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VJ Theory: TEXTS
Date published: 04/03/09

Poetics of correspondence

Patrícia Moran

initial considerations or how I started comparing!

Screens blink. Nervous images. Repetition. There is no bucolic contemplation. There is a primacy of the action and/or the affection over a continuous length of time. If the Other exists, it is just to mention a character in another context. The images, which are manipulated live establish temporalities by the evolution of forms. The rhythm comes from the VJ's hands, along with the dance floor's timing. Databases are altered to release a sequence of computer-generated images, which are recorded, captured on the Internet, scanned, etc. The setting is a dance floor; the sound is the DJ's; the images are the VJ's, the DJ-VJ's or the VJ-DJ's.
There are several origins that are attributed to the great scale VJ projections at urban parties and/or raves. Experimentations in video or cinema are examples of references, such as the well known expanded cinema [1], musical shows, and even television, in its live cut. The recurrent affirmations regarding what has been "already seen and known" guide this article, which  aims at investigating the similarities and differences within a certain poetics, instead of a single isolated procedure or the apparent detail of an image.
We are distant from the "modernist romanticism" and its ideals of brand new inventions and constantly breaking with the past. Our interest is to investigate potential formal subordinations and correspondences in the audiovisual work of the VJs. This should create points of approximation and distance in the study of the artist's work itself as well as in the socio-cultural moment of its occurrence. We centralize the discussion on the tendency to visual and sensitive abstractionism as one of the fingerprints of the creation on a dance floor. We will see how this poetics, which prioritizes the aesthetics of the suggestion, as Peirce's logic of vagueness [2]. We shall avoid the genealogical retrospective, from several directions, can be taken and none of them can be considered as a legitimate ascendancy. The similar experiences that are noticed in one or another aspect are insufficient to attribute origins. And why should we make comparisons? To pursuit material approximations, whether they are related to technical or visual procedures, in a expressive way, both when it is positioned as a power of inventive works, or as obsolete creations that feature no invention at all. The VJs' works are common in promotional events such as beverage and cellular phone advertisements as well as any other product that carries technological appeal to the young public. Even in those cases there is invention of rhythm and scenario-images that outline spatial figurations and discontinuous temporalities. Everything changes at every moment: the stillness is in the blinking and in the gaps that interpose the movies, even in the movie itself. This creates a sequential succession through the blank spaces produced in our retinas. What remains is the eye itself, marked by luminosity clues that create a blurry sight.
The figurations attempt to resist and this happens, not necessarily in terms of an image's visibility, but in the sequential principle of fixed and moving images. Therefore, the emphasis is not on what its seen, but on how the volume, scale, and luminosity occur. If such narrow division is possible I would – and will – say that affections and tactile sensations prevail over the senses. There are also moments in galleries and on Italian stages, classically speaking, when the VJ experiments with no concerning about the co-presence of the public or the musical rhythm. Is he still a VJ? Yes, but he is at a different arena where he plays the role of a performer who produces a real-time experience of manipulation for a presentation and / or exhibition. I rather think the role of the VJ by associating him with the celebration of a party, along with the bodies in contact on the dance floor, the smoke that unites audience and screen, for at this setting the images operate differently, as so does the experience of belonging to the whole scene.
As we have indicated, VJing is an audiovisual experience that features no legitimating device, as far as the art conventions are concerned. Its similarities with experimental work such as Steina and Woody Vasulka's [3] do not assure a place for them in the Eden of fine art galleries, regardless of whether these exhibit classical portraits or digital and electronic screens. It is important to mention the Vasulkas for they were pioneers in doing live projections with sound synthesizers creating images. Perhaps the right place for a VJ is not an art gallery, as these institutions keep certain principles and shelter some sense of adaptation. The marginal condition of the VJ in relation to the official art circles can be a positive thing, like an element that indicates the association of VJing and media (entertainment and communications). From ambient video to the emphasis on affection, VJing helps create the atmosphere of the dance floors. Actually, that is a profane event, but carries an aura, if it can be understood as a single happening, which cannot repeat itself. This conclusion leads us to what are the correspondents of a VJ and what these actually mean.

