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Tiago Pereira And Audiovisual. Documentaries And The Oral Tradition

Within audiovisual practices (defined here as the combination of sound and image and its combinatory outcomes that include cinema, television, video, installation), realtime is a defining element whose existence is closely related to technological developments.

“Television – says William Kaizen [1] referring to Stanley Cavell’s thoughts – is a tele-technology. Like the telegraph, telephone, radio, it is a machine used for the real-time representation of an event with an unlimited distance between the event and its reception.” At its beginning, back in the 1920s, realtime (live cut and paste/repeat) was a radical technological feature that constituted the televion experience. This immediacy of live television expands by covering long distances and diffusing the same signal to many viewers. Before the 1940s all television “broadcasts had been live and had to be repeated across different time zones”.

Sequently, the Sony portable video recorder from 1965 came to open new possibilities to art making by providing affordable access to recording audiovisual technology. Since then, the relation between what is captured and its visualization on screen is immediate. Deviated from its original purposes, and facilitated by emerging technologies, live capture, cut and repetition served the artistic purposes of many artists, from the 1960s and 1970s, interested in the mergence of art and technology as a way to question culture and television itself, exploring to this end the performative. [2]

Nowadays, we look into realtime as the feature of several artistic expressions. To us, audiovisual performers, the practice of the ephemeral is a way to totally embrace the present moment as artistic expression. The nowness of the realtime and the legitimating role of the performer(s) through its presence, are key elements of the performative.

Although technologies for capture, editing and mixing have evolved enormously since their appearance in the market, the moment as artistic practice expanded further into multiple directions with communication technologies fueling the possibility of multisources and multilocation (especially through the Internet). Our contemporary landscape of both customized and authorial hardware and software possibilities, fast connections and small processors with great storage capacity, presents a shift from the technological to the conceptual and crossdisciplinary.

The possibilities of realtime are endless, as it allows the mergence of expressions (dance and body expression, sound, film, generative graphics), the mergence of knowledge (electronics and engineering, sciences, arts) and combination/re-combination of data.

When related to cinema, a practice of recorded linearity, realtime opens up new frontiers to an over a centenary well defined practice. Realtime provides other contexts to the cinematic experience besides to the cinema room. It proposes abstraction, experiment and immersion. The performative moment, the presence of the performer and its interaction with the audience demands a more complex lexicon (that the cinematic) to include loop, overlay, patterns, distortion, feedback, participation, and others, and other kinds of narrative: multiple narrative, non-linear narrative and networked narrative. Its current features have a technological origin that artists use to develop concepts which challenge definitions.

This text looks at the performative practice of Tiago Pereira to establish a relationship between live audiovisual performance, ethnography and documentary.

Documentary is a non-fictional cinematic category. Each documentary focuses on a specific subject of social-historical reality from the director/author’s point of view. In itself, documentary is a document (has fixity), which establishes itself already in oppostion to realtime audiovisual performance (which is momentary and therefore has no fixity). What defines a documentary has changed along with technological and sociological developments and is very strongly influenced by the history of cinema.

European contemporary documentary, strongly affected by portable capture technology and the great capacity of software editing, tends towards the close connection of the personal with the subject of the film, as is the case of Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse (2000) by Agnes Varda and exploring the experimental and non-linear, as is the case of L’HiStoire(s) du Cinema (1998) by Jean-Luc Godard. Within a territory of approaches to documentary as a field that welcomes blurred definitions (see mokumentaries, fictioned documentary, etc.) and individual expression, Tiago Pereira’s work combines it in a peculiar way with live audivisual performance.

Tiago records the arts, talents and knowledges of the people from the rural and secluded Portuguese landscape onto digital format and remixes it in realtime for an urban audience.

Our conversation took place during a journey to Cornwall where we both met to work on our personal contributions to the project Decalcomania. [3]. Escaping from a mildly rainy Summer afternoon, we looked for shelter in the Jubilee Wharf in Penryn, an ecological structure that comprises flats, artist studios, shops, a nursery and a café-bar. There, between two recording sessions, we talked for about an hour. The recordings of our meeting form Tiago’s contribution to this text about the possibilities of audiovisual realtime in documentary.

“To listen is a way to understand better the world and the role we play in it - Tiago Pereira tells me – I record sounds to make people aware of this beautiful capacity that we all have that is to listen: to things, to people and to what they have to say about their work, to the soundscapes, and to music. I am really obsessed with the idea of listening, and this is why I collect and make visualizations of sounds. The sentence “see this sound” suits well my work. I am always looking for ways to make visible the sound and the people who make each sound. The image is as important as the sound, because seeing the sound, where it comes from, is a way to understand it better.

After the radio and the recording devices, this capacity to listen, connected with its visual source, has been misregarded. My work stands somewhere between the ethnographic sound-collecting by Alan Lomax [4] and the cultural remixes by DJ Spooky. It is my intention to abolish hierarchy in music. Instead of a maestro and all subsequent hierarchical structure of an orchestra, I have all sounds at the same level. In my performance, an old woman singing folk songs from the countryside, for example, and the famous pop musician from Lisbon who makes gigs for two thousand people are equal in expression. The video We Are Not Old Ladies Singing, We Are Musical Instruments explores this concept“.

Collecting

Travelling across Portugal while capturing songs and instrument playing, Tiago Pereira has been developing a database of knowledge that has been passed on from one generation to another by musical means. If not kept on digital format, this knowledge would eventually be lost. Tiago is not so much interested in preserving culture as it is, but rather to reinterpret it.

