Thursday, 16 October 2014

Slow TV ? - Michael Snow's 'Wavelength'

If Andy Warhol's 'Sleep' is going to be mentioned in relation to Slow TV, this 1967 film ought to be too - even if they are both not actually Slow TV. I came across this 40 minute film - Wavelength - in the early stages of researching Slow TV and am surprised it has not to date been discussed in connection.

Wavelength is a 40 minute production consisting of a steady camera zoom moving in from 80 feet away to a picture on a wall. Almost imperceptible, there is continual movement as the zoom moves in. The picture quality goes through many changes in lightness and colour. Some may be itching to address the white balance but what we see is what the director wanted the viewer to see.

Accompanying the zoom is a soundtrack which has two components. One is the sound of  four events happening around the camera, not all are seen. The other is a sine wave sound starting at 50 hertz, finishing at 12,000 hertz. Like the zoom, this increments almost imperceptibly through the film. (Note: in the version available online the sine wave jumps in around 8 minutes - I do not perceive any slow incrementation before this).

It demonstrates continued visual, audio and mental focus on one large picture which is essentially the same but continually changing in minute detail all the while, even if you can't perceive it.

Filmed over a week it obviously is not real time but demonstrates the slowness in that the recordings edited together take 40 minutes to be related. No timelapses, no jumps, no editing out parts. In some ways one could liken that aspect of it to NRK's Nordlandsbanen in 4 seasons - putting the whole journey together in real time but comprised of segments given in real time.

In terms of aesthetic engagement, Wavelength does allow the viewer to ask questions of image, of the visual small stories in the details, of the audible unseen stories. The sine wave becomes uncomfortable to listen to at certain higher frequencies, inaudible in others (all of which will depend on the viewer, age and other factors).

Most certainly not Slow TV, Wavelength gives ideas of three elements of Slow TV. 1) Real time (or at least perceived that way) 2) Making the viewer look for stories in the production instead of obvious served up narratives and 3) Holding an image for a long time which is constant in its subject but many things within it which are not constant.

Wavelength is very much about concepts and aspects of intellectual reflection. It "...opens into the paradoxes of time-space in the quantum physics of the 1960s: is each moment defined by new lines of time or space, into parallel worlds? ...Snow's zoom is a kind of test drive of human experience, opening to the cool fact that each choice both implies and eliminates alternatives. In Wavelength, the range of events that lie outside the human incidents (including the little jumps caused by splices, adjustments to focal length, shifts between film stock, interposed flares of light and passages of solid colour) are immediately grasped as gestures communicating choice, made against whatever philosophical or theoretical ground and, at the same time, materially independent of theory or precedent - at least relatively so". 

Legge, E (2009). Michael Snow Wavelength. London: Afterall Books. 30.

Entry on IMDB here

So, if you have 40 minutes to spare, here is Wavelength.

Slow Television -The Slow TV Blog

Slow Television - Musings and Happenings in Slow TV and Ambient TV

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