite, lasting impact. That’s more than can be said for most movies. Snow has made his “experimental” film a wilder and more visually stimulating and imaginative ride than any summer blockbuster. Hollywood and the avant-garde elite alike might start paying attention. Snow’s work could well become the basis for both entertainment and art in a world that appears increasingly based in science fiction rather than tradition. - Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece

Corpus Callosum (2002, Michael Snow)

This was both wonderful – an inventively whimsical little ride of a rigorous art film – and tedious in that way that non-narrative films can be. It wouldn’t be a Snow work if it didn’t test my patience a little – it’s part of his charm. This kind of thing is always very different with an audience, not that I think it’s likely I’ll ever get the chance. I picked up visual similarities to Presents and Sshtoorrty… not so much Wavelength unless you count every zoom as a reference to Wavelength (which I guess some critics do).
People walk through a door with the title printed on it (this is where the zoom comes in), while we hear Snow, offscreen, instructing each on the entrance of their timing. Cut to inside the office, and the camera rolls to the right, an infinite camera move since the set is digitally joined at the seams. He electrocutes all his actors, a chair disappears in a lap dissolve, blatant digital effects pop up, then the picture twists like a ribbon as it transitions to next scene. Apparently these are many different actors dressed similarly to give the appearance of a regular cast of characters, but I can’t see subtleties like that on my VHS copy… a shame.

A family sits in their garishly (digitally) decorated living room with a wall mirror reflecting the camera until objects fly off the wall and destroy themselves while the people sit still staring at the sky inside their television. Obnoxious noise permeates, except when one would expect a sound effect (during an explosion, say) when it goes silent.

A classroom is shot from above until the kids notice the camera, stack their desks so they can reach it.

Two people enter a too-small doorway at the same time, fusing and morphing into a slow-moving doorway-shaped block, which lumbers back into the infinite-loop office set. The credits show up before the hour mark and begin to lap themselves. The whole movie rewinds. Then at the end a couple enters a cinema and sits down to watch an early animated work by Snow.

J Hoberman calls it “that rarest of things—a summarizing work. Like Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman or Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, it could be used to conclude Motion Pictures 101. … Rigorously predicated on irreducible cinematic facts, Snow’s structuralist epics – Wavelength and La Région Centrale – announced the imminent passing of the film era. Rich with new possibilities, *Corpus Callosum heralds the advent of the next. Whatever it is, it cannot be too highly praised.
Hoberman again: “a bonanza of wacky sight gags, outlandish color schemes, and corny visual puns that can be appreciated equally as an abstract Frank Tashlin comedy and as a playful recapitulation of the artist’s career.”
Pop Matters:
Similarly, domestic life in *Corpus Callosum is irrevocably altered by innovations. The home is filled with televisions, pizzas, and empty glasses. Intense oranges and pinks make the living room seem alive and breathing. The walls are decorated with paintings, an eye-test chart, a crutch, and a skeleton. A mirror reflecting what appears to be Snow and his film crew forms the focal point, reminding us that this film has an author, just as our own environments have human creators. In one 12-minute sequence, objects on the walls begin exploding, one at a time, into beautiful pixel starbursts. Snow, the reflected “god” (for he is creator of this space and the characters who dwell within) appears here to be an Old Testament type: he can give and he can take away.

NY Times:
In keeping with his lighter side, *Corpus is also fun … But then it starts to feel as if things are going on for too long. Mr. Snow realizes he is literally playing with time, though, and even jokes about it: he inserts the credits in the middle of the picture. … We get the point, but the movie goes on and on, using repetition to comment on repetitive behavior.
Rosenbaum, who ranked it his #1 movie of 2002, above even Platform: “Not counting the asterisk, the title refers to the tissue connecting the hemispheres of the brain, an apt reference given the prodigious and joyful inventiveness on display.”
In Snow’s description he says:
The sound – electronic like the picture – is also a continuous metamorphosis and as the film’s “nervous system”, is as important to the film as the picture. Or: the sound and the picture are two hemispheres joined by the artist. *Corpus Callosum is resolutely “artificial”, it not only wants to convince, but also to be a perceived pictorial and musical phenomenon.
… a shame, since my copy had lousy sound.

Funny that I watched this the day after The Last Movie, since it turns out Snow put out a record called “The Last LP”.
Snow, interviewed:
“Although it was all done in the computer, so there isn’t any film in it except for a little tiny bit at the end which is something I did in 1956 and is in a sense my first film. The film I usually refer to as my first film A to Z which is a cut out animation film in 1956. Where as what appears at the end here is, well something which we used to call flimsies. You see I started out in animation and that is how I got involved with film. We used to make the drawings on tracing paper, we would put them on pins with one over the other on a light box and you would draw them. And I did this little sequence of this leg stretching in 1956, but I never shot it, I just kept it as a flimsy. So I guess that is in a sense my first film or at least it was intended to be shot as film. But it was not shot as a film.”
Offscreen: Has it changed over the years, the audience reception?
Michael Snow: Yes. I don’t know what is happening to people but they are not as tough as they used to be. … I really want to make physical things so that the experience is a real experience and not just conceptual. Well yes there are ideas in the works, but they are also body affects, like the panning, for example in Back and Forth. I’ve seen someone get sick and people have fainted with La Region Centrale, so I must be doing something right.- Brandon's movie memory

... Excerpts:

“I started scripting this film in February 1972 and writing, shooting, mixing, editing and continued till September ’74. Some ideas used in it date from 1966 when I recognized in myself the ambition to make an authentic Talking Picture i.e. true to its description, it moves for its content from the facts of the simultaneities of recorded speech and image; it is built from the true units of a ‘talking picture’ the syllable and the frame. All the possible image/sound relationships centering around people and speech generate the movie-audience relationships: a wide range of emotional possibilities, the experience of seeing/hearing this film.’Speech’, ‘Language’, ‘Culture’ – their source, their nature…recorded, imaged, prove (?) that in this case a word is worth 1000 pictures.” -Michael Snow

"The Viewing of Six New Works is a light projection composition derived from the essentialized movements of eyes and head, that a possible person might make in looking at a rectangular object on the wall (i.e., a "painting", a "photograph"). Each hypothetical wall rectangle is perceived differently. This is shown by the different "personal" gestures involved in the revealing of the rectangle. When attention is not being paid to it the object/rectangle is not there.
The work is an attempt to present only the movements of perception, not perception itself. The art of looking." - Michael Snow

Canadian filmmaker-artist Michael Snow came to the Derivative studio a few months ago to see Greg Hermanovic about a way to realise a piece he had in mind for an upcoming solo show in New York.
The thrill of working with Michael Snow will be self-evident to those already familiar with the artist and his highly influential body of work which spans more than five decades.
Many artists have attributed Snow's work to having changed the course of their lives and the art they've gone on to make as Mark Fell the multi-disciplinary artist who is also one half of SND tells us here. "I first saw Michael Snow's film Wavelength at college when I was studying experimental film and video and was immediately mesmerized by this work. In particular I was drawn to its organization of time, the relationship this had to technology and process, and the uncompromising structural linearity of the film. However the principal appeal of this work was its central obscurity whereby nothing was totally clear, like a puzzle that was deliberately impossible to resolve. These influences would emerge several years later in the music and sound pieces I made."
Snow's work has generally been received as groundbreaking, or, as breaking into future grounds is perhaps even more to the point. There's also a pronounced sense of play and testing in the way the artist relates what he's thinking about. The following quote possibly most succinctly describes what I'm getting at:
In his 2002 review of *Corpus Callosum, J. Hoberman writes for Village Voice : “Rigorously predicated on irreducible cinematic facts, Snow's structuralist epics—Wavelength and La Région Centrale—announced the imminent passing of the film era. Rich with new possibilities, *Corpus Callosum heralds the advent of the next. Whatever it is, it cannot be too highly praised.”
(Greg Hermanovic's prior experience working with Snow was in producing the 74 special effects for *Corpus Callosum using PRISMS from Side Effects Software, of which Greg is a co-founder. PRISMS led to the development of Houdini, subsequently evolving into TouchDesigner at Derivative.)

Michael arrived at the office with a folder of well-defined specs -- drawings of dimensioned rectangles, 6 of them, all differently proportioned to represent 6 new works. He described that he was looking for a way to animate these to represent the way we look at art. Essentially, each 'piece' wasn't the actual work of art but the way a viewer might look looking at that work. How do we look when we look at art and how to represent that?
Michael continued that for this to work it couldn't be key-framed animation as that would look fake. He took one of the cutout rectangles and slid it around its frame to demonstrate how the more authentic approach would be to perform this movement.
Having seen Michael play music on dozens of occasions Greg knew Michael to be a fantastic pianist and Cat synthesizer player and the idea of his performing the motion of the rectangle was quite natural versus other methods of keyframing or stop-frame motion.

We talked for a little while about possible ways of performing such a thing and then Greg showed Michael some of the work recently produced with TouchDesigner. One of these being an experimental application of Greg's made to test a new touchscreen that allowed for up to 40 points of contact. It consisted of puffy clouds a person would create with their fingertips and then release to watch float away. The application amused Michael who got the hang of it very quickly.

Two days later Michael called and said, "Sure, let's try that touchscreen method out." and two days after that, Greg built an application in TouchDesigner called the V6 (Viewing of 6 New Works).
The V6 application uses a 23" touchscreen to record Michael's 2-finger movements as he moved a rectangle on the touch screen. It captured Michael's motions for each of the 6 "pieces" which were then rendered and output as colored, cropped and sized rectangles to 60 frame-per-second HD MP4 movies.
A 6-in-1 composite of the pieces was made so we could see all 6 acting together on one projector, but it wasn't until the Jack Shainman gallery that we saw it all together at scale with the added delightful effect of reflected colored light echoing off other surfaces.

"The Viewing of Six New Works is a new seven-part projection which draws on Snow's oeuvre to examine the nature of perception and the physical relationship of the artwork to the viewer. The light projections simulate the varying ways a person might look at a rectangular wall-mounted artwork by digitally mimicking and essentializing the movement of the eyes. The gestures of viewing are revealed as the shifting focus of the spectator's gaze becomes fleetingly tangible and physically manifested through the piece.  "The work is an attempt to present only the movements of perception, not perception itself," explains Snow, "the art of looking at art."" Jack Shaiman Gallery, Program Notes.
The show at the Jack Shaiman Gallery in Chelsea was enthusiastically-received and the opening well-attended by long-time friends of Michael and New York's art elite. As Linda Yablonsky writes for ArtForum: "Nothing was polluted at Jack Shainman Gallery, where the structuralist Canadian filmmaker-artist Michael Snow was welcoming friends like Ken Jacobs, MoMA curator Barbara London, Performa director RoseLee Goldberg, the New Museum’s Massimiliano Gioni, and select others to a private preview of his first New York show in seven years.
The main event was a new, and deeply beautiful, seven-channel projection that mirrors the movement of the eye as it studies an artwork—art seeing art... As curator Christopher Eamon noted, some old film purists have discovered digital technology and they’re running it to the outer limits of perception."
Update Jan.24.12: "Greg was the technical consultant on my 90 minute digital 'film' *Corpus Callosum completed in 2000. he also appears in it.

He's great to work with, he's able to make daunting scientific issues seem understandable.

When I was thinking about making The Viewing of Six New Works I thought to ask him if certain things could be done. He answered by proposing a "hands-on" method that was completely appropriate to my intentions in conceiving of the work." - Michael Snow

- Text and photos by Isabelle Rousset

Master Lessons With Michael Snow

Louis Goyette, (translated from French by Donato Totaro)

The experimental works of Michael Snow require a certain intellectual disposition. To be fully understood and appreciated they should be placed within the context of art history, and more specifically modernism, where each medium’s intrinsic value is maintained. But aren’t such pretensions to a medium’s purity merely utopian, or in the least fragmentary or incomplete? When considering the category of structural cinema, into which many of Snow’s work fall, it is difficult to deny that other arts have had an influence (to varying degrees) on the development of certain formal characteristics of this type of experimental cinema. Can’t we see echoes of the fixed camera, the loop, the flicker effect, and rephotography [1] in Andy Warhol’s serial photography? Or again in the work of such minimalist American composers as Riley, Reich, and Glass, not to mention the repetition in musical enunciation that has been manifested in earlier works as varied as Ravel’s Bolero or the primitive music of African drums?

Michael Snow, Venetian Blind, 1970. Courtesy of the Daniel Langlois foundation. © Michael Snow.
But it is also equally permissible to imagine an artistic ‘miracle’ where the simultaneity in modernist experimentation is done in such a way that it would be hazardous to attribute to this or that art the exclusivity of formal “discovery.” Painter, sculptor, musician and filmmaker, Michael Snow recognizes at once the interdependence of artistic form in all of his work. Granted that Snow gives evidence to certain formal characteristics of the structural film as defined by P. Adams Sitney, it is in the duration of the represented event that the filmmaker establishes a high degree of interactivity with the spectator of his film. Firstly, and without needing to know what is contained in the films themselves, being in the perspective of witness to a 45 minute, intermittent forward zoom in a loft (Wavelength, 1967), having your gaze of a classroom swept in incessant panning movements for upwards of an hour (Back and Forth, 1968-1969), finding yourself face to face with a landscape film for three hours and twenty minutes (La Région Centrale, 1971), or reading a text filmed for forty-five minutes without the presence of a soundtrack (So Is This, 1982). All of these could constitute a serious obstacle to the spectator’s attention, if not their appreciation of the films. A conclusion imposes itself: these simple descriptions can not render the works in all their richness and complexity. The spectators receive their reward in the conscious experience of the films. As emphasized by Annette Michelson and Snow himself, what these films have in common is that they are “metaphors of consciousness: that of cinema’s.” [2]
It is certainly not a coincidence that Michael Snow decided to install his camera within the four walls of a classroom for the purpose of his film Back and Forth. Even if he is not present in the film, Snow nevertheless proudly wears the mantle of pedagogue, and invites his spectators (who become his students) in an experience of pure perception. In a letter to Peter Gidal dated March 1972, Snow refers to Back and Forth as an “educational film” which is a visual demonstration of the theory of relativity: E=MC2: in other words, the representation of a solid body (the classroom which becomes the mass) is transformed into energy (light) by means of speed (that of the camera, which executes horizontal and then vertical pans of varying speeds). [3]

