Hands holding Cameras: A Dialogue on Closeness and Hands in Cinema

To experience something from up-close is to be given a chance to observe its details. This experience presumes the possibility of an intimate relation to the object of observation, and can either emphasize certain parts of the whole or separate a constituent from its object. Close-ups have been a distinguished topic for film criticism, whether as a modest privilege or an incensed assault. On the one hand this is because of its aesthetic and moral implications, but on the other because it is just so unavoidably visceral.

Whether analysing the role of close-ups in a particular film, looking back to classics, or outlining contemporary trends, this focus aims at defining and questioning our stance towards the cinematic experience of proximity.

Dear Ronny,

While reading your text, I was constantly thinking of Maurer Dóra’s artwork, which has continued returning to me ever since I first saw it five years ago upon moving Budapest. Photos of a hand, marked with letters, ordered after one another in different ways. Hand as a singular metaphor, hand as a part of the flow. An image of a hand meaningful per se, or interpreted in its context. Reversible and interchangeable phases of motion. The tactile sensation turned into glances, as Farocki mentions.

Framing a hand in a close-up really gives it an independent life, a graceful creature dancing, like the hand in Yvonne Rainer’s Hand Movie. And even if an artwork doesn’t liberate the hands this way, a close-up of a hand cannot avoid showing some kind of choreography, even if the hand is digging, kneading or mounting. Maybe these movements have gracefulness by nature, but I sense it comes from being seen up close. “The verb working is becoming the noun of labour in the close-up. It is said that a film is considered to be particularly realistic if it does not omit any detail of the work.” (Das Verb Arbeiten wird erst in der Großaufnahme zum Substantiv der Arbeit. Es heißt, ein Film gelte als besonders realistisch, wenn er kein Detail der Arbeit ausspare.)

These sentences held my attention in particular and I find their inner tension captivating; while being close means getting a detailed picture of a working hand, it also provokes aestheticization. Far from the person who works, and deprived of the conditions and circumstances of their work, what we see is often more similar to a divertissement than an actual hand working. However, some films complete the essence of working with other images and shape some other impressions with the image of the working hand, like in Robert Beavers’ The Hedge Theatre. The sewing hands, the sharp branches in the chilly spring, and the Baroque architecture together create a universe of interwoven meanings, preserving and fulfilling the repetitive nature of sewing, describing the hard material of the white shirt with associations of the stone pillars, tying the images of nature, buildings and work with an incredibly rich and accurate symphony of noises.


Dear Anna,

It’s interesting that you mention Maurer’s hand project, because it visually resembles a book about gestures for actors from the early 20th century, which Farocki shows in his Film Der Ausdruck der Hände. But I would suggest that there is no original expression of the hands. Hands cannot express something reasonable without any context. Maybe this is what makes me wonder when I see close-ups of hands, especially working hands. Like, how is it possible to produce meaning between two images? I would say this is a realization of a specific idea we get when we think about working. You also wrote about this in your text: “It overshadows the fact that a work is being done, the dance of the hand resembles more of a performance than actual labour, raising the issue of exoticization and almost erotization of the otherwise exhausting and monotonous everyday work.”

Simultaneously, a hand in a close-up can also express this lack of concrete tangibility. But this differs from just making use of a pseudo-naturalistic flow. For this it needs an experience, which only can arise from the viewer’s mind. Hands in cinema are simply everywhere, but only a few of them are conscious about themselves. I believe this is what makes the sewing hands in Beavers’ film so extraordinary. They are really trying to correspond with the other shots, without reaching for a higher transcended purpose. Maybe this is what strikes us by seeing or hearing close-ups, these overwhelming gestures trying to reach our pleasures. But I would say, that this kind of spectacle, which you allude to, coheres to the whole spectrum of making something alienated. So, I wouldn’t ask for ethics of the close-up but for an ideology in their enigmatic character.

After reading your last two paragraphs, I thought you already had found an answer to what close-ups are really trying to do – namely transforming chaos into order. I could imagine that Daniel Spoerri also said something about this in Anja Salomonowitz’ Film. But for him it’s not about forcing order to make pleasure. There always has to be this irreconcilably irritating rest, which also makes those films of Heinz Emigholz so uncomfortable.


Dear Ronny and James,

Being close and feeling uncomfortable are indeed related, and I think we all perceive it as a kind of deficiency if it’s not reflected in the film. When writing about Nadav Lapid’s Ha-Shoter, James also appreciates it for the unusual use of close-ups, how the director does not aim at clarification or control over the spectator’s attention with them. In his case study, the technical depiction of closeness resembles the functioning of an eye: the imperfections deny a feeling of totality, and offer transient states instead.

As viewers, we cannot calmly occupy these images, and a face slipping out of the frame emphasizes its weight when it reappears. The close-ups of Ha-Shoter speak about absence. One of the scenes described by James, when Yaron looks at Shiri’s photo, encapsulates that quality of the film distinctively. It is a close-up of a hand and the photo. The photo itself isn’t exactly a close-up, rather an American shot. Had it been a close-up, it would only show a piece of paper, which without its surrounding would be incomprehensible and meaningless. Had that piece of paper not been there, it would probably be a close-up in order to intensify meaning and our comprehension of Shiri’s feelings.


Dear Ronny and Anna,

Regarding the presence of hands, I feel compelled to broach the topic of unseen hands, hands holding the camera.

This was what prompted my choice of Ha-Shoter, finding a film overt in its digital technique that still conveys a human perspective – one, however, not as overt as in the films Anna mentioned.

My trouble with the conflation of the human body and 16mm film – as described by Anna – is that the filmmakers deciding on medium and formal specificity don’t expand upon what it means to film a hand in 16mm. The superficial seems to be enough, as it was in Jessica Sarah Rinland’s Those That at a Distance Resemble Another.

Funnily enough this film was the one I referred to in one of our first Skype calls. I didn’t mention it by name, but it was the first example I could recall of a film with dubious close-ups (both aural and visual), specifically of hands. Given the film is, from what I remember, made up of static compositions, one gets the impression the hands that should otherwise be holding the camera are instead performing for it, making explicit their existence. Hand-eye coordination applies to the camera’s use, in these examples especially. When one films without either looking in the eyepiece or holding the camera, the image feels untethered and the camera in a position of danger. The camera is in danger of falling over on its tripod, perhaps, but also in danger of producing surveillance footage.

I’m also reminded – in both of your formal analyses – of shadow puppets. In the way a child learns to create a rabbit, barking dog or human through silhouettes of their hands, I get the impression many filmmakers film theirs or other’s hands as an imitation. Showing hands as they are – facing a camera in a frontal close-up, divorced from their owners – puts them in a situation that could never be seen by the human eye.