 

on correspondences

The reflection on the correspondence in art comprehends areas of knowledge such as comparative literature, philosophy and the thinking done by artists-theorists. Etienne Souriau draws our attention to the different realms of artists and theorists. For  philosophers, there is a relation among all arts as they share motives and procedures. Yet, the way a certain motive is treated may create a huge gap between two similar motives. Thus, the theoretical researcher seeks comparisons, whereas the artist-researcher works in between worlds, experiments with materials, shows curiosity towards the technique and treatment granted to the theme. Some artists propose works that exceed a single expressive system. In theory it is almost impossible to think on a pure art form, for a semiotic system contains other systems and intermediality is a tendency in more complex works. Such distinct movies as Sergei Eisenstein's "The battleship Potemkin", or Vittorio de Sica's "The bicycle thief" – not to get very far from this cinematographic extremes – are simultaneously poetry, literature, even music, depending on their rhythm. In short, the correspondence is understood as a co-presence or more than one working line in a piece of art, within a given expressive system. The example cited below reminds us of Souriau:

“The sensorial data from which the arts benefit, never reach an actual purification or a practical isolation from that qualia game. The colors on a painting have different forms of luminosity and even relations with tactile values evoked by the manipulation of the color pigment. The dancer's moving body is not a pure kaleidoscope of attitudes, smooth dislocations, or transferences of space.” (1983, p. 62)

Artists-researchers tend to pursuit correspondences. In poetry, semantic and rhythm dislocations are constant and words can produce image, cadence and sound. In summary, it creates a sonic cadence in time, with clashing or harmonic forms and dislocations of meanings. The same happens with music as it is fulfilled in the dance and the audiovisual rhythm. It is a construction of temporality.
Paul Valery tries to systematize something that crosses the arts, allowing us to compare them and think about correspondences.

“The arts we were discussing must generate not a fable through numbers and their relations, but the hidden power that invents all fables. (...) Moreover,  the soul reacts to that material and to the pure harmony to which it communicates, with inexhaustible abundance of explanations and myths...”. (Valery 1996, p. 81).

In the imaginary dialogue idealized by Paul Valery Socrates the philosopher and Eupalinos the architect discuss the creation process of ideas brought to existence in texts, urban spaces, and poems. Powers in tension are part of creation. In the theoretical formulations of Valery, the correspondence of the structures and ideas that guide creation is shaped in the very making of art. In that case, the correspondence involves the ideas, their corpuses, and the architecture. It is the ordaining structure of the significance and of the tactile movement of the work.
It does not regard structuralism however. The author resists the theoretical projects that limit a poetics to "prescriptions, conventional rules or received notions” (1991, p. 188). In this specific case, the poet refers to the structural linguistics and its formulations on lyric and dramatic poetry. Valery believes a poem corresponds to a song or an image not by its semantic aspects but by its rhythm. The musicality in the verses is built by the metric of  the poem and by its acoustic image. There is a movement in it that "“evokes the complex numbers of the geometrician and the assembly of the phonetic variable with the semantic one..."(1991, p. 198). This way of thinking on the correspondence presumes the creation of correlates in terms of the system of ideas, the aesthetics, and the given poetic project.

 

from the correspondence of procedures and structures to the kinesthesia

Composer Richard Wagner defended drama as a complete art form in his small and classic article-manifest The Artwork of the future, of 1849. He proposes to reach every single sense and to promote an entire esthetic experience by the sensorial and intelligible affectation of every sense: architecture, poetry, music, and painting. If the skin, the eyes, and the ears are set free from the classic Italian stage and affected in a multiple and simultaneous way, this combination would generate total art.
None of the two mentioned artists-thinkers wants to limit their works to a single expressive system, but each of them adopt different strategies and conceptions to reach their targets. According to Valery, it is a sort of architecture, or ideas that travel across the arts, regardless of of materials and themes. On the other hand, Wagner's arrangements take possession of the  kinesthetic legacy: the multiplicity is in the unit and each work and art form would correspond to all the others, as long as these reached the senses as a whole. In sum, Valery understands that correspondences are poetic and lie on the interaction of the elements, whereas Wagner thinks they come from a tactile experience.
One last example of artist-thinker of the correspondence is indispensable: Arthur Rimbaud. He is the author of correspondence propositions regarding interart poetics. Moreover, poetry is important for our objectives because the poet's defense of correspondence mixes mystic components and language investigation. His proposal is equivalent to Wagner's in that sense, to the cinema analyzed by Youngblood, as well as the esoterism of the rave movement. The mysticism evoked by Rimbaud, Wagner, or the VJs at the rave parties is not taken into consideration but the consideration of this appeal as an investment for the development of poetic representations and propositions.
Rimbaud proposed a poetry of sensations with correspondence of the senses. He was a follower of Eastern doctrines and Hindu philosophy. Considered by scholars a solitary mystic, Rimbaud's biography has always exposed his regular substance use. According to the poet, his relation with drugs was a strategy for disordering the senses and also a way of tearing the cultural formalizations usually associated with art. The place that Rimbaud's poetry occupies in literary history has to be attributed to the formal aspects of his work, such as “the rupture with the classical rhythm and determined syntactical conventions.” (IVO, p. 9).
The sensations and mystical correspondence transposed to poetry cause a rupture of the senses not in esoteric terms, but in terms of linguistic structure, such as in the poem “Alchemy of the word”, in which the language reaches the senses through rhythmic and metaphorical dislocations. If the main inspiration is mystical – the alchemy made explicit by the poem's title – its realization plays with its very matter: the words and the meanings. Paradoxes. Impasses. This flight cannot has no landing position neither it creates room for semantical or psycho-physical meanings.