Michael Snow, Back and Forth, 1968. Courtesy of the Daniel Langlois foundation. © Michael Snow.
Snow is equally a pedagogue in Wavelength, a summary of art history which, in 45 minutes, condenses the evolution of painting from the Renaissance to the contemporary period, all the while maintaining qualities intrinsic to the cinematographic apparatus. The film begins with a long shot where the depth of field imposes a spatial corridor where the point of exit appears, at least at first, to converge toward a chair behind which are four large rectangular windows. Didn’t Renaissance humanism say about perspective that it should offer a view like an open window onto the world, while also increasing the illusionistic and mimetic power of painting? Meanwhile, with the slow and intermittent forward progression of the zoom, it is the space in its entirety that becomes flatter, until the final close-up on the photograph of the waves hanging on the wall confirms the triumph of the surface plane (that of the photo paper, the wall, the film surface, and the cinema screen) over perspective.
La Région Centrale and Breakfast (Table Top Dolly) (1972-1976) are also films that revisit and redefine the great pictorial genres of landscape and still life. In the first, Snow refuses to enclose the landscape in a fixed frame that would be governed by predetermined compositional schemas, and provokes an overflow of the represented landscape by constantly allowing it to exceed the limits of the frame, and this by means of an infinite number of camera movements generated by a mechanical arm controlled at a distance. In the second, Snow switches the transparency of the classic still life for a space marked by its opacity. The contents on the table are of carton –and, brimming with irony, traditionally inanimate ‘still life’ objects are daringly animated on screen- as the camera’s slow advance adds increased disorder on the table.
So Is This, a film dedicated uniquely to the written text, is one of Snow’s most interactive films because the filmmaker addresses the spectators directly and invites them to read a text which unfolds on the screen word after word. Always the pedagogue, this time Snow becomes a grammarian, outlining the similarities that exist between a written and read text and a filmed text. The word, semantic unit of the text, finds its equivalent in the shot, semantic unit of the film. Each unit is organised into a discourse by the intermediation of montage. Interactivity is even more important here, where the spectator, in unison with the reading of the text, tries to guess the word which will follow, much like the spectator trying to anticipate what action will follow in a fiction film.
Closely linked to structural cinema, the insistence on duration can also be seen as being particularly appropriate to Snow’s pedagogical methods. In effect, the more time we take to explain a concept, the clearer and more convincing the exposition. This slow progression of time, even in Snow’s shorter works, favors this interrogation on the part of the spectator, in search of minute changes within the interior of the frame, because, contrary to those who allow this apparent inertia to assume itself, many things happen in a Michael Snow film for those willing to carefully linger on the slightest visual and aural details they receive.
Then, at the end of the pedagogical explication which imposes itself across the duration, is the reward. Beyond the fragments of narrative and humor present in many of Snow’s films, we often find a crescendo construction leading to a coda, which sums up all that we have previously seen and/or heard. Back and Forth represents, in the filmmaker’s own words, a very physical visual and auditory experience, where the immediate effect closely resembles the experience of being on drugs. The coda to La Region Centrale is exemplary in this type of reaction and perhaps marks a summit in the intensity of the perceptual experience lived by the spectator. The speed of the camera movements, executed in every possible direction, almost entirely destroys the materiality of the represented landscape, and the spectator’s gaze, difficult to stabilize on a fixed point on the screen, sends visual stimuli to the brain which can provoke an accelerated heartbeat and sometimes nausea or hyperventilation. In this sense, many of Snow’s films, at once jubilant and ‘extreme,’ and verging on strong sensations, ultimately provokes in the spectator an ecstatic reaction, a veritable apotheosis of the filmic experience just lived.
1. It is P. Adams Sidney who defines these principle formal characteristics of the structural film in his book, Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde (1943-2000) 2. Annette Michelson, “Towards Snow”, Michael Snow, “Two Letters and Notes on Films” in P. Adams Sitney, The Avant-Garde Film: A Reader of Theory and Criticism, New York, New York University Press, 1978.
3. Michael Snow, “Two Letters and Notes on Films” in P. Adams Sitney, The Avant-Garde Film: A Reader of Theory and Criticism, New York, New York University Press, 1978.
4. See the excellent article by Michel Larouche, “So Is This: la transgression des théories”, in Cinéma: théories et discours, Montréal, Cinémathèque Québécoise, 1984. 

Weathering the Creative Storm: An Interview with Michael Snow

Donato Totaro and André Habib
Introduction and "Pauses" by Donato Totaro

The Canadian artist extraordinaire Michael Snow was an invited guest of the 2002 Festival International Nouveau Cinéma Nouveaux Médias (FCMM). Snow’s extensive work was featured throughout the 10 days of the festival, highlighted by the Montreal premiere of his latest feature Corpus Callosum, a retrospective of his major film works, a special concert by CCMC (Michael Snow, Paul Dutton, John Oswald), a “Conversation between Michael Snow and Thierry De Duve,” several installation pieces, and the launch of the DVD-Rom Digital Snow. Offscreen and Hors Champ were extremely pleased to be able to interview such a giant of the avant-garde art world. If ever the term “Renaissance Man” applied, it would be to Michael Snow. Most artists would be pleased to have made inroads into one art, but Snow is a strange beast, extending his creative talons into music, painting, sculpting, photography, and film (are you dizzy yet?). So as ecstatic as we were to have one hour with Snow out of his extremely busy schedule, we realized given his prodigious achievements and the pages of questions we had both prepared, that we would barely be able to scratch the surface of his accomplishments. To make up for unasked questions and after thoughts the interview is broken down into thematic sections with brief impressionistic introductions. Offscreen and Hors Champ would like to thank the FCMM, and especially the ever helpful Adrian Gonzalez of Media Relations, for making this interview possible.

Michael Snow, Two Sides to Every Story, 1974. Courtesy of the Daniel Langlois foundation. © Michael Snow.
Pause 1: "Presents" Corpus Callosum
Corpus Callosum is a wonderful 93 minute all-computer digital feast, playful, engaging, and cloyingly subversive. It is like a series of installation pieces come alive. Encompassing the movement/stasis spectrum of much of Snow’s work (and indeed experimental film), one part of the film features a lateral snake-like tracking shot past corporate office work stations, and another part of the film features a static long shot, long take of a “living room” filled with animated movement of people and objects in the middle ground and all along the room’s busy ‘found art/object’ wall. One of the things I found striking with Corpus Callosum is the way it uses new computer digital technology to recall old electronic/analog technology. The film rejoices in a funhouse mirror-like squeezing, stretching, and enfolding of the image which immediately reminded me of my childhood black and white Marconi television set and its dual pencil posts in the back of the set used to control the vertical and horizontal. With today’s near picture perfect cable/digital set-ups this type of visual distortion is no longer a part of our televised experience. Rather than the stretching, squeezing, and shadowing of early analog and resistor tube technology we get precise cubistic digital breakup or total ‘blue screen’ image loss. With our technologized image improvement, something is lost. That ‘something’ is recalled in Corpus Callosum. Snow also takes full advantage of the ‘animated’ nature of computer generated technology to play with notions of the ‘shot’ or the ‘take.’ On several occasions a shot is looped, or a woman appears twice in the same shot, defying the spatial-temporal logic of ‘real time.’ The groundbreaking leaps in Bazinian real time artfully achieved through the mise en scene by directors such as Kenji Mizoguchi and Andrei Tarkovsky or through the wonderful ‘hidden edits’ of Alfred Hitchcock are now possible with the click of a mouse. The long take has become the ‘long fake!” At the beginning of cinema, Méliès’ days, people first went to see the apparatus that provided the first ‘moving images,’ the ‘spectacle’ of cinema as a new technology. In a similar sense, while watching the film I wondered, at what point does Corpus Callosum stop being a film and start being a display of the software?
Offscreen: The first question we would have after watching Corpus Callosum is whether you think an audience familiar with your work will be surprised by this film?
Michael Snow: Well I hope so because I try to make each film a different film. And certainly what I’ve done there has never been seen before, in my work anyway. So yes it should be new for people who are familiar with my work.
Offscreen: Well I think it is also a self-referential film and people will see elements from your other works, certain motifs like the zoom in and zoom out, the credits appearing in the middle of the film, the winding up at the end of the film.
Michael Snow: Yes I think I also used a flashback structure in So is This.
Offscreen: And Back and Forth.
Michael Snow: Yes in Back and Forth there is a kind of a coda, that is true. Maybe it's just a style!
Offscreen: How much of Corpus Callosum is about your body of work?
Michael Snow: Well I've never thought of it that way although I know some people have. I think some of it is absurd because the “walking woman” image is in the two living room scenes and some people have referred to that wall as a retrospective piece. For me the wall is composed for its use in the film and has nothing to do about me trying to talk about my past. Because I have used the walking woman on the occasion does not mean that I am nostalgic. It is simply a form that I like to use again and on the wall in the living room there are two of them, but there is also a Renaissance painting by Filippo Lippi and it so happens that the one walking woman is a digital reformation of the Virgin in the painting. Which I don't think anyone has ever noticed, it is squeezed into the walking woman's shape, and all these odd things that are on the wall, the kitsch things, a guitar, etc., they are not autobiographical. They were chosen for how they would be used for the amount of detail on the wall because there is a lot to look at in that room and they are all in a sense protagonists. So I think it is pretty odd to think of that as a reference to my other films. Or at least as a conscious reference, a reminiscence. For me it isn't.
Offscreen: Yes there is a lot of reference to art history, Richard Hamilton is one that people have brought up quite a lot, specifically his ‘living room’ painting, "What is it?"

Michael Snow, Corpus Callosum, 2001. Courtesy of the Daniel Langlois foundation. © Michael Snow.

