From ‘Fantasia’ to Fluxus

Sound art cinema reveals its many forms and functions

Keri Carlson

Disney goes beyond producing pop culture. It is pop culture.

So it seems odd that the Walker will screen “Fantasia” and several Disney shorts. Isn’t Disney so pop that it escapes any qualification as art?

Artist-in-residence Christian Marclay, who handpicked the films showing in conjunction with Sound Unseen, said he has always been interested in Disney sound-art films like “Fantasia.”

“Now with MTV, we’re familiar with sound and visuals together – it seems like a common thing,” Marclay said. “But with Disney, there’s still something very magical about how they created images powered by music.”

Marclay said Disney has actually influenced other sound-art cinema in how its form and shape changes with the music.

“Fantasy takes over,” he said.

But the Walker’s cinema series is not solely Disney films.

“I like to mix pop culture with experimental,” Marclay said.

The Disney films are followed by avant-garde directors such as Merrily Mossman, Michael Snow, Tex Avery and Mauricio Kagel.

Marclay said he selected many of the films out of personal interest.

“Some of the films I just wanted to see,” he admitted.

Still, the films in the Walker series do have a connection, even if it’s a loose one. In the regular Sound Unseen festival, many of the films are documentaries about music. Marclay’s selections focus on the process of creating sound and images interpreting music.

In the film “Piano Piece #13,” the band Sonic Youth praises the playful, 1960s Fluxus movement by re-creating a George Maciuna piece. The film shows the band pounding nails into a piano.

Jim O’Rourke from Sonic Youth introduced Marclay to the director Kagel.

“I love how music performance becomes theatrical. The music accentuates the performance,” Marclay said of Kagel’s films.

“Live Current (Unter Strom)” shows sound created by heavy machinery and everyday objects manipulated.

In these films, destruction is key to the spectacle.

Other films are more concerned with portraying the music’s emotion. In “Ed Henderson Suggests Sound Tracks for Photographs,” John Baldessari displays clichéd photos from National Geographic while Ed Henderson finds equally tacky music to accompany them.

Each film in the series is powered by music’s energy, Marclay said. Although the directors are enchanted with music, sound-art films play with the subliminal quality of music.

“Images have a stronger impact,” Marclay said. “We remember images better, but sound influences the way you see and perceive the images.”

Audiences have come to accept that music accompanies scenes in films, Marclay said.

“When suddenly in a movie music comes from nowhere, we accept the fantasy,” he said. “These conventions are hard to let go of because they are so powerful.”

Though images might be stronger than music, in this series, the music emerges from the background.