New York

“New Video From Antarctica Volume I”

Over the past decade video partners Kit Fitzgerald and John Sanborn have shown themselves to be exceptionally adept collaborators, providing a visual fluidity to works by other artists including Robert Ashley, Twyla Tharp, David Van Tieghem, and Peter Gordon. At the end of last year Sanborn, Fitzgerald, and Gordon formed a group called Antarctica to produce music videotapes and “dedicated to the proposition that video and music are created equal.” It’s a nice notion, one that suggests the rich genre rock videotapes could become; on most rock tapes now the video merely illustrates the song. Unfortunately, in only a couple of these first pieces from the collaboration do the audio and video work particularly well together.

The hit of the group is also the one that relies least on electronic technique: in Ear to the Ground percussionist Van Tieghem walks around Lower Manhattan with two drumsticks, beating out rhythms on whatever happens to be at hand, including the sidewalk, a mailbox, traffic signs, and light poles. For the most part the tape simply follows him about, recording the action in relatively long takes with simple, straight-cut editing. Surprisingly, what makes the tape so effective is the intense sense of place it provides. Van Tieghem is in effect touching everything that he sees, unlocking the sounds inside, but the particular objects he drums on are all specific to downtown New York. When he bangs on the accordion grate stretched across the front of a smashed store window, and then tinkles a few high notes off shards of glass lying behind the grate, for example, he’s celebrating a beauty hidden in the city’s rubble.

Fitzgerald and Sanborn are known for their heavy reliance on electronic image manipulation and rapidfire computerized editing, and most of the other tapes in this group incorporate a steady stream of such effects. In Siberia, performed by Gordon and the Love of Life Orchestra, a pulsing electronic beat is punctuated by a voice whispering “Siberia”; the accompanying video weaves together heavily processed documentary footage of Arctic scenes with shots of the Lower East Side. The Long Island, again performed by LOLO, is more muddled, incorporating a disjointed mélange of shots of the band, of country scenes (presumably shot on Long Island), of a man in undershorts running down an alley, of a woman sitting in a chair with a TV in her lap, and so on. In Jill Kroesen’s elaborately staged minidrama “Secretary (Wayne Hays Blues)” the video portion is edited in a rapid rhythm that actually fights against the rhythm of Kroesen’s song—which itself deals with an ever timely topic, but in terms of a very stale incident.

Also included in this program were two other Fitzgerald/Sanborn collaborations, these with more traditional rock musicians. For King Crimson’s “Heartbeat,” the pair developed a visual narrative in which a man played by band member Adrian Belew is obsessed with a woman played by Kroesen. The tape makes good use of a number of video effects, opening with Belew sitting at a desk drawing; as he sketches Kroesen’s face a photographed shot of her emerges on the sheet of paper, and she comes to life. In another striking moment Belew imagines that all the women in a restaurant turn into her. Despite these touches, though, the tape suffers from a common fault of popular drama: the woman’s role is essentially a blank. And again the visual effects get out of hand, piling up in a confused storm of cuts, zooms, and dissolves that reminded me of the overripe prose in steamy passages of paperback romances.

“Big Electric Cat,” with music by Belew, is a spectacular, utterly processedtape in which a glittering video-animated jaguar prances and pounces through a landscape that looks as if it’s been borrowed from a Levi’s commercial. But after a while the steady onslaught of visual effects becomes simply numbing, like eating too much candy; I found myself waiting for it to end.

Charles Hagen