R. Hamilton's "What Is It?"
Michael Snow: Well that is by chance.
Offscreen: That explains the great synchronicity within art I guess. What struck us as well is that in its playfulness it reminds us of George Méliès. So much so that if he were alive today with that technology that is the type of film he would be making.
Michael Snow: Yes I think that is true.
Offscreen: And also the fact that the film is made by Houdini Software and of course Méliès worked in Houdini's old theatre.
Michael Snow: Yes and that is a pure coincidence.
Offscreen: In terms of the Houdini software was it is developed for this film?
Michael Snow: No not at all. It was developed by Side Effects Software in Toronto. Mainly led by a fellow named Greg Hermanovic who has a similar background to Daniel Langlois, he was at the Film Board and his background is in early animation. They did an earlier version called Prisms and then Houdini. The film really got made because at one of my concerts during the intermission I was casually talking to someone from the audience and he told me what he did. And I told him that ever since 1981 I had been writing about a possible stretching and squeezing film. That is the way I was thinking of it because in the film Presents I wanted to do something that would stretch or squeeze the image. I tried using prisms, and then I saw on television a wipe that squeezed and stretched the image, which was done fairly fast. I looked into it and it was a Quantel analog effect. So I used it very slowly in the beginning of Presents to stretch, squeeze, and spread the image. And that gave me all lot of ideas. The manipulability was something that I want to explore. So when I met Craig I told him that I had these ideas and asked if we could get together. It turns out he knew my films very well and my music and when he saw the ideas that I had been scribbling down since 1981 he was really knocked out. And he offered to be a consultant on the film and help me get it done. So in 1996 I received a grant from the Canada Council. They gave me half of what I applied for but in 1996 and 1997 I was able to shoot a lot of the live action which was to be used and altered. So it was done from a script that was never really changed. The final script was written in 1995-96. So the Houdini Software existed before the film and one of the reasons why Craig was interested was to use Houdini on this. His idea was to use animators who were either in their last year at school in Toronto, like Sheraton or Ryerson, people who were being trained in using Houdini or recent graduates. Because I could not pay as much as was being paid in the commercial sector.
Offscreen: Like Roger Corman, use them when they're young!
Michael Snow: Well it worked out well except that some of them got other offers because of the boom in animation in Toronto, and away they went. Which caused all kinds of complications because things would be have done, or never rendered or never copied or in some form we could not retrieve. We kept running out of money, every budget I made was wrong. I took a section out of the film two years ago because I became depressed about not finishing the whole thing and I issued that as a film called Living Room. Which has been shown around a little bit. I was desperate and looked at everything we had done which was scattered on Dat tapes and hard drives and I decided to composite that thing together to see whether it could stand alone. And I thought that it could and it did. A few years ago it was the 25th anniversary of the Toronto Film Festival and they asked several film makers to make films. I was very pleased and surprised to be asked because it was more above ground people like David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, and Jean-Pierre Lefebvre. The people who were organizing that was Rhombus and it turns out they were fans of my films. So I shot Prelude for that. I tried to get them involved in helping to get funding to finish Corpus Callosum and one of the people there, Jody Shapiro, called me up a few months after we had talked and told me that Telefilm had a new category which oddly enough was for young and short fiction filmmakers, none of which fit exactly, but he suggested that I apply. He said he would help me which was fortunate because when I tried to apply I showed him what I had done with the application he started laughing, saying that I would not have a chance. I did not know how to phrase it properly so he redid the application and I ended up getting the money.
Offscreen: The film in a sense goes through the history of these technologies from analog to digital.
Michael Snow: Although it was all done in the computer, so there isn't any film in it except for a little tiny bit at the end which is something I did in 1956 and is in a sense my first film. The film I usually refer to as my first film A to Z which is a cut out animation film in 1956. Where as what appears at the end here is, well something which we used to call flimsies. You see I started out in animation and that is how I got involved with film. We used to make the drawings on tracing paper, we would put them on pins with one over the other on a light box and you would draw them. And I did this little sequence of this leg stretching in 1956, but I never shot it, I just kept it as a flimsy. So I guess that is in a sense my first film or at least it was intended to be shot as film. But it was not shot as a film.
Offscreen: Has the film itself been transferred to film?
Michael Snow: I made 16 mm copies of The Living Room and Corpus Callosum, from the beta original, which worked pretty well. What is interesting is that it becomes a translation, it is a film of electronic effects.
Offscreen: Along with your films there is a launch of your new DVD ROM, Digital Snow, which includes excerpts from your films. I remember when I met you in 2000 and asked about seeing works on video and you said, very simply, that they are not video they are films. I was wondering how that transfer from film to digital went?
Michael Snow: I had just gone through something in Paris with a guy named Pip Chodorov who has something called Re-Voir Editions (and its US affiliate). He is doing video transfers of experimental films. They are very beautifully done he has done films by Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Robert Breer, Ken Jacobs, and Maya Deren. They are very well done and he has a very interesting point. He says what they are reproductions and that he hopes that people who see these will really want to see them as films as well. So we did my film Presents about a year ago. It is on VHS pal for Europe, although he is going to do NTSC versions of them eventually. We decided to do something else and we selected Rameau's Nephew which is about four and a half hours long from 1974. At first I thought it should be on DVD because it is made up of 30 different sections which are really quite separate because they do not have any narrative continuity. Inevitably it appeared to me that if you would want to own it you would want to be able to flip between the chapters. It was never designed to do that because it was supposed to work by pilling all these things up in your mind so that in the viewing of the film in a theater situation you learn the language of the film. It is a temporal experience. But since I had given up on that by accepting to make this version that people can dip into I thought it should be DVD. Well any way Pip Chodorov, who is an American Filmmaker who was been living in Paris for about 10 to 15 years, convinced me against DVD because of the compression issues and he demonstrated this for me. Obviously for some things, narrative films, this would not be noticeable, but for anything that has a concern for single frames there will be distortions that are going to affect the translation. He pointed out certain things in Rameau's Nephew that would not come out as well on DVD as on tape. So oddly enough we are putting out Rameau's Nephew on two video tapes. I wish I could be more precise about his technical objections but he convinced me against DVD at this point in time. Even though he thinks that DVD will be improved in the future. (A brief description of Chodorov’s technological objections can be read here, Filmmaker Magazine ).
Offscreen: I was going through the DVD, Digital Snow, and was fascinated by the amount of archival material and the related texts around the films.
Michael Snow: Let's face it the medium is incredible, it is just a miracle that you can have all these different mediums on this little disk. Let's face it that is incredible! This is not exactly conceit, but it is almost as if the medium was made for this kind of use. There's lots of music concert footage, clips from films, and links to articles that refer to it and all that stuff.
Offscreen: The DVD will be a boom for scholarship on your work.
Michael Snow: We tried to make the information part of it as accurate as possible and that has been difficult because there are a lot of errors in catalogs that keep getting passed on. We tried to do a catalog of exhibitions and that was difficult to do. We spent two years on the bibliography because there has been a lot written on my work. I think it is as accurate as you can get right now. There are about 80 articles in full text that you could print out if you want.
Pause 2: One Hour in Montreal, or Temporality
Most artists with a philosophical predilection eventually become intrigued by the issue of time, and how their particular art form both represents time and generates questions of temporality. There is no question that of all the arts, music and film, two which Snow has excelled in, are the most temporal of the arts. In Henri Bergson’s first book, Time and Free Will, he used music as analogy to express in words what he referred to as durée (duration): "Pure duration is the form which the succession of our conscious states assumes when our ego lets itself live, when it refrains from separating its present state from its former states. For this purpose it need not be entirely absorbed in the passing sensation or idea; for then, on the contrary, it would no longer endure. Nor need it forget its former states : it is enough that, in recalling these states, it does not set them alongside its actual state as one point alongside another, but forms both the past and the present states into an organic whole, as happens when we recall the notes of a tune, melting, so to speak, into one another." (p. 100). In an essay entitled “‘Musical Time’ and Music as an ‘Art of Time’ ” Philip Alperson outlined the ways in which art can represent time. [1] In adapting his schema to film, I have come up with the following categories:
  1. As a product reflecting its particular time ( “historical time”)
  2. The time necessary for the film to be consumed by the viewer (“perceptual time”)
  3. The time traversed within the film’s story (fabula) and plot (syhuzet) (“narrative time”)
  4. The way a film may directly be about time either in its content (“thematic time”) or form (“structural time”)
  5. The time taken to make the film (“production time”)
  6. The material permanence of a film (“endurance time”)
In Snow’s domain, (primarily) non-narrative film, the categories which are most often invoked are “2” “4” and “6”. A word that can encompass these three categories is time’s ‘weight’. Each artist has what Andrei Tarkovsky would call their own “sensibility of time.” And depending on this sensibility, the weight of time can feel or be light or heavy, playful or ponderous, full or empty, whole or fragmentary, successive or simultaneous. You can say the history of artistic representation of time has been an elaboration of these qualities within and with the particular formal and stylistic aspects of each art form (Lessing’s Laocoön). Snow makes playful reference to time in Corpus Callosum, with the clock on the wall that appears and disappears, a visual signifier for how he can literally manipulate time in any which way with computer and digital means. In his book Technics and Civilization Lewis Mumford argued that the clock was the most far reaching man-made machine: "The clock, not the steam-engine, is the key machine of the modern industrial age."[2] If the mechanical clock, with its rigid minutes and seconds, had the greatest impact on time in the late 19th and 20th centuries, then the computer, with its more fluid and amorphous heartbeat, will have the greatest impact on time in the 21st century. Looking back now, the clock seems almost quaint and innocuous, ticking at a constant beat regardless of the speed of life around it. The computer may be still dependent on the clock, but it has internalized the clock, both literally and figuratively. Once outside the body, disconnected from it, the clock is now within the body (the computer). And with the computer’s insatiable thirst for increased speed and power, the new clock appears more threatening and awe inspiring than ever before. Where once we had the hour, minute, and second, we now have the millisecond (one thousandth of a second), microsecond (one millionth of a second), nanosecond (one billionth of a second), picosecond (one trillionth of a second), femtosecond (one millionth of a nanosecond), and attosecond (one quintillionth of a second). Infinity anyone? How does this relate to Michael Snow? Regardless of the changes brought about to time by technology and culture, the common denominator is and always will be how time is experienced by individuals, cultures, and societies. And what makes Snow’s work germane is that the experiental aspect of time is always inscribed within the text as an important part of how the film affects the viewer’s mind and body.
Offscreen: You mentioned Rameau's Nephew being four and a half hours long and one of the things that has always intrigued me about your works is the question of duration. Some of your films are very long, four and a half hours, 3 hours, some are 45, 55 minutes, Corpus Callosum is feature length at 93 minutes. That specific duration is an important part of the temporal experience of every art. How do you decide on the lengths of certain films? Why is La Region Centrale 3 1/2 hours, Back and Forth 55 minutes, Wavelength 45 minutes?
Michael Snow: I guess it is just imagining the perception of certain things and deciding on how long it would take for that to arrive in your consciousness, and to make a mental environment where you are really involved. As I mentioned with Rameau's Nephew it is divided into several sequences all with people in them which is the exact opposite of La Region Centrale, where there is no human appearance it at all. Rameau's Nephew is like a great big sentence but in a language of this film or in the language of the image-sound possibilities, particularly to do with speech. You get the sentence slowly in the sense that you go for one sequence, which is now in your memory, and that involves a certain kind of mode or use of image and recorded speech. Then you move into the next sequence and it is different. So it is a little bit like in a sentence were nouns are different from verbs. Since each sequence has its own etymology I intended that they would take a certain amount of time before you would start to realize that what was being built was the equivalent of a sentence within the language of this film. Does that make any sense? But still does not explain why it is four and a half hours long! With La Region Centrale since the subject is, in a way cosmic, I thought it should be long, it should feel like 3000 years or 3 million years, not three hours. The idea originally was to shoot out of every hour and make a condensed day but that turned out to be impossible. It is a condensed day because it does go from a morning to another morning, but not in that type of precise process.
Offscreen: I think in certain cases you can not take a three hour experience and replicate it in 10 minutes. Like, for example, with the eight hour film Sátántango (Béla Tarr, 1994), the experience you feel at the end of it cannot be achieved in a 90 minute film. I think it is connected to a certain weight that temporality has.
Michael Snow: Weight is a good way to say it I think. It is very hard to explain. In New York Eye and Ear Control, partly there I wanted to have at least 30 minutes of music by this amazing group that I had chosen and I wanted to achieve this simultaneity between the two senses, which is why it is called eye and ear control. The two senses are moving along parallel to each other, and of course although they affect each other, neither was intended as an accompaniment to the other, but rather as polyphony. It was partly in opposition to the way music is usually used in fiction films to reinforce certain emotions, like this is sad or this is exciting. I never like that even though they're obviously many wonderful uses of it. Rather I wanted to do something where you can actually listen to the music for its qualities, like these two languages simultaneously. With Wavelength one of the starting ideas was to be able to see a zoom, to experience a zoom from a kind of analytical "inside a zoom" position, and it seemed to me that could not be fast. I thought it would be interesting to have it big enough so that it is monumental, that is weight in a way, and so it ended up being 45 minutes, but it could have been 15 minutes.
Offscreen: A related question is the type of weight you want to create as well. Traditionally there has been two ways that artists have represented time, through wholeness or fragmentation. At the turn of the 20th-century time was often represented with images of speed and rapidity and now artists tend to represent time through slowness or the idea of infinity and stillness. I think you have done that both in your work.
Michael Snow: Yes Wavelength does that in a way.
Offscreen: See You Later is one which really gives you that sense of weight by taking this one minute or 30 seconds and making it momentous, which would be the wholeness representation of time. So how would you begin to discuss wholeness and fragmentation in your work in relation to temporality?
Michael Snow: I think the films are all different. There is one film which is in a sense as exclusively duration as you to make, I think, and that is called One Second in Montreal. The idea there was about experiencing lengths of time and I kept on trying to figure out ways to do it and that is finally how I did it. But every hold in it is a different duration that is a purely temporal, or almost purely temporal since there is also the image, but there isn't any motion so it uses the fact that in film a frame is one 24th of the second and it is the first time in history that one can be that precise with attention.
Offscreen: And the center of the film becomes very important as it does in Prelude, where there is a shift and temporality slows down.
Presents has something like three different modes in it. There is pushing and stretching, the tracking of the set, which because of convention you think of as camera movement, but you can see that the set is moving, then there is the smashing up of the set, followed by almost an hour of hand held pans which are from all over the world. Each one the pans is a different reaction to the scene with the camera. So that if the camera was moving in one way you might follow it or if the shape was round you would shoot it in a round way. One of the things I wanted to do was to cut each pan so that there would be no continuity from shot to shot, so they were isolated in time and space as these little instants taken from life. Pans are obviously much different from dollies or tracks. They are a glance. And they also reinforce a certain ephemerality, so there is a sadder aspect to the glance. It is recorded but then it is gone and then there's another glance and it is gone. So that part of Presents is a particular thing that I have not done that much, a montage of things that have a tremendous variety, not in terms of the world itself but in terms of what you can gather from the world.
Offscreen: Which brings in two questions that are I guess unrelated. For the question of time when you are talking about the time that it takes for the audience to pick up not only what the film is about but the fact that the audience should be feeling something that takes two and half or three hours. I was wondering how the audience response works in your films and how you evaluate the time it takes for something like Wavelength to really seep into an audience?
Michael Snow: I've never been able to know. I have to do it for myself or imagine it for myself. Obviously there are many different types of reactions, some of my films have caused riots, fights, and all kinds of things.
Offscreen: Has it changed over the years, the audience reception?
Michael Snow: Yes. I don't know what is happening to people but they are not as tough as they used to be (laughs out loud).
Offscreen: I was thinking of the visual culture today, maybe not in terms of duration but a certain type of violence that would be visual that people would be more accustomed to that may be in your film?
Michael Snow: Yes and that is a good point because there used to be violent reactions to Paul Sharits' flicker films. People would say, “oh my God I can't stand this.” I think that it is less likely now because there has been more use of that kind of stuff in a common way especially in music videos and in other films. So people’s vocabulary has expanded.
Offscreen: In turn, although audiences may be more used to seeing the violence and the freneticism, the spectator anger comes from when they are watching nothing or feel they are being bored.
Michael Snow: Yes, that is right. I know there is also the influence of television and being able to zap away so it is a weightier decision to go into the theater than it used to be. And probably attention spans are not as strong as they used to be, generally speaking.
Offscreen: I just saw Peter Mettler's Gambling, God and LSD. He introduced it and he talked about the investment of the spectator’s time when watching a film that is three hours long and of giving something back to the audience, of rewarding them in a certain way.
Michael Snow: Yes it is generous of people to say this is three hours long and I'll give it three hours of my time. I would like to have seen that film, because I like Mettler’s work.
Offscreen: Well it was very good.
Pause 3, Improvisation and Humor
In this final pause I would like to simply relate a pleasant discovery: Snow’s wonderful sense of humor. On at least five or six occasions during the interview the formal question and answer method was interrupted by bursts of laughter on Snow’s part, sometimes in anticipation of his own answer, or as a lead-in to a mock or hypothetical answer. In hindsight, this should not have been a surprise. Humor appears in many forms throughout his films. Not laugh out loud humor, but a wry humor that comes from an inward gaze at the mechanics of artmaking. While his films are sometimes misleadingly typified as intellectual or conceptual exercises, there are equally aware of the inevitable forces beyond the artists control, everything from funding, to good fortune, to chance, or to the fickle whims of audiences and, indeed, the art establishment. If Snow’s fascination with the mechanics and technology of art often stems from his intellect, the resulting work can also be seen as an experimental film version of Bergson’s famous dictum on what makes us laugh, those moments when we see “the mechanical encrusted upon the living.” Just think of the great final ‘gag’ in Table Top Dolly, where the plexiglass in front of the slowly moving camera creates an ‘invisible’ force that eventually pushes everything off the end of a kitchen table; or the similar gag of the moving set in Presents which gives the illusion of a lateral tracking shot; or the unexplained collapse of a man in Wavelength; or the impromptu inclusion of the offscreen audience at the end of Seated Figures; and of course the feature length “Man With a Computer Camera” antics of Corpus Callosum.
Offscreen: I was also interested in the way you use your audience, obviously in your films, but also in other work, this dynamic you have with the audience, this inclusion of the audience to make the work, work. For example, in a film like Seated Figures you have people clapping, or Back and Forth you have the audience included, and there is this irony with the audience. I was wondering what the role of the audience is in that sense?
Michael Snow: It is included in a way but I never really think about it beyond wanting to share something with other people. There are references to the audience and Seated Figures is a particular case because the sound track is a hypothetical or possible audience. I did all the sound for that, the crumbling paper, the whispering voices, laughing, the fight.
Offscreen: There was a bit of that in the audience last night during Wavelength, with people shuffling in their seats.
Michael Snow: For a while, my only 35 mm film was something called A Casing Shelved (1970) which is a single slide and it is shown as a film along with a tape, it is about 45 for 46 minutes. It really is a movie because the voice brings you around this still image but there has been some occasions, like once about four or five minutes into the film a lot of people in the audience must have said to themselves, “oh, oh I think I know what this is going to be like and I'm getting the hell out of here.” And almost in unison they got up and left (big laugh). That also happened once with the showing of New York Eye and Ear Control. That was really amazing because it was only after about a minute or so, before this crazy music had even started yet. It was pretty lyrical at that point but I guess they saw something suspicious!
Offscreen: Again with the question of the audience, after having seen many of your films and reading about them it seemed to me there was a discrepancy between the discourse surrounding the film and the experience of the film. For example, the way Wavelength is described so inaccurately. And even when somebody wants to be accurate, like P.A. Sitney, yet realizes how much more there is in the film. There is something that you cannot really translate to words which happens to the body. So those two, basically matter and mind which is also involved in the film, is as important. And in that gap between the idea of the film and the experience there is something that is really essential to the work itself. In the case of these descriptions, or the concepts of the work, everybody knows or thinks they know what the work is about. Like with Wavelength or La Region Centrale, oh yes Wavelength is a continuous 45 minute zoom into a wall. But when you are actually watching the film, it is certainly not boring, or least not for me anyway, and in that gap there is really something important happening.
Michael Snow: I think it is terrific that you said that because it is really true. I really want to make physical things so that the experience is a real experience and not just conceptual. Well yes there are ideas in the works, but they are also body affects, like the panning, for example in Back and Forth. I've seen someone get sick and people have fainted with La Region Centrale, so I must be doing something right. So yes you're right. One of the things with Wavelength is this continues zoom. A lot of people who are really smart have not realized that the whole thing is continuously moving but it is single frame. See, if it was just a continuous zoom it would not refer to the frames. It is very nuanced because it was done by hand. I moved the zoom myself. It is full of different kinds of effects and qualities because it is really founded on the principle that, despite the fact that it is a zoom, films are made of single frames, and of course the film ends up on a single frame of the wave. But I think one thing that happens is related to people's memory. This is, again with some very smart people, like Alain Fleischer, who wrote about Wavelength and said that after he had seen it he condensed it in his own personal description to being a continues zoom. Then he saw it again and you can tell by the way he wrote, it was as if he was disappointed. And this from another filmmaker. He clearly had another film in mind, because this is not a continuous zoom at all. He also never mentioned the sound and the sound is what does this because it is a continuous move that is always changing. I just find it amazing that people don't mention the sound, because that is what affects the sense of direction, the sense of it being continuous.
Offscreen: It is actually a very discontinuous film, Back and Forth is another one of these works where when you describe it you have to reduce it down to this system, when in fact when you are watching the film you realize just how discontinuous it is. I would not called it improvisational, but there are variations within that system.
Michael Snow: Yes that is another thing, sometimes people think of them as conceptual, that you have this idea and that it just gets done. But a lot of things go wrong in them and I only include them because they add something. The things that can go wrong are particular to mediums and they make for qualities that really are of the medium. Picasso has done this. Say you are doing a portrait and the face is perfectly done, but the rest of it is done in brushstrokes. That is sort of like what might happen in the films. They are planned and they are really specific themes in a way but there are also a number of unplanned things that happen. I mean, I do not use everything that happens of that kind but I really like those things.
Offscreen: This is a perfect segue into a question about improvisation. You mention that there are specific things that happen or go wrong for each medium. Since you are a musician do see any correlation between the way you improvise in music and at what stage you do the improvising, composition or performance, and film?
Michael Snow: There is really not that much improvisation in my films. There is an acceptance of a chance, again to refer to Wavelength where I used all kinds of different film stocks and did not really know what they would look like. Ken Jacobs gave me some of outdated stock. But that is not really improvisation in a sense, like the music is. They are really compositions that allow, within reason, things to happen that are unpredictable.
Offscreen: So I guess it is a difference between chance and unpredictability and improvisation? Maybe this is an impossible question to answer, but when you improvise in music how much of the improvisation is already encoded in your brain?
Michael Snow: The CCMC as it is now is John Oswald, Paul Dutton, and myself, and we have been playing together for about 10 years. We play our music and each one of us is working on ways to get new sounds out of our instruments. What Paul Dutton does with his voice is truly outstanding. Every time we play together I am amazed by how creative the two of them are. The piano is a bit of a monster because it is this center of Western music and so much has been done with it and it is a fixed pitch instrument. It is a bit like trying to paint because there is the weight of all that has been done before. But anyway I think I am playing my own music by now. And it has to do with color really. Since they are never really in tune in the sense that other music is, they are just all over the bloody place. Now the piano can be accepted as having a certain rigidity on one hand, when you play a third it is a third. I have to deal with that, plus playing with them. I have got involved in trying to use the resonance of the piano to work with the harmonics, the overtones. So that there are all kinds of stuff that is produced from clusters that can work. It is just a question of instantaneous ear, and working with what they are doing. But it isn't only the fixed pitch that you get when you play a note on the piano. I do know something about harmony but playing the way we play it is not about harmony but about sound really. It is not jazz but it has the kind of heat of discovery that there is in jazz.
Offscreen: A lot of the terms you used are the same as those used by the film theorist Sergei Eisenstein and his types of montage like metric, rhythmic, tonal and over tonal. He is deliberately using these musical terms, so maybe at the editing stage of film there is more of her relationship to music?
Michael Snow: I have been working with free improvisation for many years now, since the 1960's, but there are some compositions that are much more like the films, like The Last LP. It came out as an LP in 1987 and 1994 in a CD version. It is a completely studio done thing that is composition in the sense that it uses multitrack layering, and I did all the parts.
Offscreen: Is it all piano?
Michael Snow: No it is everything, drums, trumpets, voice.
Offscreen: Do you use some type of language based stuff as well?
Michael Snow: Well, in the CD version of Sinoms there is a 30 page booklet and in the back it talks about the history of recording and how wonderful it is that, at least from the Western point of view, we've been able to record the music of cultures that did not have recording, and thus preserve it. But there is also a negative aspect to this and that is the effect of the intrusion of the West on such cultures. On this CD there are two African pieces, there's one South American one, a Tibetan piece, and the texts are full of ethno musicological references, including an ancient Chinese one. But all of this is a total construct, I did everything, including even the use of gongs. One of the nicest ones is Sinobodar (?) which is a girls puberty rite from a tribe in Niger Africa and I did all the voices. So you can take it that way, at its face value, but the truth is actually in the booklet, but it is printed backward so you have to read it through a mirror, and people never do that! It has been ordered by music departments and is available from Art Metropole in Toronto. And I have had some wonderful experiences with it. When I was working on the sculpture called "The Audience," the guys that were working on it happened to have a radio on at the time and we were listening to this program that had ethnic music on. The guy played a Bulgarian woman's choir and then he played the first piece from my CD, which was an ancient Chinese piece, I forget the name of it, with gongs and whistling on it. And he read the notes relating the interesting history, and played other tracks, and so on. Another funny story, a friend has this recording and played it for another friend. She liked it and asked where she could get it and my friend must have told her she got it from Art Metropole. And then a few days later this woman called my friend and was kind of angry and said, “well why didn't you tell me what this was!” And it brought up the whole thing about music, can there be “fake music,” and if you like it, then what you hear is what you hear. So this woman must have read about how it was done and found out it wasn't 15 year-old girls singing! So in my music as well as in my improvisation there are things like that. One piece called Si, Non uses the names of all the mayors of Quebec City since the beginning. It is a vocal piece.

