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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Various Artists - Optofonica(dvd & book) [Line/12k - 2009]

My first glance at the liner notes for Optofonica left me nonplussed: “…a new form of art is surfacing that invites audiences to transcend the limits of habitual perception… it seeks to shift the observer’s attention from the physical objects that stimulate perception to the act of perception itself.”

You know what? Screw all that, because Optofonica doesn’t need liner notes to explain why it’s great. It’s a stunning hybrid of experimental video and music, a compilation that you can listen to, watch, do both with, or just throw on in the background like a screensaver. And since it’s a limited edition of 1,000 copies, you’ll probably have to make up your mind sooner rather than later what you’d like to do with it.

The whole project’s the brainchild of “artist and producer TeZ”, an Amsterdam native who’s managed to collect a few big names (Scanner, Richard Chartier, Kim Cascone) and a whole slew of unfamiliar ones to participate in this project. Each of them have provided a track mixed in both 5.1 surround and conventional 2.0 stereo (you choose which version you want when you boot the DVD), and while some of them do veer kinda close to glorified-screensaver territory, there are just as many that command your attention and your thought quite ably. If the video doesn’t do it for you, look at it this way: you’re still getting 2 hours and 23 minutes of deeply absorbing audio.

Every track has something fascinating going on, even if only in miniature. The opening piece,“Sonolevitation” (Chartier plus Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand), pairs a series of droning loops with a fascinating filmed demonstration of tiny objects being levitated by … sound? Magnetism? I’m betting the former, since there’s no details in the accompanying booklet about the way any of these pieces were made (a flaw, if you ask me). “Vento Ignis”, by Ryoichi Kurokawa, uses a glitch-and-snap audio track as a sonic backdrop for a series of startling, blurry visuals involving what look like a tangled clump of hair. It’s eerie and hypnotic, and while it’s clearly been created through digital manipulation it has the feeling of something organic captured on film. The same could be said of many tracks on the disc, actually: the have the flavor of something living captured in the middle of one of its biological processes.

Influences abound. Cascone & Co.’s “Raindrops #7” feels like something that one might have found in Stan Brakhage’s back catalog, various overlapping shots of water rushing down glass (probably filmed on a car window), but looking more like microorganisms or subatomic phenomena than anything we see in daily life. Skoltz_Kogen’s “Ether” and Kaffe Matthews’s “Mount Magnet” both seem like outtakes from Chris Carter’s catalog; the video for either one wouldn’t seem out of place supporting an Aphex Twin single. And Marcel Wierckx’s “Black Noise White Silence” is like Tony Conrad’s groundbreaking short film “The Flicker” brought up to date with digital rendering and fractals. Ditto RayXXXX’s “Pulse”, and “FDBCK/AV 3D”, the latter of which you’ll want to break out your red/blue 3D glasses for. (You do still have those left over from your last rave, yes?)

The best thing I can say about Optofonica is something that sounds like a cliché: I’ve never seen or heard anything like it. But in this case the cliché’s completely spot-on: I really haven’t seen anything like it. I doubt you have, either. Anyone remotely interested in experimental video or film should seek it out. You can fight me for my copy.

Technical notes: I mentioned that the disc comes with both 5.1 and 2.0 audio; use the 5.1 version whenever possible, as most DVD players will be able to mix it down to 2.0 intelligently. Also note that the disc is PAL-formatted, but region-free: it should play in most computers fine, but if you live in a region with NTSC equipment, check to see if your standalone DVD player can handle it.

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Serdar Yegulalp
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