“I invented the colors of vowels! — A black, E white, I red, O blue, U green. — I made rules for the form and movement of every consonant, and I flattered myself to invent a poetic verb with instinctive rhythms that would be accessible sooner or later, to all senses. I reserved the translation.
It began as an investigation. I wrote silences, nights, I noted down what was inexpressible. I set vertigoes.” (2004, p. 72)

A few decades later, Gene Youngblood arises with his “almost esoteric” reflection on experimental works in cinema, video, and TV, entitled Expanded Cinema. The expansion he proposes regards perception and senses. Youngblood defends the filmmaker point-of-view as he approaches the idea of expansion as a stage of conscience.
Cinema, video, and TV are like Rimbaud's poetry, when discussed. It is not the esoteric appeal that makes them contemporary references, but their artistic investigation through the exploration of materiality in their respective expressive media and the formal relations involved in the making of them. It is not the kinesthetics, either, but the formal work and the examination of the constitutive structure of a given expressive organization. The exploration of the materiality of an image, whether it is on the actual film or the magnetic field of a VHS tape, creates a crisis for the placement of a certain expressive manifestation. If figuration with any specular trace was a possibility of those media, it no longer is. This gesture, in itself, does not guarantee a correspondence relation, but creates tension in the creation possibilities for which that material was initially predicted. Nam June Paik is a musician who took the rhythm, speed, and play of forms in time to videoart : his images tend to musicality. There is an evolution of colors, shapes, and pulses, through words, images, and sounds, or even all of them operating simultaneously. As Arlindo Machado skillfully states, regarding music videos, “sound and image are born together, part of a single creative attitude” (Machado, 2000, p. 184). In its extreme form, music would not exist separately from video: “images are integrated to sounds with such organity that music videos emerge as an autonomous art form” (Machado, 2000, p. 184). Thus, the audiovisual fragment becomes a new expressive form, existing as a correspondence.

By retaking presuppositions by Youngblood and other artists of correspondence, kinesthesia may occur in such experiences, but one of the principles of that experimental work is the play with its materials, whether they are words, images, music, movement, etc. Summing up, the structure of making something changes its position: it is no longer a supporting material, but an apparent structure. In the realm of moving images we face art created with no thematics. What prevails is the rhythm and the dislocation. In that example, the correspondence is in the audiovisual work itself. It is like the Rimington organ, back in 1904, which was visual, not sonic. Music was not a model for abstract painting or the evolution of colors. They incorporated the time and rhythm of sound waves. There was not a theme, but the drawings emulated the music. Our option in this genealogy that describes the relation among different art forms is the formal proximity of images to music, based on the notion of correspondence. These are musical images both for its rhythm [4] and for its tendency to abstraction, as we will see next.

back to the dance floor why are these correspondences?