Michael Snow, The Audience, 1988. Courtesy of the Daniel Langlois foundation. © Michael Snow.
Offscreen: With all of that layering you mention we see so much of that in today's music.
Michael Snow: I did that with some stuff that I did in 1972 a New York label called Chatham Square, Phil Glasses’ first label, put out a thing of mine called Michael Snow: Music for Whistling, Piano, Microphone, and Tape Recorder, which is two lp's. And there was a lot of stuff that used recording as an instrument. It was released in 1975 but a lot of the music was done in 1972. Partly because of working with film I have been involved with that for a long time, the idea that recording itself is an instrument.
Offscreen: I was struck last night at the concert and listening to the whole record Snow Solo Piano Solo Snow.
Michael Snow: Oh yes, the three C D one.
Offscreen: And it was even more striking yesterday because I saw your performance and I was struck by the extraordinary violence, literally the physical violence against the piano itself. I found that there was the same type of ecstatic violence that I saw in many of the films and an incredible energy which was very striking to me. I wonder how that is brought in?
Michael Snow: Speed is a way to escape consciousness and just act. If you think too much in the music you are too late. You have to act and this is something that happened in abstract expressionism too, it was a discovery particularly in De Kooning's paintings, great paintings. There's a lot of speed in his work and the speed produces things that only speed can produce. I think with our music, we may not have that jazz background, we don't have steady tempos or tunes, and the rhythm is extremely variable, but the energy or the phrasing is where the heat comes from. Because there isn't any cumulative rhythm so it is a transfer to phrasing from rhythm.
Offscreen: When you mention speed the first thing I thought of was the speed of your panning movements in Back and Forth or La Region Centrale. How did you achieve those rapid-fire pans in Back and Forth, were they just done manually?
Michael Snow: Yes it was just by panning very fast. I don't think I changed the shooting speed, I can't remember for sure, but I think it was all shot at 24 frames per second.
Offscreen: At the end of Back and Forth you get lost in the rhythm of it, like when you're on a train and speeding past objects.
Michael Snow: I was hoping to make it become all one energy field.
Offscreen: It also evolves, where at one point it almost looks like a gallery of paintings. I can think of a moment in Plus Tard (See You Later) where the windows themselves look literally like paintings.
Michael Snow: Plus Tard uses gestures too and each one being a slightly different gesture with the camera.
Offscreen: That can also relate to abstract painting right?
Michael Snow: Yes I was actually thinking about painting when making Plus Tard, more than anything. That it was like a brush stroke.
Offscreen: In terms of the violence I was thinking of a film of yours which is rarely discussed To Lavoiseur, Who Died in the Reign of Terror, just the extraordinary assault of the film. I was wondering with that film because there are a lot of superimpositions.
Michael Snow: Well actually they are fades and dissolves between each and zooms as well, and they follow this pattern where they shoot from above and round and round like a clock.

Michael Snow, To Lavoisier Who Died in the Reign of Terror, 1991. Courtesy of the Daniel Langlois foundation. © Michael Snow.
Offscreen: It seems that the print itself is all worn out.
Michael Snow: That is all from processing. There is a wonderful filmmaker called Carl Brown from Toronto who for years has been working with the chemistry. He doesn't use a lab at all except at the end when he finally makes a negative of what he's produced. I asked him to work on To Lavoiseur so the image part of it is a collaboration with Carl Brown (Painting the Light Fantastic). He knows what he is doing but he experiments a lot. What we did is I set up all the shots and I shot them on different stock, and once again this is a little bit of chance business. Over the years I had accumulated lots of bits of film some of them were really outdated and some had no labels on them. So we shot the scenes on three or four, or five different types of stock and then I give them to Carl to process and do whatever he wanted with them. It is really amazing what he does because he knows about the mix of different chemicals but it is all about duration, about how long the film is in the vat. So that is how those images were made. We're planning to do another collaboration which is a suggestion of his. He made a two screen film called Fine Pain with sound by John Kamevaar, who used to be in the CCMC. Kamevaar is primarily a drummer, percussionist, but he has used samplers and stuff like that for quite a long time now. I really like Fine Pain, it is amazing, and Carl suggested we do a kind of an “Exquisite Corpse” to screen thing where he would do something and I would do something and then we would give it to John to do whatever he wanted for sound. I'm going to try and start working on that fairly soon. In terms of technology, I think there is still something left to do with single frame shooting and that is what I want to do in this. The trouble with that is that it takes so much time, a day might go by and you have only shot six frames.
Offscreen: With what would you be filming that?
Michael Snow: A Bolex, 16mm.
Offscreen: To recall something that you said in relation to Wavelength, that it was a "summation of religious inklings." I know you said you're planning to work on this Fine Pain but what are some of your other recent inklings?
Michael Snow: Well there is a lot of stuff. We just came back from a little tour, CCMC, we played in Holland and at “Festival Polyphonix.” Have you ever heard of a Jean-Jacques Lebel?
Offscreen: No.
Michael Snow: He is a French performer at Happenings. For 40 years he has had this festival which mixes sound, poetry and different kinds of performances pertaining toward sound. Anyway we just played at that. I am going back to Paris on the 22nd because there's going to be something quite similar to here, I have a show at the Georges Pompidou and the beginning of a month-long retrospective, and the launch of the DVD Digital Snow. And the launch of Des Ecrits par Michael Snow, which is a French translation of my writings with some new stuff in it similar to the English one.
Offscreen: The Pompidou usually puts out a book when they do retrospectives. Will that be happening with yours?
In this case what they have done is that they've made this book of writings instead. It is being done with the Ecole des beaux arts. I'll be playing a solo piano concert at the Pompidou. There will be the release of the box set of Rameau's Nephew, which will have a 100 page book. And I'm doing a show at the Sorbonne gallery and a conference as well. Right now I am in a show at a wonderful gallery called Yvon Lambert. They are doing a series of projection exhibitions and there is a new work which I did this summer which is in that. The other nice thing that happened out of that is that they asked me to show there in about a year, which I am really pleased about because it is a terrific gallery.
Offscreen: So you're not slowing down! It seems that have a nice link with Paris.
Michael Snow: Yes it is a very Cinephilic culture. I had a one-man show in 1979 at the Pompidou Centre and that seems to have had a continuous ripple effect.
Offscreen: Well maybe just to sum up, do you think that people have a tendency to separate you when they are asking you questions, not label you but break you up into all these portions, Michael Snow being..., whereas do you consider yourself more as whole?
Michael Snow: Well I do consider the individual things individual, in a way because that is what I do I guess, try to find out what is special about each medium. It is understandable that people cannot be knowledgeable about all the different mediums. Sometimes it is funny. There was this advertisement for this solo piano concert in a magazine in Paris and it read, “A unique concert by the cineaste Michael Snow.” Like, my God, he is a filmmaker and actually plays the piano!
Offscreen: You have actually produced more paintings and music than films?
Michael Snow: Yes there are a lot of paintings, not for quite a long time but there are quite a few.
Offscreen: Photography also, it is almost impossible to catch up, to sum up.
Michael Snow: There was a retrospective of my work in photography, which started in 1962, organized by the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. It did a tour and the catalog is fantastic.

Photograph by Michael Snow, In Media Res, 1998. Courtesy of the Daniel Langlois foundation. © Michael Snow.
Offscreen: That is where the Alain Fleischer article is from?
Michael Snow: Right. Then it went onward to Paris and, I think Geneva.
Offscreen: Well we are nearing the end and we would really like to thank you for giving us this wonderful time.
Michael Snow: Well I would like to say thank you, really, for your asking me and for your knowledge about what it is I apparently do. Sometimes you talk to people who really don't know anything about your work, and what can you say?
1. Philip Alperson, “Musical Time” and Music as an ‘Art of Time,’” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 38 no. 4 (Summer 1980), 407-417.
2. Mumford, Lewis. Technics and Civilization. 1934. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1963.

Transcending the Fragmentation of Experience: The acousmêtre on the air in the films of Michael Snow

