Digital Stream

© Matthew Word Bain

After a brief dip in luxuriant coldness downstream, I hiked up the path a ways to find a suitable spot for recording. This time I was dressed for being in the water, and I brought appropriate gear for positioning the camera and microphones in the water in case I found that was the location of the best vantage.

I recorded this video and another just a few yards downstream. I’ve been finding it difficult to focus on the white water of a scene like this, particularly on such a small screen as my camera affords. I also find that invites my eye to wander to the edges as a viewer, so a tradeoff, perhaps…

The sound was more interesting to me in this location than in the last; a creek is a soundscape of endless variety, and the more interaction at the surface between water and objects in its way, the more endless the variety in any one place.

Aside from fades, I did edit this image other than as I would normally do for a still image; the sound editing is similarly minimal. My vision is to make the visual element of a recording like this imperceptibly dynamic, so you can imagine that the camera is engaging you with its movement beneath the level of your conscious awareness…

Stillness and Motion

© Matthew Word Bain

I have finally begun shooting my first feature film. I am allowing myself a decade to complete it, as the process and the film are as much about and for the sake of process as anything else. I think I’m stealing the premise for the film from Andrei Tarkovsky; I will beg forgiveness when I see him. It’s interesting to think of how process as premise informs the actual process of creation.

I am beginning where I am. This means I am taking action in full disregard of my lack of appropriate or even sufficient gear. This constraint is already shaping my process and showing me what I need to learn to proceed.

I recorded a static scene (no camera movement), as I have a couple of tripods but no dolly, crane, gimbal, or even particularly steady hands… I’m also using a manual focus lens, so a static scene means I can set the focus and leave it.

I imported the video as well as an external audio track into REAPER, the digital audio workstation (DAW) I am accustomed to working in, and began learning how to apply basic video parameters: brightness, contrast, saturation; and how to automate others: zoom, x and y offsets. Previously I learned how to automate fades, but I had to learn that again!

REAPER is not designed for editing video (the name is an acronym for Rapid Environment for Audio Production, Engineering, and Recording), but it has pretty extensive video editing capacity for a beginner, and I am already familiar with the software, so it’s a good place to start. (Besides, I am learning to use Ableton finally, which is entirely new to me, so one new software program at a time!)

I am also working with the audio component, filtering the sound in various ways (compression, saturation, EQ, delay, and reverb), and automating a shift between two versions of the same original audio track in time with the video automation. Below is a screenshot of the session. The colored lines and curves are the automation parameters.

Working with the gear I have (a 12 year old Olympus PEN E-P1 mirrorless camera with a “toy” CCTV lens adapted for this mount, and an eleven year old Macbook Pro) it turns out I am unable to render zoom automation smoothly, and there is significant pixelation visible at fullscreen on my 13″ laptop.

Had I known I would be zooming in to an off center portion of the image, I would have thought more carefully about how to line up the focus on the CCTV lens, which tends to distort different portions of the image in different ways depending on how the aperture is set.

The beauty of this is that by beginning where I am and allowing myself a decade, I am employing a quality of focus that actually opens the door to rapid development – first in my own skill set and then in my access to sufficient gear for the task at hand. Rather than getting caught up in what I don’t have access to, I am “getting my money’s worth” out of what I do have access to.

Have you ever noticed that incremental growth curves and exponential growth curves map very closely at the outset? When they diverge, they do so wildly. But in the beginning they look very similar. If my skills improve 1% with each completed video, that’s all the progress I need to make. By establishing an incremental growth curve and reinvesting my gains (on all fronts), that incremental curve will eventually become exponential as I compound my growth.

I have no idea how well I will do at maintaining my focus on this project, but that is not the point. What I am ultimately doing is learning how to learn, learning how to create, learning how to develop my ability to satisfy the requirements of my own aesthetic tastes.

It’s all meta; the creative output is a byproduct. Over time the creative output will receive more care, but at this stage of my development as an artist, the quality of my process and practice are more important than the quality of the output. That may always be the case. But as I continue, the work improves, as does my feel for what the work is and what other, more distant horizons are wanting to come into view.


© Matthew Word Bain

In my last post I wrote about an experience in which a scene which had appeared to me in a vision irrupted into my reality while I was already tripping along the trail of novelty. When I had originally seen that vision in my mind, it had come with a word: Telemachy.

Telemachy was familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite place it, let alone comprehend what on earth it might have to do with this vision, let alone figure out what it was supposed to communicate to me. And so what I received amounted to a series of questions: What is the significance of this image? What is the significance of this word? Why do they come together? What am I supposed to do with them?

Some of you, perhaps, will recognize Telemachy as the name of the first four books of Homer’s Odyssey. This story whose name is derived from that of Odysseus (or is it the other way around?) begins as the story of Odysseus’ absence in his own home. His son Telemachus is coming of age with a father gone since before his birth and a mother and household beset by unwanted suitors. The name is usually translated as something to the effect of “fighting from afar,” from the Greek tele (“from afar”) and makhe (“a battle, fight”).

I have been puzzled by this name, as Telemachus does no fighting in the Odyssey until his father has actually returned (albeit from afar), so that he is not fighting “from afar” but rather directly by his father’s side. Perhaps his name is a reflection of his father’s story, perhaps it is an indication or acknowledgment of his father’s absence as an inevitable part of his inheritance.