Though I said above that hands have owners, I’m now questioning this relation. As Ronny mentioned, there are few hands conscious of themselves in cinema. I’d like to see more filmmakers either aware of or filming the consciousness of a hand. Perhaps the only example that comes to mind is in Chantal Akerman’s Un jour Pina a demandé, wherein a rehearsal is filmed of a man performing sign language over George Gershwin’s The One I Love. We see his mouth move with the music and his hands, in turn, keep up, interpreting the song into a gestural language. We see most everything the man performs yet the hands remain an enigma, in both his rehearsal and final performance. Their movements feel more spontaneous than the man’s rigid posture and affectless recitation of the song.


Dear James,

Your note regarding hands on camera, really made me think, because those are the hands which are the most conscious in cinema, probably. This doesn’t mean that those make the right decisions but they know what they are doing especially when they are filming close-ups. In contrast to this I remember what you said in one of our calls about digital cinema. One of the key possibilities of digital cinema is reframing the image – mostly since the era of 4K and 8K technology. You can easily make a close-up out of a medium shot during the editing process, which was never intended on set. It seems so natural to make use of such tools, but for me there also hides this unease. By this I constantly think of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up: Thomas, a photographer who desperately believes that he encountered a murder. The film spins around trying to enlarge a print of a photo where he suspects he can see a hand with a gun in the bushes. He urges to make things clear in such a violent way which seems as a dichotomy to the pantomime performers at the end. They are expressing themselves with absence, like a negative concreteness. I’m not quite sure if this is thinkable for the form of film or maybe this is just a utopia of aesthetic theory.

So, there is a permanent void between language and technology. This counts for the picture and sound as well. I would claim that the whole genre of horror is based on that. As I already mentioned in a call there is this early flick from Oliver Stone The Hand starring Michael Caine. After a discussion with his wife he – Jon Lansdale, a comic artist – loses his right hand in a car accident. After he recovers and receives a prosthetic replacement, his biological hand ‘awakes’ and murders. The hand becomes a mind haunting his life like an embodiment of his past. The end reveals that Lonsdale did all the murders by himself. What didn’t really surprise, recalls the unconscious problems coming from cutoffs. I just want to side-note that the animatronic model of the hand in Oliver Stone’s movie was made by Stan Winston and Carlo Rambaldi who also made Edward Scissorhands and King Kong – both movies about dangerous hands.

The assertion that hands work like a vehicle for the distance between the viewer’s eyes and the canvas of the cinema seems in this sense very plausible to me. But there is a difference between showing the distance or objectifying it. Diagonale showed Friederike Petzold’s Canale Grande this year. It’s a movie about a woman making her own tele-vision, but instead she calls it near-vision. Her videocamera is directly connected to the monitor without any receiver. Consequently, her program is only for an invited audience. And of course, the pictures she films are mostly close-ups of her body. She does this because she is sick of the world full of images. At the same time, while watching this movie, I thought this loop functioned like a mimicry of our times, and not only regarding lockdowns, but more generally it mimics a dynamic that most contemporary movies are looking for.



Dear Ronny,

I’m glad you mentioned the ability to crop into close-ups with 4-8K digital negatives, without sacrificing image quality.

This isn’t necessarily a new technique. “Punch-ins” were implemented by Samuel Fuller as early as the 1950s, even. He had limited days and budgets to shoot his films, meaning dialogue scenes would often be covered in a two-shot and with a wide-angle lens. Punch-ins would then be implemented in the edit, cropping the wide-angle image into a close-up that would frame one body or face, before punching back out into the original two-shot. On the day of shooting, only this one set-up would be necessary and the rest of the scene would be finished in the edit.

The difference with Fuller and contemporary 4-8K digital cropping is that his punch-ins are very obvious, making the image much grainier and sublimating the zoom and jump-cut in the midst of a shot. It’s efficient and – contrary to a contemporary, post-production zoom – sacrificed its 35mm fidelity for a transparency; it’s a visible transaction between efficiency and image quality. The images aren’t any less beautiful because of this transaction, either. There’s a relief in watching them and knowing where/how the filmmakers had to cut corners, equally relieving as seeing Fuller emerge from the shadows to snatch off Kelly’s wig in the opening of The Naked Kiss (another great performance of the hand, shown with its adjoining person instead of isolated).

I was impressed, for example, in Ha-Shoter by its inclusion of a long tracking shot wherein the camera’s dolly tracks are visible. Given it was shot on a high resolution digital camera, this shot very easily could have been “punched-in” – occluding the dolly tracks. But this would have served no purpose other than to hide something from the viewer. It was a rare occasion in contemporary cinema that felt “classical” – more so than any film that overtly mimics the 40’s/50’s now-”vintage” colours and film grain. It specifically reminded me of Ophüls’ Lola Montes or Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, films also revealing the mechanics of their tracking shots with occasional views of the camera’s dolly tracks. It’s the only kind of “vintage” reference I can bear to watch, i.e., an incidental one.

And going back to hands, I appreciate Jacques Rivette’s credit in La Belle Noiseuse, in which “La Main du Peintre” is a credited actor in the film’s opening, listed after Michel Piccoli and Emmanuelle Beart. There’s nothing hiding behind the hand, whose performance we see in close-ups lasting 5-10 minutes at a time. The cut between Michel Piccoli and the hand is a cut between Michel Piccoli and Bernard Dufour, seemingly. But the specific credit of “La Main” is essential. It’s Dufour’s hand that plays the role of the painter, in the same way Piccoli plays the role of Frenhofer, each distinct from one another.

I’ll leave you two with a song about hands, one that aptly reminds us:

“But then again, our hands are not our friends/

They’re leading lives of their own/

They don’t need us no more than we can/

Want without looking/

Can’t talk without listening.”

Jim O’Rourke, “These Hands” from Simple Songs


Dear James and Ronny, 

I find the references to the hands that hold the camera very relevant in our correspondence. Apart from the interpretations and associations you outline, the problem is also useful for me, to articulate my elemental reservations towards the close sounds of working hands. Accompanying quasi-naturalistic, tactile images, the heightened clarity of auditory nuances isn’t simply artificial because we wouldn’t perceive sound that way in real life, but also because in order for the details to sonorize, direct sound from the other side of the camera must be eliminated. That to me, given the context, the supposed relation to work, is dubious. Hiding sound – both the recording equipment and the perceptible traces it leaves behind – has of course always been part of cinema. The difficulties that arose during the abrupt transition to sound film necessitated resourcefulness, and these difficulties were documented by the apparatus, which couldn’t be separated from its methods of reproduction. The silencing of the apparatus in contemporary film is done for the sake of a sharper and more punctuated soundscape, but it doesn’t create any technical challenges or require artistic ingenuity. From this we can infer that filmmakers aren’t interested in any evidence of the the way cinema negotiates with the material world, but only in his or her own preconceived ideas of it. For all its social concerns, I now think of the ending of Nema-ye Nazdik as one of its most striking ethical achievements. As Kiarostami’s crew follows Sabzian and Makhmalbaf, the sound becomes inaudible because of a loose wire. The inclusion of imperfections or the attempt to work on them expresses a view of the world and, inseparably, filmmaking. Not only early sound cinema and the challenged tracking shots come to mind of course; in the documentary traditions, filmmakers as different as Günter Peter Straschek, Wang Bing or Frederick Wiseman are known for their transparent treatment of accidental noises. These mostly occur when people talk – nevertheless, it is unfathomable to me why a filmmaker wouldn’t apply this methodology when filming hands at work.

