Photo - Tom VanBruggen
Text of Light is two guitars, a saxophone and drums that, in the hands of Lee Ranaldo, Alan Licht, Ulrich Krieger and Time Barnes, ring out free noise improv soundtracks to the experimental films of Stan Brakhage. A ToL performance is a meeting of legends in light and sound, all the musicians well known and regarded in contemporary music (none more so than Ranaldo, of Sonic Youth), and Brakhage a giant of avant garde cinema. The event is a marriage of forms too, since the build up of sound textures from the four piece (drones, wails and staccato percussion in ebbing intensities) perfectly matches Brakhage's work. The two films selected for this performance were The Loom (1986) and Rounds (2000), the former full of heavily textural images, layering dissolve on dissolve of farmyard animals filmed through wire mesh over cloudscapes, giving way to bursts of scratched celluloid boiling to the surface, cycles of life and light, dawn to dusk, ghosted on top of one another.
But sound is no slave to image here. The point of the performance is to improvise, not illustrate, the filmwork, so the ensemble play in their own time, across the end of one film and straight into the start of the other; the screen high above them is as wide as the stage, meaning you can closely watch the performance or the screen, but not both at once. And while the flickering images keep drawing you in (especially Rounds, with its hypnotic, pulsing colour), the group are fascinating to watch all on their own, delivering a virtuoso display of the full gamut of instrumental noise making techniques: Ranaldo alternately scraping or bowing guitar strings and pounding the back of the guitar body; Krieger wrestling wails of feedback from his sax without blowing a note and Barnes playing drums over fabric draped across the skins, or else tapping out breaks directly with his fingers. I swear I saw Ranaldo playing recordings off an iPhone through his guitar's pickups as well.
Sure, this is not to everyone's taste, but if you recognise any of the names mentioned then you're sure to know what to expect and likely to love it. Text of Light is a highlight of the festival.
Melbourne Festival presents
TEXT OF LIGHT
Venue: ACMI, Cinema 2 | Federation Square, Flinders Street Melbourne
Date: Tue 23 Oct 2012
Bookings: Ticketmaster 136 100