Digi-Conductor  |  Abstract-Narrative  | Altered states and hallucinatory experiences.

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The Perceptual Film; initiating altered states and hallucinatory experiences.

For his film, The Flicker (Conrad 1966),TonyConrad used his musical background in a very different manner to the usual methods of Visual Music, Conrad based the pattern of changing frequencies in his film to the rate of the projector as if this rate of twenty four frames per second was the tonic frequency of his flicker composition.
Tony Conrad found viewing a flickering light, of a variable frequency, at 8 to 16 frames per second to produce a unique type of sensory experience; he based his film The Flicker (Conrad 1966) on this finding.

Tony Conrad's film The Flicker approaches the goal of  “perceptual film”, or "authorless" artwork where an audience creates the "meaning" and "story". “The Flicker”, sets out to affect its audience purely through physiological response to particular rhythms or frequencies of flickering light produced by alternating black and clear frames of film. In Conrads’ words, “The absence of contamination with imagery will be the fulcrum which will lever the attention of the audience directly toward full receptiveness to the characteristic flicker effects”. Many other films and filmmakers experimented with this flicker affect combined with or without “contamination with imagery”. Paul Sharits film T.O.U.C.H.I.N.G (Sharits 1968), combined the concrete physiological device, of flickering light, with other visual techniques that work at the limits of human perception and    ‘contaminated’ the flickering light with flashes of representational imagery.

Anna Powell sees the production of altered states of mind as an inherent potential of all films. Powell extends and explains Delueze’s writings on the aesthetic and theoretical altered state affects of film. The perceptual or “flicker” films of Conrad, Anderson, Small and others explore actual physiological affects that produce altered states.

“Anderson and Small found that their flicker film of alternating black and white circles produced brain wave activity and mental states similar to deep mediation and alpha wave activity.”(Wees 1992) Alpha brain wave frequencies occur in states of deep meditation and are in the range of 8 to 16 cycles per second.

The perceptual flicker films are an interesting paradox of interesting experience yet forgettable content. They may be a very memorable or even annoying experience, but the actual sound and image content can be empty and forgettable. This leads me to a question answered by the disparate fields of ambient video, action blockbusters, generative audiovisual art and my own short films.

5.3 Is it possible to create a film that is as interesting as it is forgettable?  What you see might not be what you remember.

Generative art and ambient video as championed by Jim Bizocchi and Brian Eno provide two positive answers to this question.

Another type of film that is equally forgettable and interesting for me would be the American blockbuster, action-movie genre.    I can remember the explosions and car chases from many action films but forget any other lasting impression or meaning.    

Chin (Chin 1996 ) sees this paradox of forgettable narrative content with memorable surface and style in recent films directed by Wong Kar-Wai.
 “Chungking Express and Fallen Angels have no depth: they are movies totally on the surface. Yet the colors and the images and the rhythms and the soundtracks and the glamour are invigorating.”(Chin )    
Chungking Express, in its evocation of style and surface, moves effortlessly between concrete narrative representation and a more abstract musical play of color, image and sound.

My concept of an interesting yet deliberately forgettable film is a sequence and combination of sound and image that can include a range of concrete, pictorial, and poetic or abstract use of image and sound, which like the flicker films aim to avoid the safety of known contexts and suturing narrative construction. Such a film can be hard to remember in its every detail but may well have a memorable affect on its viewer. Although I prefer the intrusion and inclusion of some imaginative authorial content I do share some of the intention of Flicker or perceptual films; the intention of creating a type of film that has the barest of supplied content and is interested in the viewers perceptual experience and imaginings rather than being an author dominated one way communication.
In terms of actual authored content, this film could be quite forgettable, yet, in perceived content, immensely interesting.