In general, I find that we all share a certain distrust in images that don’t create an environment around its subject or engage with it, images that deny exploration and impose proximity. At the same, we’re all interested in hands and how they function. To end our correspondence on a constructive note, here are three images that direct our gaze towards working hands with composition, while establishing their backdrop.


Three Close-Ups in Ha-Shoter

by James Waters

The objects of Ha-Shoter’s opening minutes are five Israeli policemen, riding their bikes in the desert and lead by their unspoken leader, Yaron. He pedals ahead, approaching the camera while the others stay behind. The focus takes a second to adjust to his face that now occupies most of the frame, his helmet partially cut off by the top portion of it. It’s later revealed that one of these men on a bicycle, Ariel, is growing weak and dying of a brain tumour, prompting Yaron’s pull back to the fold.

His push-pull relation to the camera eases the eye into an otherwise overwhelming close-up. If the opening 30 seconds were occluded from the edit and his face were shown immediately following the black title card, it would be too conventional and ostentatious an opening; a smash cut bumping Yaron’s head against the camera unannounced. One could refer to it as an “establishing close-up”, yet it contains neither the attributes of an establishing shot nor a close-up. Its shift in focus marks the transition between the workings or build-up of the shot into the close-up itself. But it’s essential that neither the build-up nor the close-up feel prioritised. The 30 seconds and this transition are the “trimmings” or “errors” of any other film that, here, buttresses the film’s compositions. 

The camera sees as if it were an eye, but not the traditional eye of a “subjective” camera. There’s no hurried panning, handheld, snap zooms or punch-ins that are often used and mistaken for this “subjectivity”. There’s one very slight zoom in the entire film – in one of the final scenes/close-ups – but besides this all movement is conveyed via slow pans, dolly shots or through each actor, whose movements in Nadav Lapid’s first three features are captured instead of contorted by the camera. 

Given the main movements in the film are of the actors surrounding a stabilised camera, the images resemble those of an eye, composing frames without a clear focal point. The 16:9 aspect ratio emphasises the images’ neutral qualities, everything usually within focus and lit with available/practical light. Each body is either in constant – but not overt – motion or, when still, slightly off-centre or obscured by the edges of the frame. This aligns the camera and the viewer’s eye towards a similar space; a space where one can focus freely on visible objects without the unnecessary emphasis of a zoom or rack-focus. It’s a perspective not preoccupied with overt technique and truer to the eye’s functions without sublimating it completely for the camera’s technical flaws. Imperfections remain in the image as evidence for the mediation between an eye and the camera. As a by-product, the only close-ups appear momentarily, in the midst of longer sequences.

At the forty-minute mark, the film shifts focus onto four student radicals, planning an attack on a wedding among an Israeli aristocracy – the students’ ruling class surrogates. They’re first seen together in an arid landscape similar to the one in the opening – perhaps the same one, most likely in Jerusalem. The policemen remarked, upon seeing an empty vista, that theirs is the greatest country in the world. The students, here, remark upon a “good tree”, living off the fat of the same land from before – even if only to destroy it. They fire pistols at this tree, shooting a branch off it. Approaching the camera from a wide shot is one of the students, Nathaniel, spinning his gun. His three other comrades look down at the branch they’ve shot, flaming on the ground. The close-up on the branch is almost an insert shot, without a premeditated, developing shot before it – the first of its kind in the film. The group’s unspoken leader, Shiri, strokes her pistol against Nathaniel’s arm. The camera pans up according to her hand’s movement, locking into a two-shot of their faces staring at the ground offscreen. The camera then pans down, back to the close-up of Shiri’s gun stroking Nathaniel’s hand – all without pulling focus.

The students infiltrate a wedding, where they take a salt factory tycoon and his bridal daughter hostage. Yaron’s team is called in to capture the radicals. In line with his blind momentum, a visible discomfort is now changing his composure – an effect more evident now after his extended absence from the film. Ariel watches by, goading Yaron on, unable to participate in the raid except as a malignant thing, weaponising frailty and obsequiousness now as a form of leverage over his leader. 

Receiving press photos of the student radicals – a compromise after their request for a news camera crew – Yaron looks at Shiri’s photo, in which she obscures her face with the manifesto she’s blaring via loudspeaker and refusing a close-up. As the police arrive, she surprisingly tries to curry their favour in seemingly good faith, positing them as an unseen “serf” surrogate to the salt tycoon’s “lord”: 

“Policemen, listen to me, we are not your enemies and you are not ours. Policemen, you are also oppressed.”

The policemen remain unseen to the radicals, cutting the lights and shooting the students in the dark before freeing their hostages. 

Lights flicker back on and Yaron walks towards the camera, pulls off his mask and stares down at Shiri. The reverse shot is her bloody face, breathing slower and with deadening eyes. The tycoon jovially shakes hands with the other policemen from the raid. Ariel approaches from behind, slings his arms around Yaron and whispers in his ear. He speaks to Yaron positioned like a lover, yet his ghastly complexion resembles that of a pale demon. Faces haven’t approached the camera in this way since the Jerusalem set introductions to both Yaron and Shiri. Yaron crouches down and connects Shiri’s face with the obscured profile from the photo, loosing himself from Ariel’s embrace in the process. The camera holds on his face for 17 seconds, where one can discover the imprint of his infrared goggles.

Bilder aus der Produktion – Drei Beispiele: Hände in Großaufnahme

von Ronny Günl

Vor ein paar Tagen kaufte ich ein altes Pressefoto des Österreichischen Filmmuseums. Es zeigt die Schlussszene von Sergei Eisensteins Bronenosec Potemkin. Matrosen, mit dem Rücken der Kamera zugewandt, winken mit ihren Mützen zu den Schiffen der Admiralsflotte hinüber. Sie haben sich im Aufstand gegen den Zarismus verbrüdert. Ich hatte es aus keinem bestimmten Grund gekauft, außer dass mich das Motiv ansprach. In einem Bilderrahmen hängt es nun an der Wand. Seltsamerweise scheint es dem Film, den ich in Erinnerung hatte, zu widersprechen. Nichts daran verweist auf die eigentümliche Revolutions-Rhetorik. Stattdessen das weite Meer, der angeschnittene Rücken eines Matrosen und eine stillgestellte Bewegung. Keine Spur von ausgezehrten Gesichtern in Großaufnahmen oder den gewaltigen Symbolen der Insurrektion. Einzig, eine verschwommene Hand, die eine Mütze geballt gen Himmel streckt.