I have also come to realize I have been guilty, albeit unwittingly, of a little folk etymology in relation to the word. The spelling of Telemachus and Telemachy suggest a relationship with other words in English containing mach:, in particular machine, machination, Machiavellian*, etc. As it turns out, the -machy of Telemachy and the mach- of machine arise from entirely different roots, although there are semantic connections between the two.

And so even exploring the question of what the word Telemachy means brings more questions and additional confusion. As I found so little traction with this line of exploration, I didn’t spend a lot of time with it. But still it didn’t go away. Eventually I just started rereading the Odyssey instead of trying to think my way to an answer.

More recently I have let this word drift outside of my own personal context and have followed it through others. In this I acknowledge I am guided in part by my own miscomprehension of the etymology, but I have come to accept that as part of the soup. Editing the video in my last post led me into another round of this exploration. The video in this post is the same video, but the soundtrack has changed. Acousmatic and anthropogenic sound now emerges in this work, where before they were absent and unobtrusive respectively.

I am curious about how the experience of sound changes the experience of a moving image. Eduard Artemyev‘s work with Andrei Tarkovsky inspires me to no end, as so much of that work walks a line between sound and music, and between sound in the landscape and sound intruding from another place.

I fell in love with the Hudson River School of painting when I was probably about fifteen. A significant feature of that school, of which I was largely unconscious at the time, is the focus on the relationship between humans and the natural world. This feature has come to be prominent in my own creative exploration, although it manifests quite differently than in the work of these nineteenth century painters.

As a field recordist, I have both sought out recordings of natural settings that are clean of any audible human influence (hard to do in the Blue Ridge, being directly beneath the primary north-south flight path on the East Coast) and recordings of industrial soundscapes, with a particular fascination with trains, internal combustion, and the sound where the rubber literally meets the road.

In this new iteration of the original video, Lake Rift, I have introduced acousmatic sounds that represent the industrial end of the spectrum. And yet, they are still the sound of life. They still have an organic cadence to their rhythms and tones, even if hearing this requires a particular quality of attention. What happens when I introduce these industrial sounds to such a tranquil, natural setting? Something different, I think it’s safe to say…

*I’m kidding.

Adrift on Lake Rift

© Matthew Word Bain

I don’t think of myself as the kind of person who has visions. Even active visualization is difficult for me, although I am very much a visual learner. Whenever a therapist has asked me if a vision or even a word or message wants to make itself known to me, e.g. from my subconscious, higher self, etc., I have typically found nothing upon looking within.

One time though, maybe seven or eight years ago, I was lying on a massage table, ensconced in a state of dynamic stillness from a combination of massage, energy medicine, and cranio-sacral work, when, in response to just such a prompt, a clear image appeared fully formed and with it a single mysterious word.

The image was of a placid lake in a mountainous region, viewed from above and at a distance, in strangely warm colors of what must have been a cold sunset. It seemed to be in the midst of a larger mountain range than any I’ve come close to – the Rockies, or perhaps somewhere in the Alps.

In the same way that a dream can leave you with a palpable physiological signature, a tingling sensation, or some heightened sense of vitality, this image brought all of that, and stayed with me. It also activated a new line of inquiry within me as the word that came with it was so unexpected and seemed to bear no relation to the image. I knew the word, but I couldn’t remember its meaning. More on that in a later post.

Several years after this experience, I was driving home a different way, seeking novelty, knowing intuitively that the repatterning process I had doubled down on in a therapy session that morning and was committed to on a larger time scale required novelty for the new pattern to take root. I was driving through the eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, slowly wending my way along narrow gravel roads, referring here and there to my topographical atlas, but mostly letting the reins fall slack.

At one point the difference between map and territory became extreme, as an intersection appeared that was unmarked on the map. I turned down this anomalous road and very soon felt as though dream space had intruded itself upon waking reality – a sensation for which I had no doubt been primed when the territory diverged so clearly from the map.

Within a short distance I had entered into a landscape that was not supposed to be there. Instead of the hemmed in closeness of forest on either side of the road, or even the occasional rolling stretch of pasture land, here was a sudden and enormous openness, an expansive vista, and a wide, flat surface affording a view of distant ridges arising well beyond.

Here, where there was only supposed to be more farmland and forest, was an enormous lake cradled by forested shores with a backdrop of distant ridges. I had found novelty of such a degree that I was overwhelmed by its scope and the suddenness of its appearance. I was unable to grasp what was happening, where I was, or how I got there. My sensory experience was placed in direct contradiction with all other sources of information for evidence of its reality.

One benefit of an experience like this is that it provides a tangible, visceral experience of the potential for momentous, unexpected change. It is an experience of reality emerging without antecedent. The divergence of the map from the territory becoming a glaringly salient empirical phenomenon. The disorientation that arises in response is deeply fertile ground for repatterning, as it facilitates the recalibration of one’s nervous system with a new baseline of experience.

This place is a mystical one for me, given the significance of this experience. I returned to it last winter, feeling a little like Parzival trying to find the mystical castle of the Fisher King after straying so far from the path. I had just acquired a “real” camera (one that is not part of a phone) that I knew also recorded video, so I gave it a try, seeking to create just a very simple moving image.

It has taken me seven months to find a way to edit the vintage video file format, but I had a breakthrough just recently. Actually, to say I’ve edited the video is something of an overstatement, but I did introduce fades at the beginning and end and, more importantly, add an external audio track without wind noise.

This lake is and is not the lake that “came to me in a vision.” It’s significance lies in the way it is that same lake.