Randolph Jordan

In “Doing for the Eye what the Phonograph does for the Ear,” Tom Gunning suggests that the project of bringing sound to the cinema has been part of a negative reaction to the separation of the senses made possible by technologies such as the phonograph, technologies dedicated to the isolation, capturing and analysis of individual senses [1]. The idea of a disembodied voice carries with it connotations of the supernatural, often with evil undercurrents. Scientific understanding of technological process has, I believe, done little to dissuade such associations. The number of treatments of the subject of being in touch with the supernatural through technologies of reproduction has remained fairly consistent in the years since the harnessing of electricity. This idea of the supernatural side of technologies of reproduction comes also with increasing humanist tendencies to equate technology with the human body alongside materialist ways of approaching art. When focusing on sound in the cinema, concerns with technology and the material qualities of sound in and of itself often find themselves at the forefront, concerns which can shed new light on the ways that we have tended to think about film in the past.
Michel Chion’s Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen presents some compelling strategies for approaching and interpreting the use of sound in film, and provides many avenues for using sound as a way of understanding cinema from a more transcendental frame of mind. What Chion discovers through his process of coming to terms, so to speak, with his expanded vocabulary for sound analysis is that much of the deeper experience we get from cinema is a direct result of the transcendence between image and sound to a new level of combined interaction, and it is on this level that he suggests we conduct our inquiries into the use of sound in film. His idea of transsensoriality, which acknowledges the fact that hearing may not take place solely through the ears, and that seeing may not take place solely with the eyes [2], offers another perspective on Gunning’s conclusion that the sound film may be part of a project to reunite the senses after their isolation and mastery through technologies of reproduction: that sound and image are not necessarily things that can be isolated, and that our demarcation of these individual senses is based on often mistaken understandings of what these senses truly entail.
Interestingly, when perusing the literature surrounding the work of Michael Snow there emerges tendencies to want to examine it in terms of the structuralist isolation of the basic units of cinema for their exhaustive analysis through technological process, alongside an interest in the transcendent qualities of the work and its perception by the audience. These two areas of analysis and ecstasy, as explored by William C. Wees [3], are often felt to be in contradiction. Not surprisingly, the study of sound and image are often thought to be in contradiction, needing some kind of separate treatment before their work together can be properly understood. This feeling is reflected in Wees’ own caveat to Light Moving in Time: “To do justice to the aural aesthetics of avant-garde film…I would have to adopt a different critical approach, one applicable to a different channel of transmission, a different mode of perception, and (on the whole), a different selection of films for close inspection” [4]. Indeed, Chion’s project also involves a close attention to sound on its own before studying the way sound interacts with image. This is very much akin to Gunning’s idea that film seeks to put these two senses back together after their isolation and deconstruction through the phonograph and the kinetoscope. However, I think Wees’ bracketed “on the whole” might best imply that at least one of the filmmakers he considers might be worthy of sonic consideration as well as visual. Snow’s combination of sound and image seems to reflect an intense desire to bridge the gap that exists between considerations of sound and image and embodies the transsensoriality that Chion’s book ultimately seeks to uncover.
There emerges in many of the articles on Snow an interest in wanting to talk about his use of sound, but with a general capitulation to talking around the subject of sound itself in favour of drawing correlations between Snow and various musicians whose work is particularly open to being discussed conceptually. This capitulation is common in both writing about music alone, probably the branch of human expression that most resists discussion through language, and in discussion of all film. What I will do here is perpetuate this capitulation by discussing sound in Snow’s films as it relates to the preferred topics of deconstruction and transcendence, in order to suggest that Snow’s work is very much concerned with the technological separation of the senses and its spiritualist connotations while also seeking to reunite them, as Gunning suggests is the project of sound film in general. However, in so doing I would like to break, at least a little bit, from tendencies to skirt the issue by bringing Chion’s strategies for analyzing sound in film to the work of Snow in order to begin the much larger work of really grabbing hold of Snow’s sonic world.
Snow himself has expressed frustration with the lack of attention people have paid to his use of sound. In a letter to Peter Gidal on the subject of Back and Forth (1968-1969) he writes: “Now as you say seeing the film is a very physical experience. (I can’t understand why you didn’t also say ‘hearing’ it because the sound, its qualities, relationship to the image, effect, are so important to the whole thing)” [5]. Of course, Snow’s frustration with the absence of critical attention paid to sound in his work is only a small example of the lack of attention paid to sound in film in general, though this situation is changing for the better with each passing day. The fact remains, however, the we still speak of seeing films, while the words listening to are reserved for music and other forms of sound art. As Michel Chion suggests, this idea may be best expressed by the simple fact that a moving picture without sound is still a film, whereas a soundtrack with no image is not. He gives the example of Walter Ruttmann’s 1930 film Weekend as a limit-case: a film with only a montage of sound printed on the optical soundtrack portion of the film with the image track left empty. “Played through the speakers, Weekend is nothing other than a radio program, or perhaps a work in concrete music. It becomes a film only with reference to a frame, even if an empty one” (6). So we have a situation where, although the sound film is here to stay, the unification of sight and sound into a truly holistic audiovisiual art form has yet to be the norm. This situation may well be the result of some fundamental differences we have in understanding and approaching sound vs. image, as Wees suggests is the reason behind his attention to the visual aesthetics of the avant-garde at the expense of sound. The senses of sight and sound are still kept separate somehow, and this fact touches a nerve within us that primordially fears the isolation of our human faculties for deconstruction and analysis on an individual basis.
This fear of isolation may also be at the root of backlash against scientific classification and categorization of the natural world, a backlash embodied by postmodern tendencies towards the deconstruction of established labels and fragmentation of identities that have been established through the rigors of modern science. To the chagrin of Fredric Jameson and like-minded critics of contemporary culture, much postmodern art revolves around rebuilding the world that was left in pieces by the isolation and categorization of modern science. Though these pieces may be sewn together in a loose fabric of surfaces ripped from their original contexts and without the depth of historicity traceable in a neat hierarchical tree structure beneath each, the act of reassemblage is, I believe, a positive step towards recovering from the intense gaze of analytical scrutiny and rediscovering the joys of more holistic understandings of the world and of human experience within it. Chion’s project in Audio-Vision is to first isolate sound in its own right from its dependence on the image within cinema so that we may undertake the work of careful analysis. However, this isolation and analysis is in aid of then rejoining sound with image so that we may be able to experience the two as a single entity known as cinema, sound and image equal in their own rights in true audiovision. So, Chion advocates a strong sense of rebuilding, and thus recovering from the fear instilled in the heart of human kind by the coming of technologies capable of separating and encapsulating the senses we have come to know as being parts of the larger whole of human experience, not individual channels of information that can work in isolation.
So we have a dichotomy between deconstruction and reconstruction, both of which serve their purpose. This is not unlike the dichotomy between sound and image, or between the ideas of analysis vs. experience that so many people focus on when writing about the films of Michael Snow, or even between his structural approach to filmmaking vs. his interest in improvisational music. The task at hand is to see how Snow seeks to rebuild the world left fragmented by scientific investigation despite his obvious interests in exhaustive analysis of the isolated units of cinema and of human experience.
The resolving of these dichotomies can be understood most basically through Chion’s concept of transsensoriality. Chion is careful not to have us confuse transsensoriality with intersensoriality as exemplified by the “correspondences” spoken of by Beaudelaire, Rimbaud and Claudel wherein “each sense exists in itself, but encounters others at points of contact” [7]. For Chion, transsensoriality means that “there is no sensory given that is demarcated and isolated from the outset. Rather, the senses are channels, highways more than territories or domains” [8]. He gives examples such as rhythm which is most often thought of in terms of sound but is an element of film vocabulary that is not specific to one or another sense. “A rhythmic phenomenon reaches us via a given sensory path – this path, eye or ear, is perhaps nothing more than the channel through which rhythm reaches us. Once it has entered the ear or eye, the phenomenon strikes us in some region of the brain connected to the motor functions, and it is solely at this level that it is decoded as rhythm” [9]. Chion suggests that this transsensoriality can be applied also to things such as texture, material and language [10].
I can’t help but be reminded here of Stan Brakhage’s interest in closed-eye vision, vision that takes place without the use of the eyes, drawing instead on the phosphenes and other visual noise that exist within our visual cortex [11]. Brakhage seeks to replicate closed-eye vision by treating film in an analogous way: just as closed-eye vision removes the eye from the act of seeing, so too do his hand-painted films remove the camera-eye from the process of creating images on film. Michael Snow is often compared and contrasted with Brakhage, but as several have suggested, they may be much more alike than is initially apparent. I believe that their kinship rests largely in this realm of transsensoriality, wherein the experience of cinema is explored through the potential for the senses to draw on one another rather than relying on their separation. Indeed, Bruce Elder has made this very link between the two filmmakers. In an interview with Snow, Elder suggests: “in many of your sound ‘recordings’ you seem as interested in what I shall say are the photographic or cinematic aspects of the recording as with the medium of the reproduction. Ironically, Brakhage is devoted to purely musical properties of cinematography” [12]. Chion goes on to suggest that “when kinetic sensations organized into art are transmitted through a single sensory channel, through this single channel they can convey all the other senses at once” [13]. He offers the silent cinema and musique concrète as examples of this, whereby film in the absence of synch sound can sometimes express sounds better than sound itself, while musique concrète may carry with it “visions that are more beautiful than images could ever be” [14]. Indeed Brakhage comes to mind with his frequent assertions that his films remain silent for the most part because he is so interested in exploring the musical qualities of his images in their own right, an exploration that actual sound would distract from severely.
We are so used to the idea of demarcating our individual senses that we allow auditory material to dominate our understanding of sound while letting what we see on screen dictate our understanding of vision. One of Chion’s main purposes in writing Audio-Vision, however, is to remedy this situation, to call specific attention to the ways that hearing affects what we see and vice-versa, and Brakhage is surely on the forefront of exploring how visual information can be understood in auditory terms simply through the act of allowing the images to speak for themselves across all senses. Here again we see an example of the fundamental point of this paper: in order to understand how the senses interact with one another they must first be isolated. It is in their recombination after isolation that a more holistic understanding of our perceptual apparatus occurs. Michael Snow, perhaps more than anyone else, demonstrates an interest in rebuilding towards this holism through the systematic and exhaustive isolation of the basic units of cinematic expression. Ultimately, this holism entails a transcendence of isolated categories, a transcendence that I believe is perfectly exemplified by the transcendence between our individual senses that Chion describes in terms of transsensoriality.
So let’s examine this dichotomy between isolation and analysis vs. recombination and transcendence in the work of Michael Snow. William C. Wees puts the problem forth most clearly when he discusses Snow as being interested in the balancing of eye and mind, seeking to find that perfect fulcrum between ecstasy and analysis. (Of course, as I will discuss shortly, Snow also seeks a balance between eye and ear, which is a crucial element to the ecstasy that he balances with analysis). Wees notes that critics of Snow’s work have tended to “emphasize ‘analysis’ at the expense of ‘ecstasy’ and to concentrate on the conceptual aspects of Snow’s films without giving comparable attention to the perceptual experience they produce” (15). Wees suggests that this fact may be partially a result of Snow’s emphasis on the “machineness” of cinema. Whereas Brakhage humanizes filmmaking technology by freeing the camera from the constraints of the tripod and seeking an aesthetic not patterned on the rigid structure of Renaissance perspective that has been built into the lens itself, Snow seeks to embrace the technical aspects of cinema in order to push it well beyond any limits seemingly present in these aspects. Wees describes how Snow seized upon the mechanical limitations of zoom and tripod mounted moving-camera in Wavelength (1967), Back and Forth (1968-1969), and La Région Centrale (1971) in order to use them in unconventional ways. “By exaggerating its ‘machine-ness,’ he forces the apparatus to produce new ways of seeing that fully satisfy Brakhage’s own criteria for ‘eye adventures’…In that sense, Snow’s approach is not so different from Brakhage’s” [16]. Thus, Snow’s approach need not be confused with a mechanical and therefore intellectual approach to filmmaking. While there is intellectual exploration of cinematic process, this exploration is in furtherance of liberating cinema from just such intellectualism and to push it on into realms of experience that transcend analysis and become part of a more holistic cinematic experience.
What to make of this idea of holistic cinematic experience, you ask? Thierry du Duve’s “Michael Snow: The Deictics of Experience and Beyond” presents a complex reading of the state of experience through the phases of modernism and postmodernism and whether or not it is possible to have an experience through art that isn’t necessarily vicarious and thus distanced. He begins with a discussion of Caspar David Friedrich’s painting “Monk Before the Sea.” The monk in the painting is represented as having a mystical experience, but de Duve’s question is if we, in looking at the painting, can have that same experience? “Not only are we contemplating a painting, and not the sea, but we are also contemplating the monk contemplating the sea, from behind” [17]. Quoting Kant, de Duve reminds us that experiences of the sublime must be sought in “crude nature,” not in art, and so all Friedrich’s painting can do is “present us with an experience at a remove” [18]. Modernist painting, de Duve suggests, then went on to try and reclaim authentic experience from such experience by proxy through a process of removing representation and presenting us with abstraction that can be experienced first hand. At which point modernist painting surrendered to the postmodern “disillusioned celebration of surrogate experience as such” [19]. Enter Michael Snow.
For de Duve, Snow came along at a time when trust in experience itself was shattered by postmodern disillusionism, and asked: “given that the unity of experience is shattered, what can be done that is epistemologically enlightening and aesthetically stimulating?” The answer: “First identify the fragments that once composed this unity, that is, the conditions of experience, then, grant them their freedom” [20]. Most importantly though, de Duve suggests that Snow takes on these two tasks simultaneously: “the strategy employed to identify [these fragments] – the modernist strategy of rendering opaque the transparent conditions of a given practice – is also the practice that makes them self-referential and thus autonomous” [21]. Finally, once they are autonomous and “disconnected from the bonds that linked them together in a unity,” they enjoy a freedom that we, in turn, might enjoy. The fragmentation of experience might be a source of pleasure rather than melancholy [22]. Using this as a “working hypothesis,” de Duve’s project is to demonstrate how Snow has been instrumental in freeing up the joy that can be found in the fragmentation of experience.
De Duve conducts an extensive analysis of how Snow has systematically freed the individual components of having an experience (the I, here, and now) from their bonds to one another. However, de Duve struggles with the fact that these components, so expertly separated by Snow, are present in a unity he refers to as the masterpiece that is La Région Centrale. De Duve set out to show that Snow had accepted the fact that the unity of experience had been shattered and that his project was not one of retrieval or salvation of this experience. “Quite to the contrary, it is as if [Snow] had furthered the fragmentation by setting the conditions of experience free of their intrinsic solidarity with each other. [Yet] now I say that from the utter separation of the ingredients, he has succeeded in cooking a meal which has the unity of a masterpiece” [23]. De Duve’s solution to this problem is to suggest that Snow effectively sets the conditions for having an experience by having separated the elements and laying them side by side, but that this experience is not guaranteed and has been removed from the idea of the “subject” as it was in enlightenment-era aesthetic understanding [24]. “For three hours in a row we are watching the conditions of experience being set, installed, tested, probed, laid down before our eyes, and only when the projection is over do we realize that we went through something of which we may say: that was quite an experience” [25]. But, as de Duve explains, the experience is not Snow’s act of making the film or an experience of his own that he wanted to impart through the film. Snow’s experience of La Région Centrale is very much the same as ours. Having only looked in the camera once during its making, Snow was able to watch the film much as we do – seeing it all for the first time. So the subject of the film is not Snow’s experience coming through the film which we are then meant to re-experience. Rather, the film itself sets out the conditions for experience, and manages to give sense of unity despite the fragmentation of these conditions.
This unity within fragmentation need not be as problematic as de Duve suggests, though. This paper being about the embracing of paradox and the balancing of what are considered to be opposites, I might suggest an approach borrowed from Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. Speaking of William S. Burroughs’ cut-up method, taking bits and pieces of autonomous texts and folding them one onto another, they say: “in this supplementary dimension of folding, unity continues its spiritual labour. That is why the most resolutely fragmented work can also be presented as the Total Work or Magnum Opus” [26]. Snow’s work may not correspond exactly with the folding of the fragmented conditions of experience onto one another, but I believe the basic idea that unity can result from fragmentation is what makes Snow’s work capable of transcending the fragmentation and giving a sense of wholeness and fullness of experience. Snow may not have wanted to retrieve the idea of sublime experience that de Duve suggests has been lost, but his work nevertheless allows for a new form of experience that embraces (and, in fact, helped create) a new understanding that unity need not be in direct opposition to fragmentation. The work of the postmodern subject, strewn across the devastated ruins of deconstructed categorizations, can pick up the pieces and arrange them in any form or combination desired without losing that sense that there is a structure holding them together which transcends the gaps between the pieces – “all the more total for being fragmented” [27].
Transcendence, then, becomes not the idea of being able to experience the sublime vicariously through a representation of someone else’s experience, but rather a condition of being able to engage with the underlying unity of fragments that are laid side by side or one atop the next. The synthesis takes place within us, through our engagement with the work, and thus becomes a matter of perception. So, in that spirit, let’s now examine Snow’s processes of fragmentation before moving on to their underlying unity and ultimately their properties of transcendence. In do doing, the move from Snow’s analytical side to his ecstatic side will be made, and the two will be seen to be balanced in spite of their apparent opposition.
It is tempting to put Snow in the context of minimalist artists due to the conceptual nature of their work and their interest in the exposing of process and the isolation of the basic units that structure their art. Bruce Elder has suggested that Snow does indeed have some characteristics in common with the formal minimalists but that he also paves the way for new branches in minimalism that go beyond what is entailed by the classic definition. Elder chooses to focus on minimalist composers in making his comparisons, most notably being Steve Reich, La Monte Young and Philip Glass. These musicians are not invoked for their sound, however, but for the organizational principles at work in their compositions. The first likeness Elder finds between Snow and these composers is that their compositions are based on “comparatively simple musical structures, or modules, that are repeated and only gradually and systematically modified to generate complexity” [28]. He notes that such processes are apparent in most musical compositions, but that in the work of Glass and Reich these processes are made very conspicuous through the extent to which the modules are simple and the developments extended [29]. P. Adams Sitney has also drawn a connection between Snow and minimalist artists for the same reasons. He quotes dancer Yvonne Rainer saying that perfection in art is a reduction to irreducible units, making a definitive statement on the basic principle behind minimalist art [30]. Elder goes on to suggest that Snow’s project in rendering his processes perceptible is to call attention to the role of time in his works, and how his treatment of temporality has a dual character. “Snow’s temporal constructs both hypostatize the shape of time and make evident its flow. In Snow’s work, extended durations are used to raise questions about the relation of passing time to eternity – questions which are of a religious nature” [31]. Here Elder finds a correspondence with Reich particularly, who he feels is in search of the impersonal through focused and prolonged attention, a sense of the impersonal that is related to the composer’s spiritual convictions. Elder associates these convictions with Reich’s “belief in creating music in which appearance (the actual sounds heard) and reality (the generative structures) are at one” [32]. Here again we come across the relationship between the co-existence of experience and analysis in the context of transcendence. Reich gives the example of John Cage, saying “[he] has used processes and he certainly accepted their results, but the processes he used were compositional ones that could not be heard when the piece was performed…The compositional process and the sounding music have no audible connection” [33]. For Reich, the importance rests in the simultaneity of being aware of the processes while being capable of being engrossed in their results. This seems to me to be the perfect expression of the balancing of analysis and ecstasy that Wees discusses in relation to Snow’s work.
Elder goes on to suggest that most often Reich’s desire for rendering processes perceptible is related to modernist notions of moving from subject to object, from spirituality to materialism. De Duve’s conclusion that Snow’s work can retain transcendent qualities of experience while removing the romantic-enlightenment notion of the need for a subject within this experience is of great importance here. In speaking of La Région Centrale, de Duve says this:
I am here, no doubt, in the center, there where the eye of the camera is, but my body is not, and thus, that’s not me, here. I don’t feel it’s me. The sensation I get is one of kinaesthetic sensory deprivation…The result is space minus here: the a priori form of external sensibility without an internal reference point, that point which would be the subject, that point where I can say, through immediate intuition: her I am. I can still say ‘Here I am,’ but only through the mediation of a mental act of reflection [34].
Here reflexivity enters as a contingent of both the removal of subject and Snow’s ability to present the conditions for transcendent experience nevertheless. De Duve says:
I am usually fed up with self-referentiality, a worn-out modernist device if there ever was one…The fact is that in [Snow’s] work, as with all great modernist art, self-referentiality is never a serpent eating its tail…The intellectual effort you make trying to decode the generative process of the work does not exhaust itself in the mere pleasure of having “cracked” the code [35].
So we have the ideal conditions here for the balancing of ecstasy and analysis, which I find to be akin to Reich’s statement that “even when all the cards are on the table and everyone hears what is gradually happening in a musical process, there are enough mysteries to satisfy all. These mysteries are the impersonal, unintended, psychoacoustic by-products of the intended process” [36]. And this “impersonal” that Reich speaks of is what Elder suggests is the spiritual, or transcendent, in the work: a result of the simultaneous co-existence of self-reflexivity and self-effacement – we can get lost in the moment while being aware of the processes that have led us there. True holism, the bridge between the Cartesian mind-body split.