Harun Farocki spricht in seinem Film Der Ausdruck der Hände davon, dass zuerst die Gesichter in der Geschichte des Films in Großaufnahmen aufgenommen worden wären, dann die Hände. Während uns die Gesichter bekannt erschienen, zeigten sich die Hände, isoliert von der Handlung, rätselhaft, so als hätten sie ein puritanisches Eigenleben, wenn sogleich das Gesicht, abgetrennt von Körper und Szene transzendiere. Die Hände sprächen eine eigene Sprache, die aber für das Auge fremd bliebe. „Diese Lust, mit der das Kanonenrohr durch die Hand gleitet, das lässt daran denken, dass das Kino kein Medium der Berührung ist. Vielmehr leitet es sich vom Augensinn ab. Die meisten tastenden Empfindungen übersetzt das Kino in Blicke“, stellt Farocki am Ende des Films fest. Die Hand auf der Leinwand schafft in einer gespenstischen Weise eine Verbindung vom Sehen zum Tasten.

Nie weiß man im Kino wohin mit den eigenen Händen. Gleichzeitig wirken die Hände auf der Leinwand, als hätten sie ihren Besitzer oder ihre Besitzerin verloren. Es könnten auch die eigenen sein, die auf einmal eine unvermittelte Berührung erfahren. Indem das Kino die Hände in die Großaufnahme zwängt, macht sich diese vorbewusste Empfindung zu eigen. Sie sind jetzt keine einfachen Hände, sie sind zu Dingen geworden, wie Volker Pantenburg im Wörterbuch kinematographischer Objekte über die Hand schreibt. Immer ist ihnen eine besonderer Aufgabe zugeteilt. Die meisten Hände, die in bzw. an einem Film arbeiten, bekommt jedoch niemand zu Gesicht. Offenbar gibt es Hände, deren Abbildung für das Kino entscheidender ist als andere. Es stellt sich die Frage, ob sie tatsächlich handeln oder eher denken?


Arbeit ist für den Film kein Fremdwort. Im Gegenteil: Man könnte fast sagen, überall wird im Film gearbeitet. Nur spielt das meist keine Rolle für die sogenannte Handlung. Vielmehr ist die Arbeit die notwendige Bedingung des Geschehens. Man könnte glauben, dass die Arbeit nur in der Ästhetik der Großaufnahme eine filmische Funktion erfülle. Der Irrtum überrascht: In Charlie Chaplins Modern Times gibt es keine einzige Großaufnahme von arbeitenden Hände. Selbst unter dem Takt-Regime der Maschinen hält es Chaplin nicht für notwendig, die Arbeit visuell vom Menschen zu trennen. Für Chaplin bleibt in der Halbtotalen ein errettendes Residuum des Komischen bestehen, wo sich die Kamera nicht opportunistisch mit der Entfremdung identifiziert.

Das Verb Arbeiten wird erst in der Großaufnahme zum Substantiv der Arbeit. Viel zu oft heißt es, ein Film sei besonders realistisch, wenn er vor allem kein Detail der Arbeit ausspart. Aber lässt er sich so nicht von einer Bewegung vereinnahmen, die nicht seine eigene ist? Macht sich selbst zum Laufband, auf dem die Güter mittels Montage hergestellt werden? Dafür sind die durch die Kadrierung abgeschnittenen, anonym-arbeitenden Hände nur noch verstummte Werkzeuge. Es sind nicht immer nur die Hände, die am Laufband an einem Werkstück hantieren im Kino. Meist sind es eher die Hände an Knöpfen, Reglern oder vor allem Schreibmaschinen. Jerry Lewis wusste dies zu karikieren.

Die Hände büßen die metaphysische Bedeutung der Großaufnahme für das Gesicht. Das heißt, sie werden nur noch zu bloßen „Schnittbildern“ reduziert, die den Fluss der Handlung erhalten sollten. Die Bilder arbeitender Hände gleichen den tayloristischen Studien, wo der Film als Medium zur Rationalisierung industrieller Produktion diente. Diese Hände verkörpern weder den abstrakten noch den konkreten Ausdruck der Arbeit. Sie sind das allgemeine Mittel der Produktion, nicht der Zweck des filmischen Bildes. Womöglich ließe sich dieses Verhältnis umkehren, wenn der Film die Hand sinnlich begreifen würde. Aber nicht im Sinne des übertragenen Fühlens bzw. Spürens, sondern mit einer Erfahrung, der das Publikum unvermittelt ausgesetzt wird.


Zögerlich, als kämpfe sie gegen etwas an, legt Claudia ihre Hand auf Sandros Haar am Ende des Films ‌L’avventura von Michelangelo Antonioni. Ein Film voller Enttäuschungen: Bei einem Ausflug auf eine einsame Insel vor Sizilien verschwindet Anna, Sandros Verlobte. Während er sich auf die Suche nach ihr begibt, entwickelt sich die platonische Freundschaft von Claudia und Sandro in eine romantische Beziehung. Nach einer ausgelassenen Feier am Ende des Films findet Claudia Sandro, mit einer anderen Frau umschlungen, wieder. Ergriffen flüchtet sie aus dem Hotel. Die beiden treffen schließlich auf einem erhöhten Platz im Morgengrauen über dem rauschenden Meer wieder zusammen. Die Blicke der beiden überschneiden sich in dieser Szene nie. So sehen wir die Großaufnahmen der beiden weinenden Gesichter, die verloren in die Ferne schauen.

Die Halbtotale bringt sie zueinander ins Bild. Obwohl die Handlung bislang nur aus den Positionen beider gezeigt wurde, ergreift auf einmal eine fremde, dritte Perspektive die Macht über die Handlung. Ein Schnitt, wie ein Schauder, zeigt Claudias Hand, aufgenommen aus einem unbekannten Blickwinkel. Die Kamera verfolgt ihre fast schon gelähmte Bewegung. Es ist ganz so, als wäre die Hand besessen von etwas und müsse sich gegen der betrogenen Vernunft widersetzen. Die Hand, die vom Einsatz der Musik pointiert, Sandros Kopf und Nacken streichelt, scheint wie eine Allegorie zu sein. Keine idealistische Versöhnung, sondern der Schmerz willfähriger Verzweiflung ist dort zu sehen. So schreiben Ulrich Gregor und Enno Patalas über diesen Film: „Betrachtet man L’avventura im Zusammenhang von Antonionis Gesamtwerk, so zeichnet sich thematisch das generelle Versagen des Mannes angesichts seiner gesellschaftlichen und zivilisatorischen Aufgaben ab, eine Situation, in der sich Antonioni weibliche Figuren eher für die Einsamkeit als für die Mediokrität einer Bindung entscheiden; allenfalls das gegenseitige Mitleid vermag als Brücke zwischen den Geschlechtern zu bestehen.“ 

Claudias Hand scheint sanft zu sein, doch die zerrüttete Beziehung zwischen den beiden Figuren, hebt sich nicht auf. Die Großaufnahme wirkt eher wie ein Fremdkörper, der etwas verdeutlicht, was die abschließende Totale nicht einzulösen vermag.


