Open Circuits


Authors: Nick Cope and Tim Howle
Format: Video
Duration: 6 mins 24 seconds

Research Statement

Open Circuits is the first of an ongoing series of moving image collaborations between film maker Nick Cope and electroacoustic composer Tim Howle. Taking it’s name from Nam June Paik’s 1966 Manifesto ‘Cybernated Art’ (Packer, 2001), ‘Open Circuits’ mixes 16mm time lapse footage of Sheffield and Chicago cityscapes (shot by Jackie Jones and Peter Care, respectively) with WinAmp generated computer animations created and recorded by Joe Audsley, in a non-narrative visual montage which takes the viewer on a journey through a world where the distinctions between real and virtual, conscious and unconscious, daydream and nightmare become indistinguishable and the borders breakdown somewhere between anxiety and prescience. The visual form of the work is informed by the traditions of experimental and abstract cinema and is interested in engaging a film making practice with emerging digital technologies. The work also engages in notions of ‘Visual Music’ (Brougher, Mattis et al., 2005) and following selection for and screenings at a number of international electro-acoustic conferences, concerts and festivals was selected by the editorial panel of Computer Music Journal (MIT Press) for publication on DVD for their Winter 2005 ‘Visual Music’ edition (Volume 29, Number 4).

A second collaboration, ‘Son et Lumières’ (2006) has been invited for screenings at a number of national and international conferences and festivals during the past year, and a third piece is approaching completion at the time of writing (April 2007).

Research Questions
Explorations toward electroacoustic movies – moving image works which explore and address the conjunction of electroacoustic composition and creative moving image practice. Is there such a thing as post-acousmatic music?

What opportunities for the development of sound and moving image work do emerging technologies (hardware and software) offer for aesthetic, formal and technical exploration and innovation in hybrid electronic art forms?

What methodologies, technologies and techniques can the collaboration explore in creating work where the visual and musical elements share a commensurate importance?

As practitioners and collaborators in a process where the original collaboration preceded the defining of a research agenda, we are interested in how the collaborative process opens up areas of potential research and exploration, and how the practice informs the subsequent collaborative processes and choices, that could be labeled ‘praxis as research’.
The hybridization of electronic art forms (and software tools) is providing new areas for academic and creative enquiry, and as such, it is genuine growth area in interdisciplinary research. The trend towards collaborative work involving electroacoustic music and experimental video/animation is increasing, evidenced by the growing numbers of calls for music/video pieces providing new opportunities and suggesting that the coincidence of the two art forms is worthy of significant further exploration. On an individual note the success of the work supports this view.

At this point in time – there are various approaches to the combination of electroacoustic music and video. A great deal of work in the field is generative/algorithmic, there are examples of computer-generated animation (akin to synthesis) and there are also examples that tend towards electronica. There is no suggestion that there is an absolute relationship between the two media, but that the aim is to extend acousmatic music, essentially by revealing the source of the sounds in the visual domain.

Visually the work is informed by the canon of experimental film and video practice from the 1920s through to the present day and seeks to explore the formal and aesthetic opportunities current technologies and practices offer, as well as the opportunities interdisciplinary collaboration presents.

As a film maker, Nick Cope’s practice is informed by the canon of experimental and avant-garde film and video practice from early last century to the present, specifically visionary and expanded cinema, the futurist film manifestoes and the traditions of experimental practice ‘foraging for new techniques, forms of expression and subject matter’, particularly in relation to the possibilities presented by emerging technologies of the past 25 years, and the evolving contexts of media production.

Aurally the work builds on Tim Howle’s electroacoustic compositional practice, whilst engaging in the area opened up by the hybridization of electronic art forms providing new areas for academic and creative enquiry. The fields of electroacoustic composition and related research talk of a new and nascent medium brought about by the engaging of these fields with visual media. (Computer Music Journal Vol 29, no 4)

The methods of production derive from experimental and avant-garde film and video production practice, industrial TV production, music and specifically electroacoustic music composition and recording.

The work informs developments in the field of ‘Visual Music’ and the integration and convergence of computer music with visual media, as evidenced in its publication on DVD as part of the Computer Music Journal’s ‘Visual Music’ edition.

Elektra, TV Show for Experimental Music, TNA Channel (Cable Network) France, March 2007;
Published on DVD

Computer Music Journal, Volume 29, Number 4, ‘Visual Music’ Edition, MIT Press, Winter 2005 (ISBN 0262757397)
Process Revealed – Documenting the European Conference on Evolutionary Music and Art, Artpool, Budapest, Hungary, April 2006, Published by Goldsmiths, University of London (ISBN 1904158714)

Invited Presentation and Performance of Work;
MusicAcoustica 05, Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing, China, October 2005. International Computer Music Conference, Miami November 2004.
Sonic Arts Festival, Leicester de Montfort University, June 2004.
Society for Electro Acoustic Music of the United States Conference, San Diego State University, March 2004.

GEM3 – Sonic Explorations 2, University of Huddersfield , January 2006
Process Revealed’, European Conference on Evolutionary Music and Art, Artpool, Budapest, Hungary, April 2006. Dislocate: Trampoline Platform for New Media Art/Ginza and Koiwa, Tokyo, July-August 2006. Sounding Out 3, University of Sunderland, September 2006. FLEXIFF 2006, Experimental International Film Festival, Western Sydney, Australia, September 2006. Fringe 06 Digital Scarborough, Crescent Art Gallery, Scarborough October 2006. Trampoline – Platform for new media art, “Playing with urban structures – the city becomes alive at the touch of a button”, Broadway Cinema, Nottingham, November 2006. ‘Legacies in Technology’ Birmingham Conservatoire, October 2005. Third Practice electro-acoustic music festival, University of Richmond, Virginia, USA, October 2004. Sound Image Sound, University of the Pacific, Stockton, California, September 2004. Sonorities Festival of Contemporary Music, Queens University Belfast, April 2004. Gage, ‘Technology, Art and the Individual’ Digital Arts Festival, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, February 2004. S.E.A 03 Conference, University of Hull, July 2003

Electroacoustic music and composition, experimental and avant-garde moving image practice.

