Elliot J Buchanan
Epoch explores the way in which we perceive the environment and our impact upon it. Through the digital manipulation of environmental footage, the imagery is warped and obscured beyond recognition. This process separates the identifiable characteristics from the images and extracts the clandestine textures hidden within. By decontextualising the footage and presenting it as abstract imagery, perhaps a deeper connection can be created between the audience and the environment. The unfamiliarity of this induces a sense of disequilibrium in the viewer, which is then resolved by the video infrequently settling onto untouched scenes of nature. This visual interplay may encourage a stronger association with the environment and therefore a change in attitude towards protecting it.
My initial intention with the piece was to highlight the impact that humans are having on the environment and the need to take action in order to avoid further damage being done. I intended to create the work entirely out of the footage and field recordings taken at different locations across Yorkshire; in particular the North York Moors and Dovestone Reservoir in the Peak District. This idea was inspired by conceptual albums such as Matmos’ Plastic Anniversary (2019); created solely out of recordings of plastic, and their 2001 album A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure (2001); created using recordings from plastic surgery procedures. I chose the filming/recording locations as, not only are they untouched by urbanisation, but because I have a personal connection with the Moors due to my Grandmother living in Yorkshire throughout my childhood. I also have a fondness for the hues and textures of the moorland and wanted to showcase these in the film.
The objective of the project evolved over time, with the focus shifting from highlighting the human impact to reaching out to the viewer on a more subconscious level. Although the focus changed, the majority of the piece is created from the footage and field recordings as I originally intended. I feel the way the project evolved came from a realisation that hope encourages change more effectively than shame. Therefore, presenting the beauty in the soft textures and colour palette can become a catalyst for change, rather than highlighting the damage and destruction. Having said this, we do have to acknowledge that some irreversible damage has already been done and this is represented in the opening sequence.
The fleeting, chaotic gestures both sonically and visually immerse the viewer instantly, drawing them into the piece. These gestures represent the clouds of greenhouses gases that are released into the atmosphere as a product of human activity. Visually this section is created in Touchdesigner, using a pixel relocator effect to manipulate footage of heather and ferns found on the Moors. This technique retains the original colours of the footage but creates particle-like movement. I was inspired to create this textural warping by Davide Quayola’s installation Jardins d’Èté (2016).
The visual gestures are accompanied by synchronous electroacoustic events. I intended to draw on the tropes of electroacoustic music but in a new sensibility. Unlike the original electroacoustic compositions of the 50s and 60s that were created using electromagnetic tape, I was working digitally. I manipulated recordings using plugins from the GRM Tools series such as PitchAccum, Reson, Delay, Evolve and SpaceGrain. To create the sonic gestures, I layered manipulated hydrophone recordings and matched the envelopes of the samples with the visual movement. I also worked with voice recordings to create some other organic gestures and textures, inspired by Francis Dhomont’s vocal manipulations in his piece Novars (1991).
The tension and release throughout the opening section, as well as the sudden silence creates anticipation. This is resolved with the introduction of manipulated, close-up footage of rocks and water. I used the lens distortion effect here to draw the viewer's eye towards the centre of the image, creating an immersive and disorientating experience. This immersion encourages the viewer to pay closer attention to try and understand the origin of the imagery. The manipulation extracts the beautiful textures and colours within the footage and enhances the reflection of the light in the water droplets that dance around the screen. The water almost acts as a lens that the viewer peers through into an alternate world. I believe the feeling of disequilibrium that I wanted to create can be accomplished here.
The soundscape accompanying this section is created using field recordings recorded in a forest around Dovestone Reservoir, layered with synthesised bird sounds created using the Serge Modular synth at INA GRM that I recorded in July last year. I originally intended to represent the birds visually, however, I felt the dichotomy in the audio and visual material supported the unfamiliar atmosphere. I was inspired by Luc Ferrari’s use of field recordings of birds in his piece Presque rien n°2, ainsi continue la nuit dans ma tête multiple (2012), as he extracts the musicality within the bird song by dissociating the sound from the origin. I also created a long and static synthesised texture to reinforce the sense of strangeness.
I was unsure whether to use unedited footage in the film, as I wanted to avoid cliché, however the introduction of the forest footage, in contrast with the abstract imagery, presents the resolve from unfamiliarity to familiarity. I believe that this can perhaps encourage a stronger attachment to the environment. I filmed from the ground upwards, to represent a child-like exploration of the forest and to remind the viewer of the sense of wonder they felt during early moments of experiencing the beauty the beauty of nature. I superimposed the abstract images over the unedited film for aesthetic effect and to reiterate the connection between the two visual worlds. However, perhaps these scenes could seem unconsidered as the images do not necessary link in a visual sense. I also wanted to reflect the feeling of resolution in the audio as well as the visuals at this point. I did this by moving from the static unfamiliar texture to an identifiable string sound that resolves harmonically.
The objective of the final scenes was to instil a sense of hope in the viewer by reusing the textural gestures from the introduction; with the negative connotations removed through the use of colour. Similarly to looking at the clouds across a blue sky, the visuals are calming and serene in order to bring about the positive mindset that is necessary to generate change. Sonically, I aimed to create a climactic dense texture that juxtaposed uplifting synth swells with the sounds of destruction and deterioration. I did this to show that, even though the world is falling apart around us, there still remains faith in our ability to come together as a society and work to prevent further damage being done.
Ferrari, L. (2012). Presque Rien N°2 Ainsi Continue La Nuit Dans Ma Tête Multiple. Presque Rien [CD]. France: Recollection GRM.
Dhomont, F. (1991). Novars. Cycle de l’erance [CD]. Canada: Empreintes DIGITALes.
Matmos. (2001). A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure. [CD]. USA: Matador.
Matmos. (2019). Plastic Anniversary. [CD]. USA: Thrill Jockey.
Quayola, D. (2016). Jardins d’Été. Retrieved from https://quayola.com/work/selected/jardins-dete.php