Instant Composers Pool Orchestra: A Film by Guy Girard

Ivana Ng By

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ICP Orchestra
A Film by Guy Girard
La Huit

For this film, Guy Girard recorded the ICP Orchestra's performance at Noisy-Le-Sac in France in 2003. Much like the nonet's anarchic free improvisational music, the visual document moves from orderly to chaotic without warning. Psychedelic and kaleidoscopic, the film sets out to investigate the metamorphoses of the concert.

The film starts with Dutch drummer and co-founder of ICP, Han Bennink, putting on his blue bandana while the other musicians tune up. By using low angle shots exclusively on Bennink, Girard distinguishes the percussionist from his colleagues as a key member of the band. Occasionally, Girard also finds pianist and co-founder Misha Mengelberg in some quirky camera angles, but it's obvious that for Girard, Bennink is the star of the show. This exclusive focus makes problematic any analysis of group dynamics and of the personalities of individual musicians.

The camera constantly pans the dim, hollow cave of a venue, never settling on one face for too long and often focusing on the instruments instead of the musicians that wield them. Nevertheless, Girard manages to catch Bennink in some great moments. For example, there is one shot of him tapping out a rhythm with a pair of paintbrushes. His head turned aside, his eyes closed and his mouth slightly agape, he begins to smile as he realizes he is onto something: as the shot makes clear, the beat is his own and complements the melody well. But there are also shots of Bennink that are shaky and grainy, making the viewer feel like a small child trying to push through a crowd of musicians to get a good look at the drummer.

The film tries to translate ICP Orchestra's music from its instrumental form to a visual medium using distorting mirrors and electronic contortions. Girard screens the film onto a distorted mirror and then synchronizes the distortions with the music, creating swirling, liquid images that are surreal and radical like the music itself. As the recording goes on, the images, though remaining distorted, become more fluid.

At times, Girard's distortions of visual imagery extend to the sound. When the music is at its most dissonant, he adds a second sonic dimension to the music, giving the notes an ethereal echo. But why distort the music when the visual element is already being tampered with? The audio "enhancements" seem superfluous and add nothing to the film viewer's experience.

Also, the spectator is likely to become nauseous as the camera shifts abruptly from point to point. Moreover, Girard inserts normal, distortionless shots, sandwiching them between the blurry, distorted images, further disorienting the viewer and contributing to the feeling of seasickness.

Overall, the music is much too unpredictable for Girard, who would have been well advised to let it speak on its own terms. By the end of the film, the distorting mirrors cannot catch up with or properly interpret the true nature of the ICP Orchestra's volatile compositions. As a result, the music largely gets lost in the translation from sound to video.

Given the challenge of filming music, let alone sounds as unpredictable, free and complex as those recorded on this DVD, perhaps Girard deserves at least limited credit for his accomplishment: at the end of the day the film's mystifying shots and striking images are probably as close as one can get to visualizing the ICP Orchestra's music.


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