Music Videos and Experimental Cinema

My love of experimental film and surrealist cinema would fill a list longer than my blog will ever be, but Meya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Sergei Parajanov, Jaromil Jires’s 1960s surrealist gem Valerie and her Week of Wonders, Installation artist Pipilotti Rist, and Jean Luc Godard are a few of my favorites. I have started to experiment with music videos in conjunction with my songs. Here are three that I have worked on so far. I also put together 1/2 hour of visuals for my gig at the ICA last year and will put up some of the footage soon.

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Lemon Psyche

When I wrote ‘Lemon Psyche’, which is on my first EP ‘Songs 1-4 Sybil of Delphi’, plenty of late 1960s Italian psychedelic soundtracks were spinning in my ears. I am a big fan of Ennio Morricone and an even bigger fan of Armando Trovaioli, in particular the score he wrote for “IL VICHINGO VENUTO DAL SUD” (Italy, 1971). Both composers often employed the lush vocals of one of my music heroines Edda Dell’Orso. Edda Dell’Orso is the sound of Italian cinema. Her astonishing voice recognisable to anyone who has experienced the landmark spaghetti western films made by Sergio Leone.

So when I wrote ‘Lemon Psyche’ I was very absorbed in the sound of these technicolor soundscapes and rather than writing a story, I found myself just creating a sound that was the narrative in itself. While I was interviewed for Magpie Magazine and asked about the meanings in my songs, I realised that this one was an abstract piece of music – a song about falling… falling in love and falling in and around yellow swirling mists. The words came out like a stream of consciousness, riding on the crest of the music.

I decided I wanted to make a video of exactly this – yellow swirling feelings. So when I saw ‘The Serpentine Dance’, a victorian skirt dance where the moving fabric ripples like the froth on the sea, captured in film by The Lumiere Brothers in c.1899, I was transfixed and decided to use their footage. The Lumiere brothers made some of the very first films and are notorious for Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory in Lyon (also known as La Sortie des usines Lumière à Lyon), an 1895 French short black-and-white silent documentary film directed and produced by Louis Lumière. For ‘The Serpentine Dance’ they shot the performance in black and white and then painted each frame by hand to give it colour. This creates the lovely hand-made rainbow effect that you could probably do now in photoshop in less than a minute but would have taken them days. The Serpentine Dance itself was developed by choreogrpaher and dancer Loie Fuller in 1891. She was one of the pioneers of modern dance and another heroine of mine! So with all these passions of mine brought together in one short film, I am definitely swirling…

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Round Round Rebirth

My second video experiment is for song Round Round Rebirth. A string dominated song using guitar, ukulele, recorder and vocals. The song is about cycles of life. I had recently read a Jungian book on fairy tales and archetypes and was very taken by an old tale called Skeleton Woman and was thinking  a lot about endings and beginnings. On a trip to Prussia Cove one I found this piece of shipping rope and was compelled to lie in it! The video idea was going to involve ladders, lots of ladders. It was a bit of a coincidence that I lay in this circular object like a foetus. But somehow it seemed to make sense…

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One Snowflake

My first film was for song ‘One Snowflake’. The song is kind of spoken word poem to music, using a Fender Rhodes and an Indian drone instrument, the shruti box. The video is a collaboration with Nick Duffy which explores the nature of performance in short films. It started out as an experiment on a mobile phone a few years ago. I wanted to see how good the video quality was so I put on one of my favorite obscure 60s songs, Flowers by Ferris Wheel (impossible to find on vinyl), and danced away.

Just recently I found this bit of bogus footage and we decided to play with it. We filmed the sequence onto tape and put it back onto digital which altered the texture dramatically. We also extracted the music. It was interesting at this point because without without the blended synchronizaton of motion and music it became more documentary in style, a sort of memory from the past, rather than a dance. The mood changed to something more haunting and nostalgic without the music.

The idea at this point was to experiment with some of my songs. The ones that were most in sync looked the most uniform and conventional. Just a figure dancing to music again. It was the pieces where there wasn’t strict synchronicity that were the most interesting. In the end we decided to use One Snowflake where the movement falls in and out of time, and the mood of the music and the mood of the dancer are very different. This disjunction between the dancer and the music creates a feeling of two places in time; past and present, and induces a feeling of memory and nostalgia as if looking back at the footage at a later time with reflective eyes and observing this lost fragment of happiness from the past.

Working this way round, the visuals first and then adapting the music was an interesting way to work rather than creating visuals for the music. Closer to the way films are made than music videos. My next film approaches it the other way round. The more traditional way…

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Mrs Magpie

When Magpie Magazine asked me to make a video of myself reading the magazine for a film project of theirs, like a homing pigeon I found myself writing a song first. The words became about a magpie and the treasures it has hidden away. Mrs Magpie finds me walking in the winter puddles and leads me to her nest, full of sunshine. A friend recently showed me a German cartoon about a mouse that collects sun rays and colours in the summer and stores them up for the winter. I loved this idea. At the end it took on a twist of a love song with Mrs Magpie saying that Mr Magpie brings her the best (to the nest). Rather than seeing magpies as compulsive stealing horders, I now see them as romantic birds finding each other shiny things. This is a video I made for the song keeping the camera in just one position and using subtitles for the song lyrics. You can also see the film I made for Magpie Magazine here.


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