Chion, M, Audio-Vision : Sound on Screen, Columbia University Press (1994)
Le Grice, M, Experimental Cinema in the Digital Age, BFI Publishing (2001)
Le Grice, M, Abstract Film and Beyond, MIT Press (1981)
Mattis, Olivia, Visual Music: Synaesthesia in Art and Music Since 1900, Thames & Hudson Ltd (2005)
Moritz, W, Optical Poetry: The Life and Work of Oskar Fischinger, Indiana University Press (2004)
O’Pray, M, Avant-Garde Film: Forms, Themes and Passions, Wallflower Press (2003)
Packer, R (ed), Multimedia, From Wagner to Virtual Reality, Norton (2001)
Rees, A.L., A History of Experimental Film and Video, BFI Publishing (1999)
Shaw, J and Weibel, P (eds) Future Cinema, The Cinematic Imaginary After Film, The MIT Press (2003)
Sider, L (ed), Soundscape: School of Sound Lectures 1998-2001, Wallflower Press (2003)
Vernallis, C, Experiencing Music Video, Columbia University Press (2004)
Wees, W.C, Light Moving in Time: Studies in the Visual Aesthetics of Avant-garde Film, University of California Press (1992)
Woolman, M, Sonic Graphics/Seeing Sound, Thames & Hudson Ltd (2000)
Youngblood, G, Expanded Cinema, Studio Vista (1971)
Computer Music Journal, Winter 2005, Vol 29, No 4, Visual Music

Dr Tim Howle:
Currently lectures in Electroacoustic music at the University of Hull. Before this he was director of the Electronic Music Studios at Oxford Brookes University. He read music at Keele University, studying under Roger Marsh and Mike Vaughan completing a doctorate in composition in 1999. His work centers on electroacoustic music including pieces for tape, performer and live electronics and pieces involving visual media. He work has been performed throughout the US and the EU.

Nick Cope:
Currently works as Senior Lecturer in Video and New Media Production at the University of Sunderland. Graduated in 1986 from Sheffield Hallam University and worked freelance in film and video production with a particular emphasis on music and moving image work, collaborating with Cabaret Voltaire, the Butthole Surfers, O Yuki Conjugate and Electribe 101 amongst others. More recent work has included projection work for public arts projects and installation collaborations, and has had work screened throughout the US, the EU and China.

Peer Reviews

All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows

Review 1: Accept subject to rewrite of statement
These two videos, collaborations between filmmaker Nick Cope and electro-acoustic composer Tim Howle, are both visually and acoustically intense works, which tightly intertwine primarily abstract visual material with a complex and dynamic electro-acoustic soundtrack. The two pieces have a contrasting history. Open Circuits first existed as a video piece (initially created as backing film for the band Cabaret Voltaire), which was subsequently scored by Howle; with the reverse process being taken for Son et Lumières, visuals being combined with an existing composition. The third part of the trilogy to come has been conceived from the outset as a collaborative piece.

Most of the research questions outlined in the statement appear to be addressed primarily towards this future collaborative endeavour, though most are also relevant to the previous work as a set of concerns. The research questions set out a clear line for investigating the operations of sound and image in abstract visual work and also how the processes and methodologies from the discipline of electro-acoustic composition might be usefully applied to audio-visual work. However, one issue which the research questions do not really address, is the continuation and/or development of a particular set of aesthetics in these works. The approach to the ‘audio-visual contract’ they are keen to explore, is articulated in these two pieces by a tight interaction / reaction between the sound and image in terms of rhythm and dynamics, both within the visual and sound elements and further emphasised by the cutting regime. This close correlation places the work in a trajectory of experimental work from Len Lye and Norman McLaren in the 40s/50s, onwards. It might be useful to address this more directly as it is a specific approach among a range of experimental strategies which explore the sound / image relationship. This research is also of particular interest in relation to other contemporary work and contexts that involve a close and symbiotic audio-visual relationships, such as work in club spaces and interactive media and games. This also brings into the frame ideas around ‘immersion’ and ‘synaesthesia’, which these technologies have kindled. These concerns are indicated in the statement and it might be useful to underline these to extend understandings gained from the specific research within this collaboration to other areas.

There is an impressive list of significant screenings and journal publication, which already constitutes a process of peer review. I look forward to the completion of the trilogy, as these are intense and affecting works from a developed and innovative practice.

Notes on Supporting Statement
There are a few references to writers / concepts (i.e. Wishart / social context in relation to sound), which could use more clarification of their specific usage here.

There seem to be two referencing regimes in operation and the copy of the statement I received had no bibliography.

Review 2: Accept Open Circuits subject to rewrite of statement
Although both pieces are very similar in their intent and method of production ‘Open Circuits’ is the more successful one of the two and I would select it for inclusion in the DVD. ‘Open Circuits’ goes far more beyond the technical experimentation of combining sound and image. It is a strong visual piece with an engaging sound track resulting in a tightly edited, short and powerful meditation on image, sound and the electronic process.

The supporting statement can be edited. Aims and objectives are clear but the supporting statement and research questions sections should be re-written, especially the questions.

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