Vielleicht spielt in keinem anderen Film eine Hand in Großaufnahme eine gewichtigere Rolle als in Fritz Langs M. Ebenso wie der Buchstabe „M“ selbst treten die Hände des Kindermörders als eine Chiffre hervor. Einerseits sind es die Hände des Mörders, die im Verborgenen das Verbrechen verüben. Andererseits wird erst durch den Abdruck einer mit Kreide beschriebenen Hand der Mörder Hans Beckert identifiziert. Die Hände, besonders die von Peter Lorre, sind nicht einfach Teil des Geschehens: Sie führen ihr eigenes abgetrenntes, gestisches Spiel. Ob es noch die von Peter Lorre oder schon die Regiehände Fritz Langs sind, scheint zu verschwimmen.

Wahrscheinlich ist die letzte Szene des Filmes schon in jeder erdenklichen Facette analysiert und all ihren historischen Zusammenhängen interpretiert worden. Womöglich aber noch nicht unter dem Aspekt der Hand, die hier geradezu paradigmatisch in Erscheinung tritt: Händisch wird M alias Hans Beckert vor das Tribunal gezerrt – Es ist die Hand des blinden Ballon-Verkäufers, die den Mörder ertastet – Und dann sind es immer wieder Hände die M von hinten antippen oder mit Schlägen drohen – Seine Hände verkrampfen zu Krallen – Alle Mitglieder des Tribunals erheben ihre Hände, als die Polizei das Versteck entdeckt – Schließlich ergreift die Hand des Staates den angeklagten Mörder.

In Fritz Langs Film bestätigt sich, das Prinzip der Übertragung, das Farocki in seinem Fernsehbeitrag beschrieben hat, und geht darüber hinaus. Die Hand beziehungsweise die Hände werden zu autonomen Handlungsträgern. Hans Beckert ist sozusagen nur noch ein Anhängsel seiner Hände, wenn er mordet. Man könnte wohl sagen, dass es Lang in diesem Film gelingt, die Erfahrung einer Hand abzubilden. Er versucht sie, in ihrer Widersprüchlichkeit als unversöhnlich zu begreifen. In der Großaufnahme ist sie nie einfach nur ein filigranes Instrument, sondern stets eine Metapher für den Gegensatz von Kopf und Hand. Das Bild macht damit etwas begreiflich, das weder arbeitende noch fühlende Hände herstellen können.


Nie würde ein Magier freiwillig den Zauber seiner Kunststücke verraten. Doch um ihn zu durchschauen, muss man auf seine Hände blicken. Hände in Großaufnahmen lassen trotz ihrer Rätselhaftigkeit etwas Wahres durchscheinen. Dabei darf jedoch nicht vergessen werden, dass sie der Teil eines Ganzen sind. Die Großaufnahme ist sich dessen nur selten bewusst. Unbemerkt nimmt sie diese Trennung – eine Amputation – vor, indem sie die Hand zum bloßen Gebrauch einer beweglichen Geste degradiert. Bei Robert Bresson wird dies schließlich zur bildenden Form des Films L’Argent, wie Hartmut Bitomsky in einer Ausgabe der Filmkritik 1984 schreibt: „Hände, die eine Sache ergreifen, halten, übergeben, annehmen, verbringen. Man könnte dem Film auch als einer langen gewundenen Kette von Handreichungen nachgehen. […] Bresson führt mit diesem Film die Hände als Gegenstände des Kinos ein, so wie die Maler des Quattrocento die Hände in die Malerei eingeführt haben.“ 

Auf der Leinwand ringt die Hand den Gesichtern etwas von ihrer vergeistigten Vorherrschaft ab. Im selben Moment läuft sie jedoch Gefahr, zu ebendiesem schematischen Abbild zu werden. Einmal mehr auf die Hände zu schauen und das, was sie zu verbergen scheinen, anstatt sich von psychologischen Taschenspielertricks hinreißen zu lassen, wäre notwendig. Das würde nämlich bedeuten, die Hand in ihrer sensiblen Virtuosität und nicht zugerichtet in einer Kadrierung zu verstehen. Wenn ich jetzt erneut das Bild des Matrosen betrachte, fällt mir auf, dass gerade die stillgestellte Bewegung in ihrer fragilen Uneindeutigkeit das zu offenbaren scheint. Der Hand gilt hier nicht die Aufmerksamkeit einer einsilbigen Bedeutung. Vielmehr verkörpert sie Gedanken und Empfindungen eines ganzen Zusammenhangs, der sich nicht mit einem bloßen Wort übersetzen lässt. Der Ausdruck wird nur lesbar in der Sprache des Films. In seiner Simplizität birgt das Bild eine ergreifende Schönheit, die so alles hinter sich vergessen lässt. Aber die schreibenden, stemmenden, windenden oder montierenden Hände dahinter lassen mich dabei in Gedanken nicht los.

Brief Encounters with Sounds up Close

by Babos Anna

Distance from the subject is an essential aesthetical, ethical and practical question in filmmaking. Getting to know something necessitates time, a process of coming nearer. It is not about the necessity of having an establishing shot or the rejection of in medias res storytelling, but more about the relation of filmmaking with reality. Approaching a person, object or subject can lead to this reality, whether gaining permission to draw closer or finding the proximity to capture the essence of the subject of filming. This process is necessary for any kind of cinematic depiction, and ignoring to reflect on the approximation can lead to the misdirection of attention and takes the risk of provoking a strong emotional impact without having an idea about the context.

Beginning a film with an image of an instant close-up, for instance, creates an atmosphere of confusion within the audience: where are we and what are we looking at? Opening immediately with a close-up of a person may feel like an uncalled for intrusion: why do we enter so intrusively into a stranger’s personal space, body and face?

Distance is not only perceived through the image but also through sound – even when listening to mono sound, we feel when the recorder is close to or distant from the source. Auditive proximity has always been a tool for filmmakers to play with, not only for illustrating close-up images, but also in the case of point-of view-shots, when the person is talking but looking far away, or having a narrator who introduces the distant images from a closer position. While films are constantly exploring the ways sound and image can cohere or differ, recently there has been a tendency of favouring close-up sounds in cinema. 

Like sudden close-up images, close-up sounds also create a confusing feeling of intrusion; a stranger whispering right into our ears will feel impolite and disrespectful. Even if it’s quite rare to hear something so close in real life, there are some films that favour close sounds over a more realistic use of it. Their images are accompanied by intense humming, whispering, or other kinds of voices or noises heard from up close. This way, they not only skip the process of approximation, but also provoke and satisfy the viewer’s constant impatience and urgent need of being at the heart of the action. 

Through different ideas of silence, this question of abundance and satisfaction can be easily described. Silence has primarily been used as a tool to express and strengthen the emotional state of the characters, offering a subjective sound experience. This idea of stylized silence, when the moment of silence means the lack of sounds and music or is filled with one sound held on for a long time, is replaced by the idea of letting different sounds of everyday life prevail, which otherwise would remain unnoticed. Whereas the disappearance of silence might suggest a more realistic approach, a step towards objective sound, the way of portraying silence often means to make use of the infinite possibility of filling it with sounds. 

