As part of Abandon Normal Devices (AND Festival), Liverpool Cathedral opened its doors to the city’s cultural community to celebrate the life and work of Austro-American screen siren and inventor Hedy Lamarr. In honour of her 100th birthday, AND festival took up residency in the cathedral’s Lady Chapel to screen ‘Experiment Perilous’, (1944), bookended by Videojam.
Videojam, based in Manchester, is an ongoing series of unique, experimental art events, whose aim ‘is to explore and reconsider the relationship between moving image and sound’. Videojam commissions musicians to create soundtracks as responses to short, silent films in what they call a ‘blind collaboration’*.
Actress Hedy Lamarr is largely remembered for her pioneering discovery of frequency hopping, aged just 26. This secret communication technology, once invented to control torpedoes in WW2 by using sound-waves from a piano, has now been adapted for use in GPS systems, WIFI and even radio transmission in deep space. This fact encouraged the artists showcased to incorporate ideas of technology and communication, as well as beauty, into their work.
An excerpt from infamous anthropological documentary Baraka, by director Ron Fricke meditated on ideas of mass consumerism and technology on a world-scale, exposing the victims of modern consumer culture. Fricke juxtaposes the bustling speed of New York taxis, with the slow, steady walk of an elderly man in the orient, pitting the old world against the new in a battle for economic dominance.
Liverpool-based collective Ex-Easter Island head performed a live musical response to the piece, using multiple pre-prepared electric guitars struck with percussion mallets. Combining these electronic notes with an array of diverse percussive instruments, the group created loops which reverberated around the chapel, echoing through the space and enclosing the audience in a musical journey like no other.
The best short of the night, however, came from artists Soda Jerk with their film ‘The Time That Remains’, created using archive material, which jarringly confuses modern cultural history. Described as ‘séance fiction’, Soda Jerk stage a series of encounters between the past and future selves of screen starlets Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, who perpetually wake to find themselves haunted by their own apparitions, and are terrorised by their ageing selves.
This confusing, nightmarish imagery sought a powerful score, and this came from band Horrid, whose aggressive guitar breakdowns and progressively violent drumming culminated in a crescendo of noise, mirroring the hysteria and terror apparent on screen. Despite the music being of a genre far removed from the era of either Davis or Crawford, Horrid’s accompaniment leant this twisted film noir a raw and frantic tone, which seemed to spiral out of control and consume the audience’s imagination. With the addition of ethereal green and white lights illuminating the chapel arches throughout, this collaboration truly sparked a haunting, otherworldly quality.
Videojam is an intense, hypnotic, and totally immersive experience, as the music takes control and redefines what we see on screen. It is interesting that this combination of silent film and live musical score reverts back to early cinema, and yet Videojam achieves this collaboration in a totally new and unprecedented guise.
*Sarah Hill Videojam curator