- Mobile Performance
- Electric Speed
- Schematic as Score
- (Re)purposed Clothes
- Collaborative Spaces
- Device Art
- Digital Dub
- Rise of the VJ
- Sample Culture
[Portrait of an Interview]
Iconoclast Canadian filmmaker Peter Mettler has produced a provocative and diverse body of work. Peter was honoured with a mid-career retrospective at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival for his genre bending body of work. In addition to film, Peter has been experimenting with mixing video in a performative setting, which has seen him collaborate with a number of musicians including The Art of Time Ensemble and Monolake. Fellow video artist Noir recently caught up with Peter over Skype to chat about his work.
Vague Terrain: What do you call mixing live images?
Peter Mettler: I think I call it live cinema most of the time...But sometimes it is video mixing sometimes it is visual improvisation...It is hard to find a name that covers it.
VT: Do you remember your first gig?
PM: Oh yeah, very clearly! First of all, I often did that kind of thing before...in the editing room...playing with the celluloid on the editing table and playing the sound machine simultaneously. Stop and start them and a relationship will developed. My first real show was for the Expo 2002 in Switzerland just after finishing the film Gambling, Gods and LSD... I put together a bunch of different tapes, different types of playing machines, preview monitors and sound machines. I had on a table in front of me with monitors for each source and everything was projected onto one screen... that was really a crazy setup with machines that didn’t know each other. I just pushed the play button on every machine, then chose images and sounds that were coming up completely randomly while trying to react to the situation. I was working together with Fred Frith – it was very exciting.
VT: At that time were you connected with the club/party scene...Had you seen any interesting visuals before you started?
PM: Not really. I had seen some pieces of video here and there but that is not really the same as mixing video and sound at the same time... At that time, a change of technology occurred and now there are a lot of people interested in mixing images because of that shift. There was a video scientist in Zurich who explained a lot to me. That is how I started.
VT: It seams to me that your initial experiments in mixing video were very spontaneous.
PM: Yeah! I have always been a big fan of improvisation in all my work... in writing and cinematography to editing and working with actors. I’m really into live performance, especially free jazz. I learned to do something with images and sounds in an immediate way. Being able to play in sync with musicians is so exciting.
VT: You said that live video mixing was possible for you because of changes in technology. Technology is a theme you seem to explore a lot in your work as you approach it critically but you are relying on it as well. You are currently working with Greg Hermanovic developing a VJ interface for Touch called Mixxa, and having been exposed to this project, I’m guessing your idea of good design is when the technology is invisible. Is that correct?
PM: In designing the interface along with Greg, I spent a huge amount of time figuring things out, digging, creating new versions and so on. I am interested in using the technology and the language created by technology and I have the same relationship with film too. Film is entirely chemical and mechanical.
In general, dealing with technology is kind of a dance with the devil, as it is often ruled by money and ego and power. We are buying and selling stuff all the time and here I am kind of using it to explore something spiritual about our conscious or unconscious. This is the paradox I am working through with my work. It is exciting to see how much of our world is being remade with computer technology. Being able to work with images, sounds and programming every day aids in understanding and expressing consciousness. I am interested in going inside of those technologies to better understand them and, in some way, taking a little bit of control over the tools that are becoming available.
VT: Are computers just another medium like painting? I am asking that because some think that digital technology is distinct or self sufficient. Digital technology can even generate its own art.
PM: Every medium was regarded that way at some point. When there was only painting, that was the medium to understand how we see. Today we have all this technological information - images, sounds, techno, cinema, television - all this media is coming at us constantly.
And yes, it is much more than painting was. Computers can generate someone’s art (or whatever you want to call it) for them. It can generate something for us to look at, or being entertained by, or be stimulated by. When it is its own kind of beast or it’s hardwired to a body of information, it can also being accessed by a human as a form of expression. You can access that cosmos of information in the computer and react to it. You can steer it in a certain direction.
VT: Would you prefer to live before the digital age or during it?
PM: That is hard to answer… Think of a canoe trip, when there’s nobody around, no light, just nature. That is a feeling that many people have never experienced. Stepping away from electricity can make such a significant change. At the same time, it is fascinating to create virtual worlds, different forms and experiences. The realities that many of us participate in are more grounded within technology than in our "real world." This is just how things are now.
VT: Why are you mixing images within the techno/club scene rather than at rock shows?
PM: The first electronic music I heard was in 1983 and it came out of a Belgian theatre production. I saw the piece, bought the cassette and listened to it over and over. It was an early form of what we now (broadly) call techno and I remember my friends asking me why I liked it. I wasn’t able to explain then, and I still can’t. I can say that I love the texture, rhythm, breaks and the mood of electronic music. There is something about the minimalism in this music that is the expression of today’s technology but at the same time, is very primal and goes way back to the beginning of tribal music. That combination doesn’t stop moving me. I don’t like rock and roll, as I am not a big fan of lyrics… they don’t do much for me.
VT: In your movies there is often a voiceover. Isn’t that like lyrics?
PM: Yes, but it is more like storytelling than lyrics! Voiceovers don’t have a melody and they don’t repeat themselves over and over again.
VT: What about the footage you are mixing with… is it from your film archives?
PM: No, it is a mix of images I shot, footage from my films, from television, from everything. That is what I like about mixing images. Taking some images that are very familiar to people and changing them and putting them in a new context as a way of repossessing them. Images and symbols colliding together within a new context.
VT: To end this discussion: What is the scoop on your latest film?
PM: The title is The End of Time, and that is what it is about.
VT: As a fan of Godard, I have to ask you ? what is your biggest ambition in your life?
PM: I don?t know? that is a hard question! I guess making other people happy and inspired. I guess that is the reason why I am interested in making films.
Please visit petermettler.com for more information on Peter Mettler.