This acoustic abundance doesn’t necessarily mean a step towards realism, for instance the case of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. Using Dolby Atmos, a surround sound technology which, by adding extra height channels, achieves a perception of sounds as three-dimensional objects in a 360-degree bubble, Roma starts with a close-up image and sound of swashing water. From the first scene on, this film works with slightly resounding steps, intense breaths, dripping water, barking dogs and the constant voice of the radio. The soundscape is far from being natural, we perceive an excessive and physically complicated auditive atmosphere. “Atmos was that extra step into complete immersion and that was the goal, to make this film as completely immersive as possible” says Craig Henighan, the re-recording mixer of the film. 

Understanding of the director’s stance towards sound becomes even clearer from his previous film, Gravity. Appreciating and making use of the idea of silence doesn’t necessitate actual silence for Cuarón. Sandra Bullock, working in space as an astronaut, answers George Clooney’s question referring to what she likes in space, she says “Silence” while we hear intense, elevating music. This scene raises a question though: the music can neither refer to her subjective experience, nor can it be chained to the camera’s hearing- and viewpoint. The only idea behind the sound design seems to be the perfection of the audience’s cinematic experience, not the elaboration of the cinematic expression. The concept is to fill each second with the most possible sound to a degree where it gives the expected amount of pleasure. Each noise of the atmosphere is designed primarily to bind our senses, and it seems to be only a side-effect that they describe the environment, feelings or objects. 

However, this idea of offering an immersive experience is not only present in major film productions, but also in independent films. This is even more problematic, as this phenomenon cannot be separated from new media or their contemporary cultural practices, defined by the desire for immediate access, dubious interest in pseudo-innovative subject matter and audio-visual pleasure. An example of a direct interplay between cinema and other audio-visual works could be the impact ASMR videos had on a certain type of film with a partly documentarian, but mostly avantgarde approach.

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is a pseudo-scientific term describing a ‘tingling’ physiological response given to sound videos primarily in the online space, combining auditory, visual and tactile triggers. When getting really close to the microphone, the voice or any other kind of sound gets lower and more sonorous, aiming at a more immersive auditive experience. Accentuating the mundane noises of everyday life, such as hair brushing, turning the pages of a book or stroking and crinkling different materials, these videos supposedly offer a relaxing, meditative experience, which, from outside of the ASMR community, is often referred to as ‘whisper porn’. There is not an exact scientific explanation to this feeling, but plenty of people have described it as a pleasant sensation moving down from the scalp through the neck to the upper spine. In the twenty-first century special stimulations are indispensable even for relaxing.

Some filmmakers openly use and reflect upon the triggers of ASMR culture, such as Peter Strickland, an artist committed to discovering different auditive experiences in his latest short, Cold Meridian. A woman is preparing for a performance, washing her hair or sketching the choreography. Massaging wet hair, a pencil scratching paper, the performers sorting documents; these are ideal and typical scenes for an ASMR video, which is, besides the audience, watched by another woman. The preparations are interrupted by the images of the actual performance, the woman and a man wrestling naked. The online intimacy between the female viewer and the performer is juxtaposed by the violence of the naked dance. This dissonance is not extended to the sound despite its emphasis. The whispering voice addressing the viewer and all the other triggering noises don’t get contrasted, ASMR dominates the intimacy and the naked dance at the same time. Even if Cold Meridian reads as a reflection on this online trend, it makes use of its triggers; in an undefined space between being critical and promotional the film remains hypocritical. 

Aiming at a similarly nightmarish effect with the use of close sounds, the uncanny images of Hong Kong in Simon Liu’s Signal 8 are contrasted by various noises. The film discovers the place and meaning of natural elements in the alienated city, but instead of creating a balance, it shows the upsetting presence of these elements. Water whooshing from a broken gutter recalls a waterfall, the images of welding slag evoke fireworks. All these associations and false illusions reinforce the atmosphere of chaos, rush and anonymity of the city. To this end, close sounds such as humming and murmuring voices, muffled music cues and some mechanical noises are used over and over again. These noises didactically push the obvious notion of a soulless metropolis, converting the ghostly atmosphere into a fancy music video.

An unexpected way of using this strange effect is tied to a certain kind of documentarian approach. Jessica Sarah Rinland has been using extreme close-up sounds and images in most of her films, including one of her latest works, Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another, which explores the nature of preservation and reproduction through the making of an ivory tusk’s replica and other ceramics. Plaster, slip casting and other ceramic techniques are shown focusing on their tactile quality in acoustically and visually pleasing shots. This high-quality ASMR film offers a one-hour-long meditation on the ceramicists and preservationists’ work, an immersive experience in various phases of work. The visual close-ups of hands play a crucial part in creating an intimate atmosphere; there is something utterly suggestive in the airy but also meticulous movements of the hand. It overshadows the fact that a work is being done, the dance of the hand resembles more of a performance than actual labour, raising the issue of exoticization and almost erotization of the otherwise exhausting and monotonous everyday work.

When watching this film, I kept thinking about my process when making mosaics. The procedure of work and creation begins with careful sand-drizzling, then smoothing the sand gently in the frame, cutting the glass mosaics to fit the whole shape and then pressing down every single little piece into the wet sand. Yet, it also means work, one gets tired or bored, pinches a finger instead of the small glasses with the clamp, cuts oneself several times with splintered pieces of glass and eventually one’s back starts hurting because of the hours, days and weeks spent bending over the frame. The depiction of the phases that are not mere pleasure are painfully missing from this film; this way, watching others working becomes unnecessarily comforting and spectacular.

Close-up sounds are dominant in other films of this documentary approach and idea to present places and materials. An example for that kind of exploration is Villa Empain directed by Katharina Kastner. A fusion between Bauhaus and Art Deco, the house was conceived by Louis Empain. Mesmerized by this idea, Kastner wanders around the house and combines her footage with old photographs of Normandy, where Empain used to spend his holidays with his family. Images and an excessive use of sounds illustrate associations of time and art, giving a sensual, deceptively vivid sense to the still parts of the building. The maximized diegetic sounds and the artificial soundtrack hinders the film to convey a sense of the villa’s spaces and quietness. The only character of the film is a woman, Tamar Kasparian, who makes nuanced imprints of leaves and some details of the villa’s floor. Not only the idea of reproducing but the material is also similar to Rinland’s film, the tactility of Villa Empain is perfected by the 16mm film. 

Connecting daily routine, work and remembrance in The Plastic House Allison Chhorn imagines the passing of her parents and shows the process of grief in a steamy greenhouse. The director performs the work she usually does to help her parents; work with dripping wet and wind-blown muslins, drapes and nettings. While these films that are often described as minimalist deal with work, the richness and small-grained nature of the audio add up to a rather immoderate whole. The unusually and unrealistically sharp sounds are exhibited in a way that would be impossible to perceive during actual work, thus the experience invokes a studio rather than a place that functions outside of the film’s world. 

