Friday, 19 June 2015

Synchronised Swimming (video)

A minimalist soliloquy on the poem by Stevie Smith, Not Waving but Drowning.

The drowning man has thoughts. What are they? Did he intend to drown? Or was it an accident? The slow motion of the action, the solemnity of the music and the synchronisation of actions, words and music are all supposed to suggest a slow death.

The camera was set up with a display showing the image repeated four times (as explained in Live Video) so that the dancer could see the symmetry of the final video while making the shapes of the drowning man.

There is no story, as such, but there is a narrative. Much of that narrative is left unsaid, for the viewer to determine. I did consider adding more words (not Stevie Smith, my own) but so far have avoided this, partly because I didn't want to adulterate her words. But I could add text to the quieter moments. Just single words or short phrases like "too late now", "to save the world".

I ought to consider this finished, but can't stop fiddling with the details.

The relationship between images and words is carefully choreographed, so that the words spoken or shown represent the drowning man's thoughts, while respecting the rhythm of the poem. I didn't include the whole poem. It's not necessary, or appropriate. For those who know the poem, the words and the order of the words is sufficient. For those who don't know the poem, they still have that thrill to come when they read it or hear it read.

Influences, apart from Stevie Smith, include Peter Greenaway's Drowning by Numbers, Philip Glass' Einstein on the Beach and John Cage's music, in particular Dreams. I am also a great fan of Milton Feldman, which might explain the choice of music, a very simple pattern of notes repeated with phasing variations where the music 'slides' through the variation rather as a swimmer/drowner slides through the water. The pattern of notes, the pattern of images and the pattern of words are all based on simple, related sequences.

As always, I am producing something that is systematic, In this case, the geometry of having the four reflected images and the relationship between the movements of the swimmer/dancer and the music/text have been carefully synchronised. Hence the title. Rather than call it 'Not Waving but Drowning' or some variation on that, I have emphasised the synchronicity.