When the science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, I imagine he meant that as devices become more capable their inner processes become invisible. What he forgot to mention was that the more “magical” technology seems, the less impressive it is. That my phone can tell me the location of the nearest burrito joint doesn’t impress me, it’s normal and boring.
To unlock the magical quality of technology, you sometimes have to use very old and obvious things; clunky devices that are ugly as hell and un-tactfully let everybody around them know exactly what they’re doing and how, usually with some kind of horrible grinding sound. This is the approach taken by Toronto-based filmmaker Sylvain Chaussée and composer Adrian Gordon Cook in their performance project Zephyr.
By day, Chaussée develops film for artists at the Niagara Custom Lab in downtown Toronto, a decrepit warehouse full of machines that resemble Phillip Jeffries’ satanic tea kettle in Twin Peaks: The Return. In his free time, he shoots experimental footage and develops the film himself; endless strips of the same images rendered in different colour palettes, stuck together at the ends to play in a loop, duplicated numerous times so it can be destroyed in performance. Then he and Cook get to work.
While Cook builds a musical atmosphere using an array of old and new synthesizers, tape machines, and sequencers—along with the occasional saxophone—Chaussée manipulates his footage on numerous projectors. If Chausée was a DJ, the projectors would be his turntables and the rack of film strips he keeps behind him his record collection.
Recently, I caught up with Chaussée and Cook at the Niagara Custom Lab as they prepared for a performance. Over the course of the performance, the images warped and burned and undulated. Cook’s music droned and soared, built itself up and dissipated; with six projectors on the go at once, the effect was magical, and it was thanks to old technology.
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