However, the idea of close sound and the diverse possibilities of its combination with images has been approached in many meaningful ways. One of the most striking contemporary examples of that is Dieser Film ist ein Geschenk, a documentary about the life and art of Daniel Spoerri. Anja Salomonowitz’s film gives an insight into his work of redefining everyday objects, detaching them from their own context and putting them together in a piece of art. Salomonowitz reflects this method of artistic recycling by doing the same with the sound of these objects, creating a symphony of their rattling and clinking noises. This unique auditive atmosphere also resonates with the artist’s physical tremor which almost prevents him of making art. Another example could be Heinz Emigholz, who combines the hollow sounds of the empty rooms of a museum under construction and the dynamic noises of the work in the complex soundscape of Years of Construction.

Despite the above examples of close-up sounds, the phenomenon is disconcerting. It signifies an overstimulated state of mind that relies on ostentatiousness because it finds too little in moderation. In other cases, the trust in the attractive power of an online trend marks an unconscious surrender to marketability. Stripping manual labor of its environment and duration in order to intensify and accelerate the experience, or the adoption of a highly consumerist technique to increase auditive pleasure marks the way how fanciful, high-brow cinema satisfies commercialism and takes advantage of its products. The overwhelming extremities of sound aggressively swing the attention into one possible direction of interpretation. This way, artmaking becomes aimless and meaningless, prioritizing the satisfaction of the audience without confrontation, declaration or intellectual challenge.

Hanezawa Garden

Text: C.W. Winter, 2015

Roughly thirty-one and half minutes into Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D. (1952), a dispirited pensioner, finding himself down to his last lire against a backdrop of economic austerity, calls an ambulance and feigns illness so that he might briefly stay in a hospital in order to get a more comfortable bed, even the temporary succor of nurses, and three good meals a day. In the dominant culture of the Western narrative cinema of the time, following such a moment, a director would then be expected to cut to something like the arrival of the ambulance, to the pensioner already in the ambulance, or to the pensioner already at the hospital—dramatic action begetting dramatic action in an unbroken chain.

De Sica, however, disrupts these defaults. He makes us wait. He leaves us there in the boarding house passing time[1] in real time awaiting the paramedics‘ arrival from the nearby hospital. In a sequence running nearly eight and half minutes in total, we spend the middle four minutes eighteen seconds in dramaturgical suspension. The chain of dramatic action is broken. Nothing happens that advances a plot. We just wait. Listening to and seeing the type of span that Deleuze refers to when he says that the „image no longer has space and movement as its primary characteristics but topology and time.“[2] It was in this moment in Western narrative cinema, in this waiting for an ambulance, that lived time came untethered from text and emerged into the foreground.

From our current vantage point, with a legacy of image makers ranging from James Benning to Andy Warhol to Tony Conrad to Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet or to Chantal Akerman, among others…or more recently from Pedro Costa to Wang Bing to Heinz Emigholz to Jean-Claude Rousseau to Sharon Lockhart or to Lav Diaz, among others…a dramatic suspension of four minutes eighteen seconds might seem like an insignificant gesture. And those in the West would later learn that Yasujiro Ozu out in Japan had already been up to such dramatic suspensions for quite a while. However, given the Western cinema of the time, De Sica’s was a startling move.

As this passage from Umberto D. begins, we see an image of a young chambermaid. She has been awakened by the pensioner’s phone call, and, as she lies in her bed, she stares upward through the atrium ceiling of the entryway where she sleeps. From her point of view, we see a glass roof littered with old wet leaves clumped in black patches partially blocking out the soft morning light.

Sixty-two images into Anders Edström’s Hanezawa Garden, we find a similar image. One of five in a sequence. A picture of old dead pine needles in large black clumps seen through a glass atrium ceiling. A kind of inadvertent phagosome from Umberto D. And through this passage, one can begin to discover a sense of duration and resistance that is so central to Edström’s project. A patience. A waiting. A refusal of the speed of the dominant economy.

Deleuze, in his writings on cinema, often referred to Pure Optical Situations. Breaks in the dramaturgical chain. Pauses in the action. Or temporary steppings out of dramatic action. He saw these dramaturgical pauses as the birth of a modern cinema with Ozu as progenitor. A declaration of the latent power of the longue durée, on the one hand urgently contemporary and on the other echoing the Kant of 1754 who declared that it is no longer time that depends upon movement, but the opposite.

We can trace a through-line of such Pure Optical Situations from Ozu through Italian Neo-Realism into Antonioni, Minimalism, Structuralism and various conceptualisms, and on forward to cinematic new waves emerging from Iran to Taiwan to Romania to the Philippines and elsewhere.

But what does it mean when someone like Edström, surely the protagonist in Hanezawa Garden, doesn’t simply offer us a brief break from Aristotelian conflict/resolution, a momentary pause, a dramaturgical lapse…but instead makes a whole of a work—in its fixed, multi-year gaze upon a single geographic point—that is a Pure Optical Situation, a sustained act of looking, an exercise not of an agent but of a seer?[3] Gone are Deleuze’s Small Form and Large Form of narrative. And in their place there arises a situation-description, both a document and a performance. In this case, a POV of an individual and his frequent visits to a garden just down the road from his home in Tokyo—a garden that would eventually be uprooted, erased, and monetized by the contingent forces of development.

When thinking of contingency, we often think in terms of the Event. Of unforeseen occurrences of broad scale and impact. 9/11. The 2008 Crisis. Google. And so on. But contingent materials and forces are at work across all dimensions: from the massive, to the elementary, to the human scale. A practice like Edström’s both describes and affirms the contingency of our everyday at an everyday scope. Not through a sense of openness or improv, but through limitation. A limitation of technics. Of options. Of parameters. And, in the case of Hanezawa Garden, of geography. Here, we see the unfolding of a resolute focus on a single place. A site whose ultimate undoing was unforeseen. This isn’t a document of openness or chance; it’s a document of a closing down, of the contingent, of a befalling.[4]

And in thinking of such befallings, of an artist whose site disintegrates before him, one could think of superficial parallels to Pedro Costa’s long-term documentation of the Fontaínhas quarter in Lisbon. And while a strength of that work is its deeply empathetic focus on the ever-diminishing agency of that neighborhood’s inhabitants, a somewhat Straubian political description of a people who would otherwise not be seen, Hanezawa Garden, with its smaller scope and narrow-gauged volatility, with its quieter equanimity, brings us closer to something like a Latourian notion of perception—that of the human as sensitive instrument. Of detection reinforced by repetition, revisitation, and looping back. Describing and re-describing a location, orientation, and effects. „When the dictionary defines sensitive as ‚quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences‘, this adjective applies to the anthropos.“[5] Just as it applies to Hanezawa Garden, to the whole of Edström’s now twenty-nine-year practice, and to his perpetual examination of what is and isn’t worthy of being a photograph.

