Blocking the Exits: The Slowpocalypse is Here

11 Aug

Notes from the Studio: Catalysis Project’s Resident Artist Isaac Schankler talks about his recent collaboration with video artist Christopher O’Leary, Blocking the Exits (currently on display at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions).

What is the nature of our culture’s fascination with the apocalypse? This dystopian thread connects so much of our literature, our films, our popular consciousness. There’s something riveting about the spectacle of it all, something that seems to mask a hidden desire, or at least conflicting impulses. What does it mean when you take something horrifying and render it beautiful? What are the aesthetics of the apocalypse?


These are some of the pointed questions implied by video artist Christopher O’Leary’s Blocking the Exits. In his words, the project “depicts an apocalyptic world where four characters have the final experience of crumbling pillars of civilization: water, food, energy and communication.” When Chris asked me to supply a soundtrack to this quasi-narrative video, I jumped at the chance (since I too am not immune to the fascination of the apocalyptic).

The visual aspect of Blocking the Exits consists of still photos that are then animated through morphing algorithms. Chris’s images are extremely stylized; there’s no attempt to disguise or apologize for the influence of comic book art. For a composer like me this is wonderfully inspiring; his images are so evocative that when he first showed them to me I had almost immediate sonic “images” come to mind.

There’s also a mesmerizing slowness to the morphing animations, and this led me down some musical paths that are a bit unusual for me. I composed four electronic musical vignettes, one for each “character” in Chris’s video. Each vignette follows a very simple process from one sonic place to another (e.g. low to high, sparse to dense, and so on). Each process is drawn out so that the development is almost imperceptibly slow, and the video also dynamically cuts between characters, making the processes even harder to track from beginning to end.

Usually when I’m working out a composition I feel compelled to subtly shade these processes, to round off the edges and hide the seams — or if I’m feeling more antagonistic, to disrupt and complicate these processes with even more processes! But in this case it seemed to fit the project to doggedly pursue something to its bitter end. Here the end of the world doesn’t happen with a bang but as a dull, persistent roar. It happens while we’re not looking or listening: an ongoing, inevitable, eternal moment.

Blocking the Exits is on display in the Speculative exhibit at LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, 6522 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028) until August 28th.

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