The bridge, though, is dependent upon the split for its very existence, and this is what we can’t forget here, and of which de Duve has sought to remind us: Snow’s work operates in the era following the fragmentation of experience. For Elder, Snow’s work embodies the concept found in minimalist musical composition of treating individual modules of structure in such a way as to make their presence clear while illustrating how they can change over time as a result of additive processes of recombination. For de Duve, Snow’s work embodies the move away from the subject being the focus of experience through the separation of the conditions for having an experience: the dissolution of the interdependence of the I, Here, and Now. The very idea of transcendence depends upon two or more points which are usually kept separate, be they Heaven and Earth, body and mind, ecstasy and analysis, or even sound and image. Transcendence becomes the simultaneous co-existence of things we have learned to keep separate, and it is in this domain that Snow’s work triumphs.
Snow’s use of sound/image relations is just as indicative of his project of creating unity out of disparate elements as any of the conceptual issues put forth thus far. Though perhaps not as initially striking as his images, the sound in his films has been crucial to fully realizing the experience that he lays out the conditions for. It is important to begin with Chion’s notion of the audiovisual contract here. In his foreword to Chion’s Audio-Vision, Walter Murch explains that “the essential first step Chion takes is to assume that there is no ‘natural and preexisting harmony between image and sound’ – the shadow is in fact dancing free” [37]. Murch goes on to quote Robert Bresson’s iteration of the same idea: “Images and sounds, like strangers who make acquaintance on a journey and afterwards cannot separate” [38]. I would add Murch’s own statement of a similar idea, from an interview conducted by Frank Paine: “Image and sound are linked together in a dance. And like some kinds of dance, they do not always have to be clasping each other around the waist: they can go off and dance on their own, in a kind of ballet. There are times when they must touch, there must be moments when they make some sort of contact, but then they can be off again” [39]. Each of these three iterations express the fundamental principle I am trying to elucidate in this paper: the simultaneous co-existence of separation and combination within a single text.
For Chion, sound and image are not naturally linked in the cinema, and it is through our experience of their co-existence within the space of a film that they join together and develop into a seemingly cohesive unity; it is our perception that forges the unity. As Murch suggests, there are moments when the simultaneous conjunction of sound and image, which we tend to understand from the perspective of cause and effect, suggest a unity. These are points of contact that help us understand that there may some connections that need to be made between sound and image when watching a film. Very often, though, the sound can break free and dance on its own, while the shadows dance alone on the screen, and whatever correspondences are made between them is a function of our brain’s powers of synthesis.
The image of the shadow dancing free is particularly evocative when considering the work of Michael Snow. In a most literal sense, the feeling I get when seeing the shadow of the camera mount in La Région Centrale is that of a strange being dancing amidst the barren landscape, free to move in any direction it chooses. When considering the sound in Région, which seems in constant connection with the image but without any points of synchronization, the temptation to draw connections with Murch’s image of the dancing shadow grows ever stronger. But before getting to that, I will illustrate some more conceptual manifestations of Snow’s employment of the audiovisual contract.
When discussing the juxtaposition between the jazz soundtrack and the images in New York Eye and Ear Control, Sitney suggests that “Snow obviously wanted to set up a bifurcated experience of picture and sound as if they were two independent contiguous realities” [40]. As Chion suggests, however, sound and image are always independent, and it is simply our conditioning and use of conventions of synchronization that make us believe that they are not. Snow is well aware of these conventions and of our conditioning, and so he does, indeed, seek to separate them again in the minds of the audioviewer so that we may once again understand how they may be unified. The connections that we can make between sound and image in New York Eye and Ear Control are predominantly conceptual, thinking of things like the improvisatory nature of the sweeping camera movements and whimsical placements of the Walking Woman cutouts in various environments as these relate to the practice of improvisation in jazz music. The idea of the Walking Woman itself as a module of repetition which finds itself in ever changing environments can be related to the idea of jazz which often patterns its improvisational exploration around a concrete structure of chord changes. In this line of inquiry we find that one of the biggest apparent paradoxes in the work of Michael Snow – the difference between his structural films and his improvisational musical interests – need not necessarily be considered in contradiction. Like the realms of ecstasy and analysis, the two can co-exist as different sides of the same thing, which can join together if we allow them to synthesize within our own understanding of them.
Wavelength offers a strong venue for the co-existence of things often felt to be kept separate. As Wees describes, “Snow’s goal is to bring the spectator to the fullest possible recognition of both qualities of the cinematic image: its referential nature as representation of the visual world and its essential nature as, in Snow’s words, ‘projected moving light image’” [41]. It is from that recognition that Wees suggests the spectator achieves the “dual state” of ecstasy and analysis. Considering again the analogy of jazz music as improvisation within structure, the 40 minute zoom that is the rigid shell of Wavelength is peppered with all manner of far less structured events. As Wees describes, the “extreme changes in exposure, flares and flash frames, negative footage, flicker effects, superimpositions, ephemeral spots and gleams of light…and innumerable shifts in the color and density of the image recur throughout the film like playful improvisations within the stern and unvarying structure, or shape, imposed by the zoom” [42]. The sound in Wavelength lends itself to ideas of simultaneous co-existence of opposites as well. As Sitney describes, in fact, the sound in Wavelength emphasizes the intersections of the concerns of space and human events, the former demarcated by the sine wave and the latter by the film’s synchronous sounds. Sitney goes as far as to say that “an analysis of the sound alone indicates a dialogue between spheres (human and eternal/topological) just as an exegesis of the visuals would” [43]. Here again we see that sound and image can be kept separate, while finding correlations between the two on conceptual levels.
With Wavelength, however, there is more that just a conceptual linkage, since the film does make use of synchronous sound. In addition to the sounds of the people in the film talking and moving about, the presence of the sine wave (which begins at its lowest cycle part-way into the film and continues until the end in a slow glissando to its highest cycle) can be understood as a sonic counterpart of the zoom lens moving from wide angle to narrow [44]. Of course, this correspondence between sound and image is part of the pun of the film’s title. Not only do we experience a shift in the length between the camera-eye and the picture of the wave on the wall at the far end of the room, we are also experiencing the shift in the frequency of the sine wave, effectively a shift in the length of that very wave. So Snow has created a conceptual, formal, and experiential unison between the sound and image with Wavelength, while still maintaining a separateness to these elements that makes the audioviewer have to do a bit of work to make all the connections and create the experience. As Sitney suggests, the events that take place in the space of Wavelength, whether it be within the room it depicts or to the film itself, can be understood as momentary mental and physical states that have a cumulative effect in our minds while being separate within the film itself [45]. Annette Michelson suggests something similar when she says that Wavelength presents “the movement forward as a flow which bears in its wake, contains, discrete events: their discreteness articulates an allusion to the separate frames out of which persistence of vision organizes cinematic illusion” [46]. So again the idea of Snow keeping elements discreet while succeeding in creating an experience of unity within the audioviewer is front and center, and the sound/image relations in Wavelength are an integral part of this fact.
In Back and Forth as well, the idea of discreet units of sound and image is very apparent. Sitney explains as being made up of a moving camera which “passes a number of ‘events’ which become metaphors for the inflection of the camera (passing a ball, the eye movement of reading, window washing, etc.)” [47]. Relating these to concepts in contemporary dance, he suggests that “each activity is a rhythmic unit, self-enclosed, and joined to the subsequent activity only by the fact that they occur in the same place” [48]. This idea is especially interesting for present purposes if we think of the “place” in which these events are occurring as being ourselves. Our perception of these discrete events becomes the site of their relation to one another.
The discreteness of the elements in Back and Forth holds true for the sound as well. Much more organized and formal than in Wavelength, Back and Forth neatly positions the three traditional levels of film sound in what I will call separate conjunction. Speech, Music and Sound Effects have been the dominate categories for breaking down sound in film, though the boundaries between these are often blurred. I like to think of the three distinct and continuous sonic elements in Back and Forth as being representative of these categories while also trying to suggest their blurred boundaries in the ironic context of keeping them very separate. The three elements I am referring to are the whirring motor sound, the rhythmic metronomic sound, and the lower frequency sound that appears to correspond with camera’s coming to rest at its furthest edges of the pan. The whirring motor sound seems to comply most with the idea of sound effect, since it is the sound that offers most in the way of room ambience as is often established by the presence of mechanical noise of one kind or another. The higher frequency metronomic click is most associated with a traditional understanding of music since it has a steady rhythm and is the most-suggestive of being non-diegetic. Finally, the lower frequency rhythmic sound might be understood as being the speech of the film, since it is the most synchronized sonic event (apart from the brief human events that appear from time to time), and can also be understood as the inflection of the human gesture of the camera panning. The panning is not steady and is thus quite humanized, and the rhythm that accompanies the panning is thus not steady either and becomes the most irregular sonic layer of the three. This reminds me of speech which necessarily involves irregular rhythms, and the fact that speech is uttered by the main subjects of a film for which the pan of the camera acts as an analogy. The pan is the clearest indication of Snow’s own presence within the film as well, and this filmic gesture becomes a surrogate of his own speech.
These three elements work together in unison to a certain extent; the rhythmic elements gain speed while the whirring motor rises in pitch more or less in correspondence with one another, though the whirring motor starts its rise upward in frequency well before any significant increase in panning speed takes place, thereby creating an expectation for speed to be fulfilled on a visual level. This sonic precursor to its visual equivalent also brings up another important area in film sound: the effect of sound on image and vice versa. Chion discusses this using the term added value [49]. In Back and Forth, the speed of the panning seems to increase as a result of the increased pitch of the whirring motor, or at the very least we have a sense that something is happening in a more intense fashion than at the beginning of the film. This says a couple things about our perception of sound. First of all, rising pitch is a conditioned association we have with increased speed. We learn this through observation of mechanical devices that operate this way such as car motors and airplanes. It also illustrates that our perception of visual speed can be affected by sound alone, a fact that suggests the legitimacy of Chion’s ideas of transsensoriality.
Together, the three elements create a kind of symphony, though perhaps one more rooted in traditions of musique concrète. Certainly, the soundtrack alone bears much in common with minimalist composition based on the presentation of modules that remain distinct throughout the piece yet change with time in relation to their combination with other modules. The three elements in Back and Forth do remain distinct, and do not all change at the same rate, and so it becomes a minimalist exercise in calling attention to their separateness in conjunction with the overall experience of how they relate to each other over time. The idea of “Back and Forth” becomes especially evocative here, as one of the main effects of the kind of additive processes based on distinct modules is that, through the act of perception, we can move from one distinct module to the next, or choose to hear them all at once. In effect, we can move back and forth between the three sonic layers, or hear them in unison at our discretion. This in and of itself becomes an analogue for what Snow is doing visually, except that on the visual track it is the panning that guides us back and forth; it is not until the speed of the panning becomes very high that the two poles of the pan become merged with one another, superimposed by our eye’s inability to differentiate between the two at that high of a speed. Persistence of vision and the phi phenomenon take over, and the two sides of the room become one, if but for fleeting moments. The soundtrack prepares us for this by inviting us to play with the idea of separation vs. superimposition within our perception of the distinct sonic elements.
Wees notes Snow’s understanding that “in various philosophies and religions there has often been a suggestion, sometimes the dogma, that transcendence would be a fusion of opposites” [50]. In Back and Forth, Snow suggests that the fusion of opposites is that between the two sides of the room coming together through the velocity of the panning. Wees describes this as a qualitative change in perception resulting from a quantitative change in the camera’s movement [51]. I would suggest also that the sound in the film aids in this change in perception due to its own quantitative changes in pitch and speed of rhythm. This becomes, in the end, a phenomenological exercise as described by Annette Michelson in relation to the philosophy of Gérard Granel: “Phenomenology is an attempt to film, in slow motion, that which has been, owing to the manner in which it is seen in natural speed, not absolutely unseen, but missed, subject to oversight” [52]. Back and Forth, as with the other Snow films at issue here, presents a changing perspective on a specific cinematic unit of expression, and in so doing acts as a phenomenological inquiry into that expression, showing us how it can be perceived at different speeds and thus calling attention to that which is ordinarily missed in other modes of perception. Thus Michelson suggests that “epistemological inquiry and cinematic experience converge, as it were, in reciprocal mimesis” [53]. Again we have a simultaneous co-existence of ecstasy and analysis facilitated by the sound/image relationships that Snow puts forth.
La Région Centrale is the most transcendent and the most analytically exhaustive of Snow’s specifically structural films, and I believe the reasons for this are directly related to the relationship between sound and image. At first one may not know what to make of the repetitive electronic tones of varying pitch and in varying degrees of polyphonic combination. There seems most of the time to be a delayed synchronization between the image and these sounds, with the latter occurring just after a shift in camera movement. However, the sounds are also consistent throughout, though changing in intensity and frequency in more or less conjunction with the increasing speed and intensity of the camera movements. It is tempting to think of the sounds as being present merely as a function of their capacity for inducing trance-like states through repetition. Wees has suggested that this mantra-like approach to sonic repetition is also the main function on the sound in Back and Forth [54]. However, I believe that the key to unlocking the true connection between sound and image in La Région Centrale comes with the knowledge that “the soundtrack duplicates the sine waves and electronic pulses that controlled the camera’s movements…the soundtrack refers directly to the filmmaking machinery and its sonic guidance system. It draws the viewer’s attention away from the landscape per se and toward the means through which it becomes a ‘projected moving light image’” [55]. This direct connection between the sounds we hear and the images we see provides a strong basis of transcendence whereby the very soundscape of the film is the invisible yet tangible wavelength between the filmmaker and his camera; the sounds are that of the communication between mind and machine, the transcendence between human, machine, and space itself through radio-control.
There are two concepts in particular that Chion puts forth in Audio-Vision which will shed special light on this idea of the sound in La Région Centrale as being a mark of the transcendence upon which the film is founded. First of all, there is the acousmêtre:
…this acousmatic [heard but not seen] character whose relationship to the screen involves a specific kind of ambiguity and oscillation…We may define it as neither inside nor outside the image. It is not inside, because the image of the voice’s source – the body, the mouth – is not included. Nor is it outside, since it is not clearly positioned offscreen in an imaginary “wing,” like a master of ceremonies or a witness, and it is implicated in the action, constantly about to be part of it [56].
I suggest that we could extend the idea I put forth about the lower frequency rhythmic sound in Back and Forth being a surrogate for Snow’s own voice to the sound in La Région Centrale. Since the sound here is a direct reflection of Snow’s controlling of the camera, as well as being the sound of the camera’s voice (since it is through these sounds that the camera communicates), then the idea of this sound as indicating the presence of an acousmêtre becomes an interesting one. First we have Snow’s presence implicated in the sound as being not visibly on screen but which is felt through his communication with the camera. Indeed, Snow himself in La Région Centrale is an embodiment of the acousmêtre that Chion sees in the character of the Wizard in the land of Oz, whose voice we hear yet whose visible presence is shielded by the curtain behind which he hides. The wizard is within the frame, but is not seen. Snow is the wizard in La Région Centrale, only this time hiding behind a rock with his remote control, spewing his electronically enhanced voice out into the space that surrounds him. Secondly, we also have the camera itself being a character who is everpresent yet never seen. The shadow of the camera mount suggests the presence of this character, ever waiting just outside of view to become part of the action, much as does the acousmêtre in Chion’s sense.
One of the main characteristics of the acousmêtre as described by Chion is its ability to see all, and this is certainly the main function of the machine in Snow’s film. Another key feature of the acousmêtre is that of omnipotence, the power to act on a given situation. This exists also within La Région Centrale in that Snow’s presence and control over the camera, as evidenced by the soundtrack, gives him the power to act on the film’s creation and thus affect what we see as a result. Chion describes this omnipotence as being the power of textual speech as connected to the idea of magic, “when the words one utters have the power to become things” [57]. The words here are those of Snow’s intent as translated through the electronic language that the camera understands and that we hear on the soundtrack. This language is then translated into the object that is the film, and which becomes the key that people like de Duve latch onto when discussing the “objecthood” of modernist art and the disappearance of the subject within the realm of experience.
The acousmêtre is a transcendent figure, hovering somewhere between diegetic and non-diegetic status, transcending time and space through its omniscience and omnipotence. Another category of sound in Chion’s lexicon is that of “on-the-air” sound, that which also has the power to transcend the ordinary cinematic boundaries of time and space because of its status as being electronically reproduced [58]. The acousmêtre in La Région Centrale enjoys being part of this category as well, as the sounds of the communication between Snow and the machine are indeed electronically reproduced, and thus can drift through the space of the film without ever being defined as either diegetic or non-diegetic. So La Région Centrale becomes a fantastic embodiment of the transcendent qualities of an on-the-air acousmêtre, a very special kind of cinematic presence that can be felt in the sonic transmissions that literally ride the air-waves between Snow and his machine, balancing the human and the technological modules in a dance between sound and image that, when put together in the act of perception, becomes an experience indeed.
Ultimately, the real transcendence that we can experience with Snow’s films is that between audioviewer and the films themselves. Snow’s work engages the audioviewer in such a way that we can recombine the modules he lays out side by side and synthesize them through the act of perception, thereby bringing about the experience that the films make possible. This is what cinema should be about, and this is hinted at through the spiritual undertones at work within Snow’s analytical exhaustiveness. The sense that there is a kind of omnipresence transcending the normal boundaries of time, space and subject as exemplified by the concept of the acousmêtre is demonstrated by Snow’s use of sound/image relations. This omnipresence might also be understood in terms of that presence hovering between audioviewer and film, binding the two together along the channels of perception. Snow’s films might work as an analog for the mind’s processing of individual sensory channels; he lays out the modules individually so that they might be recombined. As Chion suggests, our mind takes in sensory information from each channel, but processes it in a space where the limitations of each sense are not demarcated and can flow freely between one another. The film becomes a shadow, then, of the mind’s own perceptual processes, and vice versa. This shadow, the haunting presence of the machine in La Région Centrale, is well summed up by the title of the documentary film on the making of Région that Wees ends his book with: A Humane Use of Technology.
Here yet again the seemingly inevitable comparisons between Snow and Brakhage emerge, and again the comparison yields more of a kinship than a disparity between the two. Sitney speaks precisely of the shadow of the machine and how it can be seen also in Brakhage’s Anticipation of the Night (1958). He begins the comparison in his article “Michael Snow’s Cinema,” stating that Brakhage’s concern for the film was to humanize the camera through the use of constantly moving hand-held cinematography and presenting vision through the mediation of subjectivity. This subjectivity is exemplified in the film by the appearance of the central character’s shadow, which is all we ever see of him. Here he suggests that Snow has achieved a similar objective, with the “super-humanization” of the camera through its presentation of an extreme subjectivity through constant movement, embracing the idea of “a film that can reveal to human eyes more of the being of space than human eyes can see”[59]. It is not until he reworks the article for his chapter on structural cinema in Visionary Film, however, that Sitney fully realizes the relationship between the two films through the shadow as presence of the subject: “The Central Region looks back upon Anticipation of the Night, in which Brakhage’s shadow self becomes the shadow of the camera mount” [60]. A correlation is thus made between these two radically different filmmakers to show that they may, after all, be nothing more than separate modules waiting side by side to be combined through the act of human synthesis, each making this synthesis the goal of their films.
Brakhage and Snow both want to bridge the gap between human experience and cinema, each in their own way seeking to bond the act of experiencing film with the fact of experience itself. Both are interested in exploring the correlations between human perceptual processes and the processes of filmmaking, and both have succeeded in creating a cinema that makes us aware of these mutual processes while simultaneously providing us with an experience of the processes. We take the films within ourselves and create the synthesis that leads to experience by the very act of experiencing the films, and so we might end by thinking of the late Terrence McKenna and his quest for the externalization of mental objects through the use of the human body as a site of transcendence between the interior and exterior world. In True Hallucinations he describes his experiments with the human capacity for making sound through the use of the voice as being the key to the alchemist’s dream: we can resonate within and without, and the bridging of this gap between these two worlds through the production of sound can yield the actualization of mental objects in physical space [61]. Much the same with the cinema of Michael Snow. We bring the film into being by bridging the gap between our own perceptual processes and those put forth by the film. We resonate with the modules of the film that we have taken in, and an experience results.
Though the shadow may dance free of its sonic counterpart, the contract we draw up in our minds brings the object of the film into being in a way that would be impossible without the connection of the film/spectator circuit. In the end, this completion of the circuit is the magic of the omnipotent acousmêtre that Chion refers to: the power to act on a situation, in this case a film, and to bring it more fully into being it in so doing. We the audioviewers are the acousmêtres, hovering somewhere between the film itself and our experience of it, ever on the verge of breaking into the action, in constant communication with the film, while never quite appearing on screen. Interestingly, Snow has managed even to bridge that final gap of having the spectator appear on screen. There is a period of time following each appearance of the bright Xs on black backgrounds that punctuate La Région Centrale where their after-images are visible on the landscape of Région. As the camera moves, our corresponding eye movements are literally superimposed onto the film through the movement of the after-image, calling attention to the way that our eyes are reading the image while still being able to see it at the same time. This is the closest I have come to seeing myself within the frame of someone else’s film, and is the perfect reflection of Snow’s quest for simultaneous self-reflexivity and raw experience. If only I could get the lingering after-sounds of the film’s soundtrack out of my head after having been exposed to them incessantly for a period of 190 minutes…

