Thursday, August 23, 2007

Peter Newman: Paperhouse

The second release on Demux is Peter Newman's Paperhouse DVD, a lush wall of fuzzy, grainy AV sensation. Like Wade Marynowsky, Newman's aesthetic could loosely be described as post-digital, overprocessed, inframedia, whatever; disintegrating media surfaces shifting between abstraction and figuration. But if Marynowsky's work has a hard, bitcrunched edge, Newman's seems to have been somehow worn smooth, or buried for years and then exhumed.

Like his compatriots Robin Fox and Andrew Gadow - and Marynowsky too - Newman works at a cross-modal alchemy, where sound and image suffuse into something approaching pure sensation. Newman comes right out with it and says "synaesthesia" on his (apparently dormant) blog. He also gives an impression of the context and formative elements here - and some stills, like the one below. But frankly none of it could prepare you for the beauty of this work. Back in the heyday of glitch I wrote about inframedia aesthetics in terms of materiality, a process rendering media technologies as embodied sensation. Newman's work seems to push materialisation as far as it can go, beyond the cool reflexivity of glitch and into sheer texture, tactile immersion and an overloaded, full-throated melancholy.

The opening track Fold - P.I.V 7 overlays what looks like distressed, burning and distintegrated film stock with a woven drone of phasing guitar overdrive, strings and piano. Between the flickering surfaces is some kind of plasma, a shifting, luminous fog that at one point coalesces into a vertical scar on the frame, like a spectral figure or a burnt-in afterimage. Finally the piece comes to rest in a hazy, burnished, slow motion loop that decomposes with almost imperceptible slowness (above); the guitars take over in a keening, reverb-soaked roar. The visual sources for the piece include time-lapse video of a painting developing (P.I.V = Painting Into Video) - a process that characterises Newman's organic interfolding of analog and digital media.

Sound and image move tangentially at times, aligned in monolithic slabs whose edges coincide - as in Fold; elsewhere, especially in the run-outs, Newman lets the sound hang over, as if to emphasise the independence of sound and image, the loss of a connection that only moments ago seemed all-consuming. Some tracks stitch that connection tighter still; in Rosebud (below) the flickering haze and the burnt-in scar return, but accelerated by a crackling soundtrack of granulated static and projector sprockets. Sound and image fuse in an incandescent, a ten-minute-long build, as if something is being very slowly destroyed, revealing its disintegrating inner layers.

One reviewer aptly compared Newman's work with Stan Brakhage's legendary abstract film; they share a sense of visceral texture, morphogenesis and disintegration. But as Newman pointed out to me, Brakhage's work is silent - visually self-sufficient. Interestingly Brakhage seems to have experienced something like image-to-sound synaesthesia; he heard "shifting chords of sound that corresponded in a meaningful interplay with what I was seeing"* while standing in a quiet Kansas cornfield, at midnight. So what Newman describes as his own "primary challenge" - fusing audio and vision - is in one sense realising Brakhage's inner synaesthesia.

This disc is a frankly staggering body of work. It's an extreme example of what might be called immaterial materialism; as a product, it rides the digital media infrastructure, the n copies economy, yet its aesthetic is profoundly embodied, processual and affective; its process lies in between, working both sides. Highly recommended.

* quoted in Kerry Brougher, "Visual-Music Culture," in Visual Music: Synaesthesia in Art and Music since 1900, 121-122.

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