Silent (CB McWilliams, 2009)

Silent combines frames from five silent films: Nosferatu, Metropolis, Faust, Holy Mountain, and the Dragon Painter; the frames are (re)set to the sounds of Charles Ives’ Hallowe’en From the artist’s description:

The frames are chosen by custom software that compares data from each of the film’s soundtracks with the data from Ives’ music.  The software analyzes each film and records the audio (FFT) data and timecode for each frame. The final video is generated by processing an input soundtrack, in this case Hallowe’en, and finding the frames of film whose audio best fits that of the soundtrack.

Silent films were chosen as the source material because of their tight connection between narrative, visuals, and musical score. By using the soundtrack as the central driver of visual imagery, Silent inverts these relationships. This reversal allows forms typically associated with music-repetition, rhythm, movement-to express themselves visually.

This is a fascinating remix of film history and theory.  McWilliams presents a sharp comparison between silent cinema and new media/music.  In his description, silent cinema operates as a kind of handicraft, made by/for humans, narratively coherent and visually whole.  McWilliams takes new media as the vibrating attraction, the automated response, the work of film art in the age of digital reproduction. Chandler didn’t have a choice or make a decision: the software decided what was best for the sound.

I wonder if there is actually an inversion or reversal at work here.  It seems (more) likely that McWilliams’ film offers a return to silent film, to its visual/sound experiments.  Here, the “original” and its remix seem to exist in necessary, complementary relation.