Sound it out

By 8pm on Saturday, the Film Studies Center was packed. But despite the crowd, there was a certain intimacy to the affair; conspicuous conversations revealed prior familiarity among the many attendees–mostly artists and musicians. It was hard to tell who was there to perform–or, rather, who wasn’t.

Such ambiguities reflect the democratic agenda of WHPK’s annual collaboration with the Film Studies Center, “Pictures and Sounds.” With talent drawn from the deliciously obscure Midwestern avant-noise/free music scene, “Pictures and Sounds” revisited the live soundtrack tradition of early silent film. The musicians selected short films and performed to them live as they watched along with the audience.

Playing first was Chicago’s own Chris Bush, better known as Flower Man, who earned a name for himself as the proverbial better-half of the psychedelic retro-electronics outfit Caboladies, and later entered more minimalist territory with his solo work. Alongside the first film selection, a short from Midnight Star Media, Bush dealt out sparse blips and reeling peals, expertly punctuating the anxious, repetitious hallucinations caught on video. Daniel Dlugoseilski (Bodymorph) of Detroit chose to take his performance in the other direction: rather than trying to blend in with the abstract visuals, Dlugoseilski’s music was a visceral reimagination of Stanley Kubrick’s 1955 film-noir, “Killer’s Kiss.” Accompanied only by agoraphobic saxophone yelps, even the most frantic chases and scenes of combat took on a new futile pallor. Next up was Frank Rosaly, perhaps the most renowned of the performers–if not for his percussive agility then for his numerous and wide-ranging collaborations in the world of noise. Although scheduled to accompany a new film by his friend Derek Welte, complications led to the screening of “Jeux des Reflets et de la Vitesse,” a French experimental film from the ’20s of first-person travel footage. Rosaly’s sound-barrage renewed the disorienting aspect of this otherwise age-tempered footage. The last act was Second Family Band, an offshoot/resurrection of famed Madison music collective Davenport. Weaving their characteristic tapestry of American psychedelic folk-drone, they achieved a remarkable, though not exactly harmonious, counterpoint to the excerpts from Sergei Parajanov’s 1968 tour de force, “The Color of Pomegranates.”

“Pictures and Sounds” was certainly a demonstration of some of the tremendous talent that the Midwest has to offer in the way of experimental artists. In the end, though, it was the fallibility of the performers that gave the presentation its charming, inspiring character. Great communion was made afterwards with the sharing of flasks, swapping of emails, and purchase of–what else?–cassettes.