End Notes:
1) Gunning, Tom. “Doing for the Eye What the Phonograph Does for the Ear.” The Sounds of Early Cinema. Richard Abel and Rick Altman, eds. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2001.
2) Chion, Michel. Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen. Claudia Gorbman, trans. New York: Columbia UP, 1995: 137.
3) Wees, William C. Light Moving in Time: Studies in the Visual Aesthetics of Avant-Garde Film. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992: 153.
4) Ibid: x
5) Snow, Michael. “Letter From Michael Snow to Peter Gidal on the Film Back and Forth.” The Avant-Garde Film: A Reader of Theory and Criticism: Anthology Film Archives Series. New York: New York UP, 1978:187.
6) Chion 1995:143.
7) Chion 1995:137.
8) Chion 1995:137.
9) Chion 1995:136.
10) Chion 1995:136.
11) Wees 1992:93.
12) Elder, Bruce + Michael Snow. “On sound, sound recording, making music of recorded sound, the duality of consciousness and its alienation from language, paradoxes arising from these and related matters.” The Michael Snow Project: music/sound 1948-1993: the performed and recorded music/sound of Michael Snow. Michael Snow, ed. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario: The Power Plant: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 1994: 10 (as found in the PDF version of the article on the Digital Snow DVD-Rom).
13) Chion 1995:137.
14) Chion 1995:137.
15) Wees 1992:154.
16) Wees 1992:161.
17) de Duve, Thierry. “Michael Snow: The Deictics of Experience and Beyond.” Parachute. No. 78 (april/may/june 1995):28.
18) de Duve 1995:28.
19) de Duve 1995:28.
20) de Duve 1995:29.
21) de Duve 1995:29.
22) de Duve 1995:29.
23) de Duve 1995:32.
24) de Duve 1995:34.
25) de Duve 1995:34.
26) Deleuze, Gilles + Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateuas. Brian Massumi, trans. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987:6.
27) Deleuze + Guattari 1988:6.
28) Elder, Bruce. “Snow Amongst Musicians: Two Notes on Michael Snow and Music.” Spleen: 60.
29) Elder 60.
30) Sitney, P. Adams. “Michael Snow’s Cinema.” The Essential Cinema: Essays on the Films in the Collection of Anthology Film Archives. New York: New York UP, 1975: 220.
31) Elder 62.
32) Elder 63.
33) Elder 63.
34) de Duve 1995:34.
35) de Duve 34-35.
36) Elder 63.
37) Chion 1995:xvii.
38) Chion 1995:xvii.
39) Paine, Frank. “Sound Mixing and Apocalypse Now: an Interview with Walter Murch.” Film Sound: Theory and Practice. Elizabeth Weis + John Belton, eds. New York: Columbia UP, 1985:356.
40) Sitney 1975:224.
41) Wees 1992:155.
42) Wees 1992:155.
43) Sitney 1975:224-225./ 44) Sitney, P. Adams. Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde 1943-1978. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1979:375.
45) Sitney 1975:222-223.
46) Michelson, Annette. “Toward Snow.” The Avant-Garde Film: A Reader of Theory and Criticism: Anthology Film Archives Series. P. Adams Sitney, ed. New York: New York UP, 1978:174.
47) Sitney 1975:223.
48) Sitney 1975:223.
49) Chion 1995:5.
50) Wees 1992:165.
51) Wees 1992:165.
52) Michelson 1975:172.
53) Michelson 1975:173.
54) Wees 1992:165.
55) Wees 1992:167.
56) Chion 1995:129.
57) Chion 1995:130.
58) Chion 1995:76.
59) Sitney 1975:228.
60) Sitney 1979:384.
61) McKenna, Terrence. True Hallucinations. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.


 Interior of the Eaton Centre showing one of Michael Snow's best known sculptures Flightstop, which depict Canada Geese in flight.

 Michael Snow: A Brief Introduction

Peter Rist 

The top of Michael Snow’s curriculum vitae reads, born: Toronto, Ontario, 10 December, 1929. Occupation: filmmaker, musician, visual artist, composer, writer, sculptor. As Canada’s best-known living artist, Snow is also one of the world’s two most highly acclaimed experimental filmmakers (the other being Stan Brakhage, US). Although Michael Snow practiced as a visual artist in Toronto in the 1950s, Canadian art critics as a whole only began to champion his work after he moved to New York City with his wife, Joyce Wieland, in 1962. In the 1960s, he developed a reputation for being an important innovator in the fields of Pop and Minimalist art, with his “Walking Women” series, and with his film work. Retrospectively, his second film, New York Eye and Ear Control (1964), is now viewed as being a key to the important contrapuntal complexities of Snow’s oeuvre. In it, the improvised, spontaneous, “expressionist” and “emotional” music of avant-garde jazz musicians Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, John Tchicai, Roswell Rudd, Gary Peacock and Sonny Murray “coexists” with the “classical,” measured, “composed,” and “intellectual” filmed images (in Snow’s own words).

Michael Snow, See You Later, 1990. Courtesy of the Daniel Langlois foundation. © Michael Snow.
Nineteen sixty-seven saw the appearance of Snow’s first real “structural” film, Standard Time, in which the main subject appears to be the camera’s “panning” movements, and, perhaps the most discussed and admired experimental film ever made, the “45 minute zoom,” Wavelength. Prominent art and film historians/scholars P. Adams Sitney and Annette Michelson make claims for its cinematic processes being analogous to “philosophical thought” and “consciousness” itself, respectively. At the very least, Wavelength extends the artist’s exploration of temporality linked inexorably with space. He continued in this “movement” mode with (Back and Forth) and his epic “metaphor on vision,” La Région Centrale, but earlier, in 1969’s One Second in Montreal, he combined a concern for duration with a cross-media exploration of the boundary conditions of film and photography. Snow made a comic parody of Wavelength in the early 1970s with the Dada-esque Breakfast (Table Top Dolly), where the camera itself, tracking forward, destroys the contents of an overstuffed breakfast table. He continued in the comic vein with So Is This, a semiological deconstruction of the English language, which amazingly manages to entertain its audiences with no sound, and only words on the screen.
The term “Renaissance man” is greatly overused, but is an apt moniker for Michael Snow who is an accomplished writer, with significant things to say about visual art and film, and an important figure on the avant-garde, improvisational music scene. He also has a great sense of community, being a principal supporter over the years of Toronto’s non-profit cultural institutions including the Music Gallery and the Funnel Film Cooperative, and especially the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre, which he has kept operational almost single handedly by depositing all his films in their care. In 1994 the Power Plant and the Art Gallery of Ontario collaborated on “The Michael Snow Project,” an extensive retrospective of the artist’s work from 1951–1993, through four separate exhibitions, and which also included the publication of four books. The recent retrospective of Snow’s multifaceted work in Montreal at the 2002 Festival International Nouveau Cinéma Nouveau Médias (October 10-20) is evidence of his continued creativity (with a new feature length film, Corpus Callosum, a live concert, the launch of his DVD-Rom, Digital Snow) and importance in the field(s) of avant-garde art.

Michael Snow, Presents, 1980. Courtesy of the Daniel Langlois foundation. © Michael Snow.
Films (sound, 16mm shorts, except where noted): A to Z (silent), 1956; New York Eye an Ear Control, 1964; Short Shave (silent), 1965; Standard Time; Wavelength, 1967; (Back and Forth), 1968–69; One Second in Montreal (silent); Dripping Water (co-dir., Joyce Wieland), 1969; Slide Seat Paintings Slides Sound Film, 1970; La Région Centrale (feature), 1971; Rameau’s Nephew by Diderot (Thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen (feature), 1974; Breakfast (Table Top Dolly), 1972–76; Presents (feature), 1980–81; So Is This (silent), 1982; Funnel Piano (super 8), 1984; Seated Figures, 1988; See You Later (Au Revoir), 1990; To Lavoiseur, Who Died in the Reign of Terror, 1991, The Living Room 2000, Prelude 2000, Corpus Callosum 2002
Selected Bibliography:
P. Adams Sitney. “Michael Snow’s Cinema,” in Michael Snow /A Survey: 79–84. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario in collaboration with the Isaacs Gallery, 1970.
Annette Michelson. “Toward Snow: Part 1.” Artforum, Vol. 9, no. 19 (June 1971): 30–37.
Michael Snow, ed. 1948–1993: Music/Sound, The Michael Snow Project. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, The Power Plant, Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 1993.
Jim Sheddon, ed. Presence and Absence: The Films of Michael Snow 1956–1991, The Michael Snow Project. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 1995.
An abridged version of this text appeared in Guide to the Cinema(s) of Canada, Peter Harry Rist, ed. (Westport Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2001): 212-213.


Michael Snow, CC (born December 10, 1929) is a Canadian artist working in painting, sculpture, video, films, photography, holography, drawing, books and music.

