|haikureview.com, date unknown|
UNIVERSAL GROOVES: ED KUEPPER SHAKES UP CLASSIC AVANT GARDE FILMS
|by Erik Roberts|
When I was a kid, a lot of disturbing things happened round me. But… happiness became my whole theory of life. Not hedonism but happiness of a lasting kind, like art. Art replaced God for me very early on. I ducked anxiety, but it was still there, it had to be there somewhere. The 'Tusalava' octopus-spider was a kind of death figure.
Len Lye (1901 - 1980)
Len Lye's dazzling handmade films have stood the test of time and continue, over 20 years after his death, to provide uninhibited joy and inspiration to audiences and artists worldwide. Now with the support and blessing of the Len Lye Foundation, Ed Kuepper has awoken latent artistic potentials within Lye's high-speed abstract paintings and drawings on film. The visual-music fusion that results achieves moments of genuine awe and unfamiliar beauty. Kuepper recently previewed his new set of instrumental pieces in the lounge of David Pestorius' suburban Brisbane home, prior to a giving a giant-screen performance in Melbourne as part of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image's Live@ACMI series.
On a magical, mild, mid-Summer's night on Australia Day weekend, about
100 assorted Kuepper connoisseurs gathered in the small garden courtyard
of a late-1960s house on a hill above the glittering city.
somehow fitting that Ed Kuepper's initial foray into the world of film
should take place in the lounge room of a Brisbane house. Those familiar
with rock 'n' roll history will recall that many of the early performances
by Kuepper's first group, The Saints, took place not in the customary
pub or suburban dance hall, but in an old house up on Petrie Terrace…
By and by, after party talk and tequila had run dry, Monsieur Kuepper
quietly entered the lounge room, accompanied by his percussionist, sound
designer and a video projectionist cleverly disguised as David Pestorius.
Live-performances don't get much more intimate than this, with the small
audience literally sitting at the musician's feet. In a brief, off-the-cuff
statement, Kuepper outlined the experimental nature of the night's audiovisual
entertainment. Playing 'live' to motion-pictures is a new adventure for
the seasoned guitarist with over 30 years of musical exploration behind
him. The idea, it seems, was not to deliberately synchronise with Lye's
freehand motion-paintings, but transfuse them with fresh musical energy.
The bracket of film scores commenced with Kuepper's interpretation of one of the strangest animated films ever created. Made on a minute budget in the late-1920's, Tusalava, (Samoan for it's all the same, i.e. why worry?) was originally intended to be accompanied by an eccentric score for two pianos by expatriate Australian composer, Jack Ellitt, Lye's best friend and close collaborator in London.
By 1929 films were using the new talkie apparatus to synchronise their music, but Lye could not raise the money needed to obtain a print with a soundtrack. Then budget forced them to reduce the two pianos in the cinema to one. Ellitt, a passionate perfectionist, was deeply troubled by these compromises. He withdrew from playing at the premier himself and one of the (London Film) Society's other pianists was left to make what he could of this avant-garde score. (Roger Horrocks, Len Lye, a biography, Auckland University Press, 2001)
So, for almost three-quarters of a century, wherever it has been screened, Tusalava has remained mute, stripped of its original music. The effect of silence on Lye's mysterious imagery has been to distance the viewer from the film's sustained rhythmic development that builds relentlessly towards an orgasmic crescendo. Soundlessness produces a more analytical, detached form of attention like looking through a microscope.
Kuepper's Tusalava disregards the original rhythms and expressive nuances of the film's hand-drawn imagery. Lye's painstaking work could be seen to operate here merely as a spectacular visual accompaniment to one of the great grooves of all time. If this is all there was to the experiment, the film-performance in question could be simply dismissed as an extreme case of artistic licence - but there's something much deeper going on here. Kuepper's solo guitar above the relentless, driving rhythm immediately makes the epic scale of Lye's shamanic vision apparent.
In terms of visual style, 'Tusalava' was influenced by both Maori and
Aboriginal art, and as he went along (it took 2 years and over 4,000
drawings to make) Lye often considered 'how it would look if an Australian
Aboriginal was doing it'. (Horrocks)
Existing Ed Kuepper admirers will be elated by the ferocity and assurance of the new film music. Just as he can rip and tear, Kuepper strokes and caresses the strings like a talented lover. Len Lye's art is equally erotically charged. Maybe that's where they click. Art house film buffs might be initially shocked by the composer riding roughshod over the intricacies of Lye's semi-abstract imagery, but once Kuepper's pulse-like beat and Miles-like groove get into your body, you become mesmerised by Lye's vision of life as an eternal cycle of creation and destruction.
From this point of view, Tusalava, stood out from Ed Kuepper's
different interpretations of five other 'kinesthetic' films by Len Lye.
Screened in the following order were: Colour
Flight (1938), Particles
in Space (1980), Colour Cry (1953), Tal
Farlow (1980), Free Radicles (1979). Judging by the sustained applause, the audience's favourite was
Colour Cry, the loudest and fastest in a set of refined grooves that
test the metal of these archival masterpieces, as much as they re-present
them for 21st centruy consumption.
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