Sunday, May 13, 2012

Video: Approaching Dusk

Approaching Dusk, a video poem, 2012. Words, music & video by Arthur Durkee.

My YouTube video channel, where new short films will be posted as I finish them, is: apdurkee

A few notes on this video:

This is a mood piece, pure and simple. I had the idea for it one evening, and began working on it immediately. It was shot on consecutive evenings in early May, at dusk. That time of day just after the sun has gone down, but it's still light outside. In summer, twilight lingers a long time. The mood I was feeling when I shot the video segments was haunting, poetic, mystical. Not a cheerful mood, not a dark mood, but that mysterious and beautiful in-between mood you often feel at dusk.

I am working my way towards completing more multimedia video work, incorporating poetry, music, and image, and even adding words moving on the screen at times. I've been working towards this for awhile, but finally am getting there. I have made some films like this before, using still photos and poetry, but this film takes the technique and tools to a new level.

To make this video, I set myself come arbitrary creative constraints.

I learned a big lesson from my mentor in music school, Bill Albright, who once told me that sometimes it's liberating to set an arbitrary limit or boundary on your creative materials. Working within set parameters can sometimes free you up mentally, so you get creative. Many writers find their most difficult moments to be when they're staring at the blank page, when anything is possible. To break through that barrier of too many possibilities, which if it's not pushed past can lead to creative block, is to start small, start anywhere, just improvise, set a limit and go with it. A painter can be just as intimidated by a blank canvas: Where do you start? Sometimes setting the arbitrary limit is enough to get you going. You can choose to stay with it until the finish of the work, or transcend the limit later if necessary, but the most important thing is that it gets you started. If you do break out of the limits, it's for a reason, because inspiration and the creative process has led you in that direction.

This insight about creativity really stuck with me. I explored the idea, as a composition student under Prof. Albright's tutelage, by working with unusual instrumental groupings, and by setting arbitrary choices on musical materials. I wrote a three-movement for the archaic early music ensemble of an unbroken consort of recorders. I wrote a piece for english horn and vibraphone. I wrote a percussion quartet, which won a national award. I found that when a musician friend asked me to write a piece for their instrument, it freed me creatively to learn about the instrument and explore its possibilities. I wasn't thinking about a grand career as an orchestral composer, which was too intimidating, I was thinking about just getting this one piece done. I wrote a lot of chamber music, and most of it got performed, and recorded.

As a writer, the setting of an arbitrary limit also works well. I know that some formalist poets talk about how working within a fixed form frees them up rather than limits them. My version of that is to invent a new form, or discover a form emerging organically from one poem and then use that same invented form when writing new poems later. Most of the poems that I write in a fixed form are within forms that I invented, or discovered. I also write a lot of haiku, which is the poetic form I feel most naturally. I have no "feel" for the sonnet, or the sestina, or most of the forms inherited from the history of English-language literature; they don't come naturally or easily to me, and the results tend to be too intellectual and not very lifelike. For example, the only sonnets I've ever written ended up being stale five-finger exercises rather than finished pieces. Haiku and its related forms, tanka, renga, haibun, and haiga, all come naturally and easily. I can almost always write a haiku on the spot. I often write haiku when editing photographs, as a response to the images I made perhaps a month or a year ago, but haven't looked at again till mastering them in Photoshop.

So i set myself some arbitrary limits for the making of this video, in part to learn my tools better, in part as an aesthetic choice made to constrain technical craft in the service of vision. The limits I set myself for shooting the video segments were:

Shoot at dusk.

Make each take short, between 5 and 12 seconds, with the intention of stringing them together later to assemble the film.

Only sharp cuts and very quick crossfades would be used in editing, so many of the video segments were shot with that intention at the forefront.

There were a couple of exceptions to the set time limit that happened, that I knew in the moment of filming were the very best video segments I had captured that day, two of which ended up as longer segments in the final film. The video was shot on two consecutive evenings in early May, and is basically unaltered except for editing segments for length and putting them together.

The video was shot entirely on my iPhone (my phone!), using one video-capture app to make a consistent look. The audio track was made from an ambient recording of my backyard mixed with music I played in GarageBand on my iPad.

I wrote the poem in my pocket notebook at the same time I was shooting the video, just to keep the mood operating on the same level. The poem was revised slightly, and recorded into the same multitrack mixing mastering software that I used to edit the video and audio tracks, on my home studio computer.

The resulting film took a couple of weeks, off and on, to finish editing and mastering. That's typical: post-production always takes longer. Still, I think the mood is captured and sustained, and all elements converged to make a short film that recaptures exactly what I was feeling at the time I made it.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Two things: the main one is the voice which I had to strain to hear above the drone, the second is the spinning effects. If you’re not worried about people understanding every work and only coming away with a feeling conjured up by what they have heard then fine; I found it annoying. I am not a big fan of spoken poetry anyway but at least here I can replay the thing to my heart’s content if I felt like it. The music, although it adds to the mood, does dilute the power of the words. I am not a big fan of handheld camerawork. I got through about five minutes of The Blair Witch Project before turning it off. I did watch all of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind but I left the picture place feeling sick to my stomach. Carrie fared better than me so maybe I’m just a bit sensitive. The ending of your piece with the camera looking skyward was unpleasant and I’d already stopped watching the thing full screen to give myself some distance from the images. Other than that I liked the idea of it.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

That's fine, I don't expect everyone to like everything I make. (Actually, I tend to expect that almost no one will like anything I make. Maybe that's a useless old habit of belief, yet it still catches me up sometimes.) As you already know, I am not about people intellectually understanding every artwork I make, I'm more interested in recreating an experience for the audience than telling them ABOUT it. I want to evoke, not tell about it. ("Show, don't tell" never goes far enough for me; I'd rather say, "Evoke, don't tell.") If the audience goes away not understanding any profound meaning, but feeling deeply moved, or feeling changed somehow in their view of the world, I'm quite happy with that. Art can be upsetting, and I think that's all to the good. Sometimes we need to be shaken up the way art can do.

The style in this piece isn't meant to be either settled or linear, so vertigo isn't out of bounds, although I'm sorry it bothered you. It was a vertiginous experience, an in-between place, that I was trying to capture. Maybe I did that only too well. LOL The handheld camera and the mix of voice and music, well, that was an aesthetic choice for this piece. It suited the mood, in my view. Those are tools. I wouldn't use them for every single piece, just as different poems in different moods have different styles, or different pieces of music evoke moods through different musical means.

Speaking of vertigo, that last long shot of trees spinning overhead, although in fact it's my favorite shot, because of the meds I've been on that increase dizziness and have other side-effects, I almost fell over myself while shooting. LOL That was unplanned, I assure you, but the end result was inspiring for me when editing.

As usual, I'm willing to take some risks to make my art, just as I'm willing to take some risks in the art I make.

12:29 PM  

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