Snow is considered one of the most influential experimental filmmakers[1][2] and is the subject of retrospectives in many countries. In his 2002 Village Voice review of *Corpus Callosum, J. Hoberman writes: “Rigorously predicated on irreducible cinematic facts, Snow's structuralist epics—Wavelength and La Région Centrale—announced the imminent passing of the film era. Rich with new possibilities, *Corpus Callosum heralds the advent of the next. Whatever it is, it cannot be too highly praised.” *Corpus Calossum was screened at the Toronto, Berlin, Rotterdam, and the Los Angeles film festivals amongst others. In January 2003, Snow won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Douglas Edwards Independent Experimental Film/Video Award for *Corpus Callosum. His numerous films have premiered in major film festivals all over the world. Five of his films have premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). In 2000, TIFF commissioned Snow with Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg to make short films, Preludes, for the 25th Anniversary of the festival. Wavelength has been designated and preserved as a "masterwork" by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada[3] and was named #85 in the 2001 Village Voice critics' list of the 100 Best Films of the 20th Century .[4]


Originally a professional jazz musician, Snow has a long-standing interest in improvised music, as indicated by the soundtrack to his film New York Eye and Ear Control. As a pianist, he has performed solo and with other musicians in North America, Europe and Japan. Snow performs regularly in Canada and internationally, often with the improvisational music ensemble CCMC and has released more than a half dozen albums since the mid-1970s. In 1987, Snow issued The Last LP (Art Metropole), which purported to be a documentary recording of the dying gasps of ethnic musical cultures from around the globe including Tibet, Syria, India, China, Brazil, Finland and elsewhere, with more thousands of words of pseudo-scholarly supplementary notes, but was, in fact, a series of multi-tracked recordings of Snow himself, who gave the joke away only in a single column of text in the disc's gatefold jacket, printed backwards and readable in a mirror. One track, purported to be a document of a coming-of-age ritual from Niger, is a pastiche of Whitney Houston's song "How Will I Know."

Other media

Snow's works have been in Canadian pavilion at world fairs since his famous Walking Women sculpture was exhibited at Expo 67 in Montréal. His recent bookwork BIOGRAPHIE of the Walking Woman / de la femme qui marche 1961-1967 (2004) was published in Brussels by La Lettre vole. It consists of images of the public appearances of his globally famous icon.
Snow was one of the four performers of the rarely performed Steve Reich piece Pendulum Music on May 27, 1969 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The other three were: Richard Serra, James Tenney and Bruce Nauman.
Anarchive2: Digital Snow describes Michael Snow as “one of the most significant artists in contemporary art and cinema of the past 50 years.” This 2002 DVD was initiated by Paris’ Centre Pompidou and was produced with the support of la foundation Daniel Langlois, Université de Paris, Heritage Canada, the Canada Council, Téléfilm Canada and Montreal’s Époxy. It is an encyclopedia of Snow's works across media, browsed in a manner inimitably and artfully created by Snow. Its 4,685 entries include film clips, sculpture, photographs, audio and musical clips, and interviews.

 Major installations

  • "The Windows Suite" is a permanent installation consisting of 32 varied sequences of images, which are presented on 65" plasma screens in 7 of the windows of the façade of the Toronto Pantages Hotel and Spa and related condo buildings facing Victoria Street in central Toronto. Some of these sequences one might possibly glimpse in the windows of a sophisticated hotel, condo, spa and parking garage building, but many sequences are “impossible,” e.g. in one sequence fish swim from window to window. This installation was opened as an official event of the Toronto International Film Festival September 2006.
  • The Audience (1989) - SkyDome (now Rogers Centre in Toronto) is a collection of larger than life depictions of fans located above the northeast and northwest entrances. Painted gold, the sculptures show fans in various acts of celebration.

MICHAEL SNOW was born in Toronto not so long ago, and lives there now - but has also lived in Montreal, Chicoutimi and New York. He is a musician (piano and other instruments) who has performed solo as well as with various ensemble (most often with the CCMC of Toronto) in Canada, USA, Europe and Japan. Many recordings of his music have been released. His films have been presented at festivals in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Netherlands and USA, and are in the collections of several archives, such as Anthology Film Archives in New York City, the Royal Belgian Film Archives, Brussels, and the Oesterreichesches Film Museum, Vienna. His film “Wavelength” won the Grand Prize at the International Experimental Film Festival in Belgium in 1967. Another film “So Is This” won the Los Angeles Film Critics award in 1982.

He is a painter and sculptor, though since 1962, much of his gallery work has been photo-based or holographic. Work in all these media is represented in private and public collections world-wide, including for example the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Museum Ludwig (Cologne and Vienna), Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), and both the Musée des Beaux-Arts and Musée d’art contemporain in Montreal.

He has done video, film and sound installations, and designed books, examples of the latter being Micheal Snow/A Survey (1970) and Cover to Cover (1975). Retrospectives of his painting, sculpture, photoworks and holography have been presented at the Hara Museum (Tokyo), of his films at the Cinémathèquie Française (Paris), Anthology Film Archives and L’Institut Lumière (Lyons) and of his work in all media simultaneously at the Power Plant and the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1994. Additional retrospective exhibitions have been mounted at the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Musée d’art contemporain (Montreal).

Solo and group shows of his visual-arts works have been presented at museums and galleries in Amsterdam, Bonn, Boston, Brussels, Kassel, Los Angeles, Lucerne, Lyons, Minneapolis, Montreux, Munich, New York, Ottawa, Paris, Pittsburgh, Quebec City, Rotterdam, San Francisco, Toronto and elsewhere.

Michael Snow has executed several public sculpture commissions, the most well known being Flight Stop at Eaton Center and The Audience at Skydome, both in Toronto. He has received numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (1975) and the Order of Canada (1982).
-Michael Snow

Music For Piano, Whistling, Microphone And Tape Recorder (1975) 

  1. Falling Starts (Beginning)

    Piano, Tape [Tape Recorder] – Michael Snow, 21:09
  2. Falling Starts (Conclusion)

    Piano, Tape [Tape Recorder] – Michael Snow, 23:00
  3.  W In The D

    Whistle, Electronics [Microphone] – Michael Snow, 26:05
  4. Left Right

    Piano, Electronics [Microphone], Tape [Tape Recorder] – Michael Snow, 22:43

Falling starts for piano and tape recorder. 
W in the D for whistling and microphone. 
Left right for piano, microphone and tape recorder.
Produced by the Isaacs Gallery, 832 Yonge St., Toronto, Michael Snow and Chatham Square.

Two Radio Solos (1980) 

  1. Short Wavelength (39:14)
  2. The Papaya Plantations (47:12)

Total time: 86:26
Recorded 1980
Cassette released by Freedom In A Vacuum, 1988

Two Radio Solos is a cassette of 2 playing-the-radio improvisations done in 1980 and released in 1988 by a no longer existing Toronto company (it’s still available though).’

Apart form being one of the greatest experimental film makers of all time, Canadian Michael Snow (b Toronto 1929) has also extensively played piano, trumpet, synth and percussion on numerous records and live performances. His recorded output includes many jazz and improvisation records, with the Canadian Creative Music Collective (CCMC) amongst others. Snow issued several legendary experimental albums on his own as well, like 1975’s ‘Musics For Piano, Whistling, Microphone And Tape Recorder’ [excerpt here] or ‘The Last LP’ in 1987 (full album here]. ‘Two Radio Solos’ was recorded in between those 2 masterpieces and offers lenghty improvisations played on a Nordmende radio receiver (pictured above). Here as well, Snow is dealing with long durations, like in his films ‘Wavelength’ (1966-67) and ‘La Région Centrale’ (1971). The tracks are vast collages of foreign radio broadcasts, static bursts and abstract electronic sounds, all ‘played’ with the radio surfing the shortwave frequencies (2 to 30 MHz). Chinese and Russian languages are recognizable, as well as english. I suspect there was a kind of post-production editing of one kind or another, contrary to what Snow states on the cover: some recordings are noticeably sped up, some passages juxtapose 2 sound sources and some cut-ups are obvious. The B side is a joyous collage of languages from around the world, embarking many exotic world musics, lounge music, electronic sounds and gray noise as well, all sourced from the Nordmende. ‘The Papaya Plantations’ at times sounds like regular electroacoustic music, but mostly like an autonomous sound organism with a noisy life of its own. In the liner notes to ‘Musics for Piano, Whistling...’, Snow writes about the ‘hearing/seeing/thinking experience of certain parts of certain of my films’. I assume one could consider the radio listener as defined by all the wavelengths he receives at a given moment, so that the human being is inhabiting a specific region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Listening to the radio you tune to all frequencies, all at once. This tape conjures such magic. PS: I really wonder where is located the ‘North Canadian ca

bin’ where this was supposedly recorded. I can’t help envisioning a desolate and isolated landscape like ‘La Région Centrale’. -- Continuo 

The Last LP (1987) 

  1. Wu Ting Dee Lin Chao Cheu (Announcing The Arrival Of Emperor Wu Ting) 6:22
  2. Si Nopo Da (By What Signs Will I Come To Understand?) 3:53
  3. Ohwachira 9:49
  4. I Ching Dee Yen Tzen (The Strings Of Love) 3:52
  5. Full To The Brim 0:38
  6. Speech In Klogen 2:20
  7. Mbowunsa Mpahiya 8:08
  8. Quuiasukpuq 2:22
  9. Amitabha Chenden Kala 6:44
  10. Roiakuriluo 9:52
  11. Raga Lalat 2:59

Art Metropole ‎– #1001

Producer, Written-by, Percussion, Drums, Trumpet, Vocals, Synthesizer [Casio], Tape – Michael Snow

Wu Ting Dee Lin Chao Cheu (Announcing The Arrival Of Emperor Wu Ting) performed by Orchestra Of The National Music Insitute, Seoul Korea. 

Si Nopo Da (By What Signs Will I Come To Understand?) performed by Tribe Of Niger, S.E Africa. 

Ohwachira, Water ceremony performed by Miantonomi and Cree Tribespeople. 

I Ching Dee Yen Tzen (The Strings Of Love) performed by Tam Wing Lun on the Hui Tra. 

Full To The Brim recorded in Varda, Carpathia, Romania. 

Speech In Klogen performed by Okash, Northern Finland. 

Mbowunsa Mpahiya performed by Kpam Kpam Tribe, Angola, West Africa. 

Quuiasukpuq performed by Tornarssuk Tribe, Siberia 

Amitabha Chenden Kala performed by Monks Of The Kagyupa Sect, Bhutan. 

Roiakuriluo performed by Sabane in Elahe, Brazil. 

Raga Lalat performed by Palak Chawal, Benares, India.

"Title of the album refers to the disappearance of the 331/3 rpm microgroove vinyl/stylus format. This recording was issued in the last days of the LP and was conceived of then as an investigation into the effects (both negative and positive) of "Western" recording technology on the world's few remaining, at the time of recording, ancient pre-industrial cultures."

Reissue on CD under the same catalogue number in 1994.

All informations taken from the sleeve and reproduced here are part of the record as a pure conceptual artefact (a man-made object taken as a whole). In fact all recordings were performed and "assembled by" the artist himself and subsequently all other credits mentioned on the text sleeve - also written by Michael Snow - are completely invented.

Sinoms (1989) 

  1. Sinoms (51:57)

    Composed By – Michael Snow
    Art Metropole ‎– 001185

    "Sinoms" is a sound work composed and recorded by Michael Snow, originally produced for the exhibition "Paysages Verticaux" at the Musee du Quebec in 1989. The work manipulates 22 voices reading the names of 34 mayors of Quebec City, beginning with the first mayor Elzear Bedard, elected in 1833.

Hearing Aid (2002) 

  1. Conference: Subject: 3 Inches = 77 Millimetres = 3 Min. 30 Sec.

    Alto Saxophone – John Oswald
    Performer [Noise], Synthesizer – Michael Snow
    Voice – John Oswald, Michael Snow, Paul Dutton
  2. Interview: Members Of The CCMC And Doina Popescu

    Alto Saxophone – John Oswald
    Performer [Noise], Synthesizer – Michael Snow
    Voice – John Oswald, Michael Snow, Paul Dutton
  3. Discussion: Hearing Aid

Published as a catalogue (ISBN 3-932513-34-7) for the exhibition of Michael Snow's sound works at Gallery Klosterfelde in Berlin, Germany (June 28th to September 20th 2002). Texts by Ariane Beyn in English and German. 

Interview & session recorded by Paul Hodge in April 2002.
Hearing Aid recorded by Michael Snow in April 2002. 
- www.ubu.com/sound/snow.html


 So This Is (1982)

 Sshtoorrty (2005)

 Michael Snow Up Close (1996, documentary by Jim Shedden & Alexa-Frances Shaw)

Michael Snow is considered one of Canada's most important living artists, and one of the world's leading experimental filmmakers. His wide-ranging and multidisciplinary oeuvre explores the possibilities inherent in different mediums and genres, and encompasses film and video, painting, sculpture, photography, writing, and music. Snow's practice comprises a thorough investigation into the nature of perception.
While Snow early established himself as a successful painter and musician in his native Toronto, it was his 1962 move to New York City that marked the beginning of his rise to international prominence. He entered into a long-lasting and fruitful dialogue with downtown Manhattan's artistic avant garde, exchanging ideas with figures such as Yvonne Rainer, Philip Glass, Sol LeWitt, and Richard Foreman, and developing of some of his most ambitious and influential works to date. His 1964 film New York Eye and Ear Controldocuments his growing involvement with the burgeoning free jazz movement, and the soundtrack boasts a lineup that includes Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, and Sonny Murray. Snow would continue to pursue improvised music, both on his own and in ensembles such as Toronto's CCMC. The generation and reception of sound in the broader sense emerged as one of his main concerns, reflected in performance and tape works that share qualities with contemporaneous experiments by composers like Steve Reich.
At the same time, Snow made alliances within the underground film scene centered around Jonas Mekas' Filmmakers' Cinematheque, an experience that encouraged him to find ways to transfer his concerns with music and photography into the realm of the moving image. He assisted Hollis Frampton on films such as Nostalgia(1971), and it was legendary director Ken Jacobs whose loan of equipment helped Snow create his most famous and influential work, the groundbreaking 1967 film WavelengthWavelength, which notoriously includes a 45-minute camera zoom within a fixed frame, remains one of the most studied and admired works of structuralist filmmaking. Other of Snow's films of this period, includingBack and Forth (1969) and La Région Centrale (1971) similarly explored the mechanics of filmmaking to simultaneously investigate the functional processes of cinema and of thinking itself.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Snow, responding to a growing institutional commitment to his work, experimented more with large-scale installations, including public sculptures such asFlightstop (1979) and The Audience (1988-89). In recent years, he has focused on the specific nature and potential of digital media, yielding works like the video-film *Corpus Callosum (2002). Regardless of artistic genre, Snow consistently engages in an analytical discourse on the nature of consciousness and experience, language and temporality.
Michael Snow was born in Toronto, Canada in 1929. He studied at Ontario College of Art. Among his many awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Order of Canada, and two Los Angeles Film Critics Awards. Snow has had solo exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; XXV Venice Biennale; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre George Pompidou, Paris; Kunstmuseum, Luzern, Switzerland; List Gallery, MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; The Power Plant, Toronto; Musée d'Art Contemporain, Montréal; and Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, among others. His group shows include the London, Cannes, Tokyo, Berlin, New York and Toronto film festivals; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Documenta 6, Kassel; Musée Carnavalet, Paris; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Snow has had film retrospectives at Pacific Film Archive, San Francisco; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Osterreichisches Film Museum, Vienna; Image Forum, Tokyo; Cinémathèque Française, Paris; and Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique, Brussels, among many others. He has taught at Yale University, Princeton University, Ecole Nationale de la Photographie, Arles, France; Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris; and le Fresnoy, Tourcoing, France, and has received Snow has received honorary degrees from Nova Scotia College of Art And Design; University of Toronto, and Université de Paris 1, Panthéon Sorbonne, among others.
Snow lives in Toronto.  www.ubu.com/film/snow.html

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