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Live review

Melbourne Times (AUS), March 2003
Australian Centre For The Moving Image

Live musical accompaniments to old films are nothing new. Groups such as the Blue Grassy Knoll and Ang Fang Quartet have become well known for their inventive live scores to musty horror and comedy gems.

These kinds of narrative films lend themselves to soundtracks, possibly because they were originally conceived with a live, music-hall accompaniment in mind.

But how to score a film that is a collection of dancing shapes, patterns and lines, such as those of the late New Zealand-born visual artist Len Lye? Many of his short pieces have previously been accompanied by jazz scores, which suit the crazed visual rythm of his works.

Ed Kuepper, formerly the crfeative engine of '70s punk forbears The Saints and, later, the Laughing Clowns, may sound an unlikely collaborator for Lye (who died in 1980). But he immediately made it clear that he was going to, as ever, do his own thing. With his guitar, plugged into a bank of special effects, percussionist at his side, the music that emerged was unmistakably Kuepper-esque.

The first, and most striking, of Lye's films to be screened was Tusalava, a breathtaking 1929 animation of morphing, tribal shapes. Kuepper's metallic, almost industrial rhythm gave an unusual mechanical slant to the organic action screen. At times extracting metallic twangs out of his guitar with what looked like a screwdriver, he produced an almost psychedelic effect with an array of strident, open chords.

With each new film, there was the sense that Lye's pieces were unmistakable precursors to the music video clip. In Particles, crude welts and words danced in three dimensions against a black background. Again, Kuepper's sparse, echo-drenched accompaniment elegantly mimicked the visual world on the screen.

For most of the pieces, Kuepper harked back to the obtuse, jazz-oriented incarnations of the Laughing Clowns. He never put a foot wrong. The music, while obviously wildly different from what Lye could have conceived, created an unusual, beautiful beast.


Review by Nick Ling


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