The genealogy adopted herein has defined correspondence as the co-presence of expressive systems, in terms of discursive proposition and as a poetics. The scene that forms video-jockeying is rhythmical and musical and its images are impregnated of this concept. The matter involved in the making of it brings VJs nearer to music. Each producer uses distinct tools. In common, the manipulation of image databases, stored in a computer or external hard disk drive. The several softwares range from image editors, which were not created for the dance floor, to a series of programs that were meant to be specifically used when manipulating the databases. There are also tools developed for specific performances or in other words, the producer is able to create the parameters for his presentation. The researcher and producer Mordka worked with a touch mixer in 2002. This is an interactive software for manipulating 3D figures on live action. Chris Musgrave does his programming in Max/nato and Argentinian Castro Fisternni also uses the latter as the platform for his sets. In Brazil, Spetto, a VJ from São Paulo, is the precursor in programming, but his tool is mainly an image mixer, which cannot alter movement parameters or form. Recently, VJ Natxo, a Spanish radicated in São Paulo, has also developed programs. However, we shall not mention these producers for their technical achievements as this topic will be discussed in another article. What we should retain from these examples is the  proximity between music and a VJ's performance.
We have treated the tendency of the forms evolving in time as musicality. A distinctive mark of VJs is the evanescence of images, the desfiguration, or the tendency of rupture between the figuration and the significance relations in favor of affection and abstraction. As we have mentioned before, this happens, among other reasons, because of the speed and the blank gaps over and between frames, which make an image  blink. The perception extended to its psycho-physiological aspects is altered by the rhythm of the image. There is an inclination to losing the movement and form in its current gestalt and the velocity and discontinuity of these disrupts the usual figuration.
Now we shall think of two great groups of visible constitution: the iconic figuration, which features some level of visual similarity, and the abstract, in which the forms are not actual references. In the figuration scheme that has representation correlated with material objects, the tendency for the abstraction is semantic but observation and the succession of ideas are not supported by the visual succession itself. I define semantic abstraction as a sort of suggestion aesthetics, in which “one does not tell anything, but indicates it, which allows the pleasure of a new discover and construction. More personally and facing no hindrance, an image organizes itself.” (Epstein, 1983, p. 271). The semantic abstraction is the leap for opened and suggested ideas, as well as the ones which are connected to visual or audiovisual semiotic codes, inscribed in fiction narratives (televisual, cinematographic, telejournalistic, etc.). In summary, a preexisting sense is put in dialogue or clash with another one, as not to constitute itself as a closed meaning, but as a suggestive possibility with an open addressing that creates vagueness.
Added to the suggestion of meanings as visual abstractions, the sequence of moving images or cutting off the frames makes the figuration disappear. The decomposition of the movement is very common on dance floors as well as its explanation by the succession of static states of movements with perceptible duration. This means the movement is transformed in a sequence of photographs or frozen movements. The matter of the projection work becomes the movement itself. The change in speed alters the nature and the quality of a happening. In some cases, even the happening itself, may disappear. For instance, if a human figure is used as a model, the happening is the decomposed movement and the gesture making; if it is a means of transportation, such as rockets, cars, trains, or industrial machines, the images represent laws of physics and the improbability of apprehending certain situations with naked eyes. The importance is not the image itself, nor what an image should generally represent, but whatever constitutes the movement as visuality (or space-time dislocation).
In spite of being figurative, we treat such representations as abstract, for they establish a temporal flux punctuated by interruptions in visibility, decomposition of movement and blinking. If abstraction means the absence of theme and referentiality, the images projected tend to abstraction. The figures represent movement in time, much more than what they should visually represent.
One last procedure for thinking on abstraction is related to the speed in the image sequences. This is a more evident example of desfiguration, in which the forms become an outline. Lines, volumes and colors are no longer images to be observed but evolution of these very forms in time.
The abstraction we discuss does not deal exclusively with the opposition between abstract and graphic visibility systems and indicative figuration. It is important to note that the later relates to images with no correlative material and also to those which feature a physical relation with an object or situation. According to our understanding, a more productive differentiation will emerge if we think on the prevalence of stimulations which favor rhythm and kinesthetic procedures and emphasize formal association, which are little or not codified by semantical ordination, but by suggested or carried out correspondences instead.
As a temporary conclusion, I open another reflection regarding the dance floor's figurations and the constitution of meanings in the dispersive environment of a music party boosted by chemical additives. If the figurations tend to disappear, the abstract images, stricto sensu, will tend to suggest figures like in fine arts. This way we have a two-way road  in terms of suggestibility, as the abstraction tends to figuration and vice versa.

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References

[1] Youngblood in his 1970's classic Expanded Cinema analyses experimentations in the cinema and video that have become a reference when it comes to the abandonment of the narrative within image manipulations in its materiality as the emulsion of the movie or the signal of the video.

[2] Peirce taken from Julio Pinto's  1,2,3 da semiótica.

[3] In the 20s, the Russian vanguards had already organized events with projections. The Vasulka couple, as the New Yorker vanguard of the 60s, explore projections in a systematic matter, but they were radical in their experimentations. These would take place in studios with a small group audiences of great experimentalists.

[4] In the article Vj em Cena: spaces as an audiovisual sheet music, published in  Contracampo magazine, I discuss the proximity of the dance floor culture to music.

 

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Bobliography

YOUNGBLOOD, Gene (1970). Expanded Cinema. NY: E.P. Dutton & CO., Inc.

EPSTEIN, Jean. (1983) O cinema e as letras modernas (1921). In: XAVIER, Ismail. Aexperiência do cinema. Rio de Janeiro: Graal, Embrafilme.

SOURIAU, Étienne. (1983). A correspondência das artes. (elementos de estética comparada). Tradução: Maria Cecília de Moraes Pinto. SP: Cultrix, edtora da USP.

BARTHES, Roland. (1990) Essa coisa antiga, a arte... In: O óbvio e o obtuso. 3ª ed. RJ: Nova Fronteira.

VALERY, Paul. (1991). Variedades. SP: Iluminuras.

VALERY, Paul. (1996). Eupalinos ou O Arquiteto. SP: ed 34.

AUMONT, Jacques. (1997) La couleur écran. In: Projections, les transpots de l`image. Hazan/Le Fresnoy/AFAA

MACHADO, Arlindo (2000). A Televisão levada à sério, editora Senac, São Paulo.

RIMBAUD, Jean-Arthur.(2004) Uma temporada no inferno & Iluminações. Tradução e Notas iniciais: Lêdo Ivo. RJ: Francisco Alves.

Sons & Lumières. Une histoire du son dans l`art du XX e siècle. (2004). Paris: Editions du Centre Pompidou.