Edström began taking photographs in 1986. And in looking at his work from that early period, one finds it is largely indistinguishable from work he made in 1996, 2006, and now.[6] He has forged an uncompromisingly concise set of principles. A disciplined asceticism. And, over the last three decades, there are few other photographic bodies of work that have been more directly and indirectly imitated. Aspects of what now we take for granted as photography-generally can be shown to trace back to work he began in the 1980’s.

As a result of his long-term consistency, I tend to think of his images as the byproducts of duration. Hanezawa Garden is now a subset of that duration, a period of nine years, evidence of a straightforward and unpoetic approach, a resistance to allure and to commodity, an insistent exercise in plain speaking, a description of lived time emerging into the foreground.

[1] And in this, one could be reminded of Michel Butor’s Passing Time (1956), in which surplus descriptions of presentness accumulate to render an amplified banality, in some ways echoing his Russian Formalist predecessors.

[2] Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time Image. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1986.

[3] And from this, I’m reminded of the following passage: „The pleasure and astonishment of looking are unnegotiable. Nothing the world can do to them will make them go away. And yes, I agree, the world does plenty to try. Pleasure and astonishment seem to me qualities that the world around us, most of the time, is conspiring to get rid of…By which I mean the full range of human possibilities and sympathies that make up the human, as far as I’m concerned. Recognitions and sympathies, but also losses and horrors and failures of understanding. Everything the present ecstasy of „information“ wants us to transfer to trash…We are accustomed from a young age to living in a constant flow of visual imagery. The imagery is designed not to be looked at closely or with sustained attention…So make time for the opportunity for sustained attention, proposing that visual images carry within them the possibility of genuine difficulty, genuine depth, genuine resistance—a way of life in which the image-life of power could at once be derided or spoken back to.“ — Retort Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War. London: Verso, 2005.

[4] „Unlike the etymology of ‚chance‘ and ‚aleatory‘, which relate to ‚falling’—cadentia, alea, the fall of a dice, the eventuality of one of a number of possible outcomes (the faces of a die)—’contingency‘ comes from contingere, meaning ‚to befall’—it is an event that happens to us, that comes from outside, that simply „strikes“ without any possible prevision.“ — Mackay, Robin. The Medium of Contingency. Falmouth, U.K.: Urbanomic, 2011.

[5] Latour, Bruno. „The Anthropocene and the Destruction of the Image of the Globe“ Lecture, The University of Edinburgh, February 25, 2013.

[6] …which is somehow in a similar spirit to that of Mark E. Smith of The Fall, who, in 1977, penned the lyrics: „This is the three R’s, the three R’s: repetition, repetition, repetition.“ [i][ii] A resistance to the economics of the perpetually new. And while Smith has released thirty studio albums and nearly one hundred releases total over the last thirty-nine years, and while consistently brilliant threads have persisted in this work, his output, with its varied array, never fully adhered to the model of the three R’s. By this one specific standard, Edström could perhaps be seen as more Smith than Smith.
i. This footnote itself is a repetition, lifted from the text „The End of Seeing“, written for and never published by Ravelin Magazine.
ii. In the case of Hanezawa Garden, this isn’t a completist or limit point exercise as we might find from Borges‘ fictional Pierre Menard, who re-writes Cervantes‘ Don Quixote as-is, word for word. [†] Nor like Rodney Graham’s 39 billion-year Parsifal. Nor like Tony Conrad’s Yellow Movies (1972-1973), high water marks of the longue durée, that span, uninterrupted, for longer than any viewer could consume in any single lifetime. Hanezawa Garden, like most of my favorite representations of duration is a description, not a transcription, of lived time. It is an act of implying. A mutual understanding with a viewer of the power of fragments to imply a whole, not unlike the implications of time beyond ourselves that we might extract from sources such as Hindustani drones, much early Persian classical music, or the works of people like Jon Gibson, C.C. Hennix, Folke Rabe, Michael Snow, Henry Flynt, Earth, or Phill Niblock, among others.

. Borges, Jorge Luis. „Pierre Menard, Autor Del Quijote.“ Sur, May 1939.

Notes on Derek Bailey’s „Paris“

Text: James Waters

“Paris” makes up the A side of Derek Bailey’s Aida, lasting 19 minutes on a 33rpm, 2018 reissued LP and 19 minutes and 36 seconds on the YouTube video of the album I referred to while writing this (most likely ripped from the CD version, reissued by Jim O’Rourke and David Grubbs’ Drag City imprint Dexter’s Cigar in 1996). The 36 seconds that separates the two versions either elongates or shortens what was already a delayed conclusion.

Chords begin to formulate at around the 17 minute mark. Before this point, each string could be heard on its own, Bailey familiarising both himself and the audience with the guitar’s six points of articulation. The audience is silent until his alarm goes off at the 18 minute mark.

Bailey seldom recorded in a studio, attributing the decision to a difference in “vibes” from a live setting and the „cubic“ measurements of playing possible in a live setting vs. a studio. In this sense, Aida isn’t a solo record, despite its subtitle: “Solo Guitar Improvisations”. His relationship to the audience isn’t begrudging, condescending, obsequious nor apathetic. His label, INCUS (which he initially ran with Evan Parker and Tony Oxley), was founded among the discovery of “free improvisation” as a practice. This is a music built on ritual, down to Bailey’s annual “Company Week” that fostered relations between the global cadre of free improvisers and their successors – among them Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy, Han Bennink, Jamie Muir, Joëlle Léandre, Johnny Dyani, Julie Tippetts and John Zorn.

The audiences’ eventual affect in Aida is only audible because of the unerring silence that precedes it. The willingness to fail can’t feed an artist when isolated for hours on end in a studio, hence the live “vibes” Bailey refers to. The audience – even if made up of only ten (as it often was) – reciprocates.

I remembered on my last listen to Aida that Bailey had timed the end of his performance perfectly with the alarm’s ringing. The opposite is in fact true, as the alarm eats into his set. He pauses from playing for approximately five seconds (corresponding with five alarm beeps) and continues playing for another five seconds and four chords. The combined ten seconds map out, in succession; the giggles of a couple of audience members that coincide with the alarm, Bailey’s final strums before turning off the alarm, the sound of his chords hanging in the air as he turns off said alarm, the giggles of some more audience members as Bailey plays out the final chords and quietly says:

“Well that’s the first part…”

Applause feeds the ellipsis that trails off his sentence.

Time, here, is no longer measured in seconds, but sounds. One can attribute this „cubic“ measurement, as Bailey would put it, to the 36 second difference in the two versions of the albums and how, despite the difference, they sound much the same. The 10 seconds that finish the record last longer than this missing 36.

Aida was recorded in Paris at the Théatre Dunois by Jean-Marc Foussat. The recording is dedicated to late Japanese music critic, Aida Akira.

Images from the shooting of One Plus One 2 (C.W. Winter, Anders Edström, 2003)