Chanel Kong | Timmy Chih-Ting Chen

Watching Out, Listening Up

Cinema will become a ‘performing art’ . . .

I foresee that . . . its artist in residence . . . will orchestrate the image material he has at his disposal . . . And will lead to a totally new international art form.

—Stan VanDerBeek, 19661

Stan VanDerBeek, a pioneer in experimental film, first proposed the term ‘expanded cinema’ in a manifesto to refer to his Movie-Dromes, a prototype theatre where images would be projected on a spherical dome. In exploring the artistic possibilities of media technologies, VanDerBeek pushed boundaries to broaden the emotional potential of the moving image, and to recognise the audience’s agency. ‘Expanded cinema’ has since evolved to encompass different strategies in presenting film or video works that augment or diversify the one-way relationship between the audience and the moving image. It has become a way to describe the expanding contexts that enrich the process that creates the artistic experience.

Haunting Images: Live Cinema by Lim Giong is M+’s initial experiment with expanded cinema, with an emphasis on how performers and audiences can co-create and contribute to experiencing sound, music, and moving image in a live context. This approach is by no means new; in fact, ‘live cinema’ recalls key periods in the development of cinema culture and could be considered a precursor form of expanded cinema. From musical accompaniment in ciné-concerts and live interpretations at benshi presentations during the early days of cinema, to the development of the avant-garde film and the emergence of media/performance art happenings in subsequent decades, live cinema has redefined itself with the concepts and technologies of the times. What has remained constant is the in situ significance of its constituents in its reception and interpretation. Live cinema situations activate the role of the creator and the audience, and demand heightened sensorial attention. Between vibrations in the air and light flickering on screens, between live sound mixes and edited visuals, and between pre-existing knowledge and fresh information, audiences are asked to continuously negotiate between privileging image over sound, or vice versa, to create or search for meaning.

Blurring boundaries between cinema and concert, and resetting expectations and behaviours for these experiences, Haunting Images aims to connect moving image practices among and beyond works in the M+ Collections. Created over the past six decades, these works individually and collectively construct a portrait of Hong Kong and Taiwan in a state of becoming, and speak to varied artist profiles and to the conditions in which they were made. Capturing intimate moments, documenting ritualistic movement, representing nature, experimenting with the morphing image, or gesturing towards sociopolitical subtexts, these works express interwoven issues of ethnography, portraiture, and experimentation. Placed in an expanded cinema context in a collaborative presentation with the work of Lim Giong, these moving images call upon Hong Kong and Taiwan as latent sites of meaning, ready to be composed and reimagined live.

Chanel Kong

Associate Curator, Moving Image, M+

1Stan VanDerBeek, ‘Culture: Intercom and Expanded Cinema: A Proposal and Manifesto’. Film Culture 40 (Spring 1966), 15–18.

 

Sound Approaching Moving Image to Become Live Cinema

It is futile but necessary for a scholar of film sound to try to capture the creative process through which a sound artist approaches image—especially in the case of Lim Giong, who is a fascinating all-round artistic paradox, at once modest and modernist, and respectful and irreverent. He began his career as a Hokkien/Taiyu rock singer-songwriter in the 1990s New Taiwanese Song Movement, with his debut album Marching Forward (1990) selling more than four hundred thousand copies. He then acted in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s films The Puppetmaster (1993), Good Men, Good Women (1995), and Goodbye South, Goodbye (1996), and scored arthouse films and documentaries by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Jia Zhangke, Bi Gan, Midi Z, Pema Tseden, and others. Unbound by the technology of electronic music—his medium of composition—he constantly pursues creative freedom, but also creative ‘self-destruction’.

In his first foray into composing for moving image, Lim wrote ‘Self-Destruction’, a nihilistic, psychedelic Taiyu rock song with a pounding beat, which also characterises the psychology of his role as a small-time gangster in Goodbye South, Goodbye. Self-styled as a DJ, he composed trippy electronic dance tunes for Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Millennium Mambo (2001) and Jia Zhangke’s The World (2004), moving away from the limitations of lyrics. Still Life (2006), directed by Jia, is bookended by Lim’s electronic sampling of an indigenous Sichuan opera aria, ‘Lin Chong Escapes in the Night’ (Lin Chong ye ben), which evokes a mythical underworld and is a surreal complement to the setting of Fengjie, a town upstream from the Three Gorges Dam, populated in the film by gangsters and wanderers. This is Lim’s modus operandi—electronically engaging with local sound materials, generating a boundary-crossing relationship of mutual influence.

Lim’s approach of musically submitting himself to the other and the unfamiliar leads him into uncharted territory, the realm of dreams, and a state of ‘no-self’ (wuwo). For the soundtrack of Kaili Blues (2015), directed by Bi Gan, a major emerging talent in contemporary Chinese arthouse cinema, Lim electronically treated a recording of a lusheng mouth organ, a traditional Miao folk musical instrument. For his 2015 film The Assassin, Hou Hsiao-Hsien asked Lim to reconstruct the soundscape of Tang-era China. Lim consulted with ethnomusicologists and created a connection between the culturally specific sound of the guqin (a seven-stringed zither) and his own electronic interventions and manipulations.

Haunting Images: Live Cinema by Lim Giong is quite possibly the first time Lim participates in a live cinema performance in which the moving image works are not silent pieces but were created with other specific sounds and musical elements. For tonight’s event, Lim has determined the order of presentation, sampled sound materials, and meticulously planned certain cues to retain a certain flavour. But liveness is unrehearsable. As if inspired by the name of the band he formed during high school—Runner—and the title of his first album—Marching Forward—the soundscape he creates runs and marches forward by turns, approaching image to become live cinema.

Timmy Chih-Ting Chen

Collaborating Curator

Research Assistant Professor, Academy of Film, Hong Kong Baptist University