Excerpt from Bardo (2001) by Jordan Belson (1926-2011). This is an authorized clip. Belson requested that people not post his films online, as lo res clips do not do justice to his work. The demand to see some of his work online is great now since his death, so we're putting up this preview which has also been approved by his Estate.
CVM has a current project to preserve, transfer and digitize more of Belson's work, in HD versions, and we'll post more online in the future. Please consider helping with funding for this project (and the next DVD release), visit centerforvisualmusic.org/Belson
Please remember that many of his films still need preservation and HD transfers, before they can be put online in good quality. And many thanks to those of you who have contributed to this project!
One day when I was sixteen, I realized that I could see music. The saxophone I played and the jazz I loved listening to came to life before my eyes, or perhaps behind my eyes, in shape and color — little animated characters at first, then something more abstract. By the time I was nineteen, I perceived even letters, numbers, and days of the week to have distinct colors. 5 is blue, 3 is red, without a shade of doubt. It was years until I learned that I was not alone — I had a rare neurological condition called synesthesia, a sort of crossing of sensory channels in which stimulation in one channel produces a response in another. Synesthetes can thus hear colors, see sounds, or taste smells, depending on the variety of synesthesia they have.
As a child playing the piano, long before my first conscious synesthetic experience, I was fascinated by how even the tiniest alteration in the position of my fingers could change the harmony completely. These shape-shifting harmonies had emotional undertones for me – I felt like they were taking me on a journey, telling me a story, nowhere more powerfully than in the most famous Bach prelude. It became a dream of mine to create an animation that conveyed this emotional voyage of harmony.
During my recent maternity leave, I embraced this challenge with the help of my dear friend Hagai Azaz, an animator. My guiding question was whether I could show the cascading flow of emotion, to make the feeling contagious, by using only color, the basic shape of circles, and minimalist motion, assigning to each musical chord the visual elements that correspond to it synesthetically. For me, music is a multidimensional experience — an ever-changing flow of shape, form, and color moving through space. Dance of Harmony seeks to bring this experience to life for those who can’t experience synesthesia directly.
There is also a private requiem buried in the piece: The Bach recording I had chosen features an extra bar, which another composer – the editor of a sheet music publishing company – had added a few decades after Bach composed it. People seemed to like it, so his version survived. When I chose this recording and made the film, I knew none of the backstory — but I did feel that one bar was amiss, somehow tensed. I called it “the bleeding heart.” It became the only part of the animation where the circles stop moving and pump in place against a rich red background. “The bleeding heart” falls between bars 22 and 23. My brother died between the ages of 22 and 23 during an earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. Although it came about by chance, this synchronicity now lends a new layer of meaning to the animation as an abstract representation of my family’s story – configured one way growing up, then having to reconfigure as we incorporate the heartbreak of the loss into our lives.
Music: J.S. Bach, Prelude in C Major, The Well Tempered Clavier.
Previous movies that bring to life my synesthetic experience:
In 1562, Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder completed a painting called The Triumph Of Death. In this panoramic landscape the sky is blotted out by black smoke; ships and dead fish litter the ocean shore; and an army of skeletons experiment with myriad death techniques. The living are badly outnumbered and the variety of fated tortures seems endless. There is little room for whimsy in this tableaux.
Over 200 years earlier, a nasty plague, commonly known as the Black Death, left a cruel and massive mark on european civilization, wiping out half of Europe’s total population. This was a quiet pervasion of death - an invisible pathogen carried by herds of tired rats. This plague triggered a series of social and economic upheavals with profound effects on the history of medieval Europe, guiding its survivors into the sort of self-inflicted darkness pictured by the Elder Bruegel.
Looking back at this historical trajectory, Peter Burr, Mark Fingerhut, and Forma have created a spiraling inter-dimensional narrative aptly titled DESCENT - a meditation on one of humanity’s blackest hours. Taking the form of a desktop application, descent.exe gives the user a brief glimpse of a world descending into darkness - an unrelenting plague indifferent to the struggles of the user. There is a silver lining, however, tucked into the software’s final sweep. An equanimous watcher, reduced to a single eye, looks on as the plague of rats that has infested your desktop destroys itself.