His position differs from the one of the ethnographer: When ethnographers and ethno-musicians go to the countryside, to the same places I go, they study people (and their behaviours). My recording work is different from the one of the scientist. When I go to the countryside to record the singing and dancing, I am recording the sounds, not studying their context. People are not subjects of a specific scientific study. This is the big difference: I am an artist.

Tiago’s methodology of work encompasses audio and video capturing, editing, collecting, archiving and producing outcomes (as live performances, video works and video installations). Although the director’s process related to collecting, implies a methodology similar to documentary film, once at the editing stage it takes a different route, the one of the audiovisual performance.

All elements produce sound, and we (humans) produce many sounds: breathing, working, walking, etc., therefore we are walking (mobile) musical instruments. Under a specific concept or idea, these sounds can be remixed and become music. So I am a guy who makes music with the music made by other people. My captures are not only sounds but also visuals which afterwards I transform into samples. I treat each sample as a living unit. Like a living cell that has a life of its own but that also can relate with other cells in infinite possibilities. They allow infinite combinations because each one of the cells has different behaviours in different contexts. To these different combinations I call virtual mixes.

Archiving

It is important to have archives in order to have material to remix with. This is not a novelty, but when these archives don’t exist they have to be created. It is the case of the online Portuguese channel called A Música Portuguesa a Gostar Dela Própria (Portuguese Music Enjoying Itself). [5]

The project MPAGDP is a database of small clips available online. The clips contain artists singing and playing, across several generations, and in a prolific mixture of styles. The database is fed regularly with recorded material by several artists. In a stage of potentiality, this database provides the visitor with access to the diversity of Portuguese music, at the same time motivating to use it for the creation of new outcomes.

Realtime

Through performance I take musicians from the countryside to other places – Tiago Pereira continues to tell – where audiences can experience different kinds of music. In art there is a growing hybridism that allows the blurring of definitions. Our society is becoming hybrid and this is important to me. I find a big charge of fascism related to folklore in Portugal. It has a bad connotation, because of its relationship to fascism. We never had a visible political concept for culture, as we never had a cultural revolution as such.

The only individual who attempted to develop a strong political concept of culture was António Ferro, and he did this under fascism times. In the attempt to bring up the essence of culture, through folklore, he divided the country into regions attributing specific features to each one of them. But reality is not categorized this way. Obviously, after the revolution [6], people detached themselves from folklore and tradition.

This remains the norm to our days. It is important to break this prejudice by conceptualizing, taking things out of their original context, finding ways to make possible to show ethnographic work.

Expanding on the conceptualization of folk traditions and taking his work to other contexts outside Portugal, as participant of the Decalcomania (http://decalcomaniaproject.wordpress.com/), Tiago was in Cornwall in the UK to record musicians and create a performance that will be presented at The Exchange Gallery in Penzance in October 2011.

The musicians I am filming here (in Cornwall) are not known, the same way the old ladies are unknown to the public in Portugal. My virtual mix will provide the space for musicians who live in Cornwall but don’t play together, to actually play together with musicians from Portugal. It will be an intercultural virtual mix that allows musicians from two different countries to play, which otherwise would be impossible to happen.

For those in the audience who don’t know each of the individuals, it will not be possible to distinguish between Portuguese and Cornish musicians, because the way we connect with music is the same anywhere. The performance (this can be almost perceived as a metaperformance) allows music to be celebrated and, through it, life to be celebrated, too.

Realtime in audiovisual practices is changing documentary, and the combination brings different perspectives on oral tradition and digital culture. The capture of oral tradition (converting its ephemerality into digital documents) is the start of a process towards the performative moment (as ephemeral practice).

Both orality and performativity are unique and permanently evolving (a story is never told twice, and each performance is also unique). As evidence, the process is in the database containing the collected data. This process takes me to the “story-collecting model for VJing” [7] and the possibilities of non-linear narratives as addressed by Paul Mumford when describing his practice and research as part of The Narrative Lab.

The audiovisual performance Mandragora Officinarium [8], is made of collected material, recorded musicians, interviews and photographic images. The viewer will experience an historic and cultural insight into the use and accounts of the hallucinogenic plant Mandragora in Portuguese culture, through descriptions, songs and spells. The remix of visual and musical sources in a complementary manner unveils a multitude of meanings. This being complementary in the performance of documentaries touches a point in the correspondence between what is heard and what is seen, in a similar way to that of Visual Music.

It is from the visuals that audiovisual can be reached – Tiago Pereira explains – in time-based aristic expressions, it is through the image that it becomes audiovisual. I am a visualist. The visualist is a digital artist that explores the audiovisual media to its limits. This is what I am doing, while telling people’s stories and make them listen.

Documentary

“In oral tradition we listen to someone singing a song, and then we play it our own way. Between Penryn and Falmouth (both in Cornwall), the same music is played by different people in different ways. This happens all over the world. We are always transforming knowledge. By doing so, we are making the tradition of the future. The concept of tradition, when it is perceived as the exact repetition of the same, is very conservative.

That is against oral tradition. I locate tradition in a different context, by expressing that tradition is emission. In this sense, having in mind the endless possibilities of the remix, my performances are within a tradition achieved through remixing. We construct the audiovisual archives, and afterwards we construct the archives of remixing, in a transformative process of the remix itself.”.

In the digital society we live in – Tiago Pereiraconcludes – the same way we have open source software, we also have open source documentation. In our post-cinema and live cinema times is not necessary to seat inside a black room doing nothing else but looking at the screen. The cinematic experience can happen while the audience is having a drink or is talking to their friends. The audience can watch the director manipulating footage live.

What is really good in performance is that it cannot be repeated. Everything is unrepeatable. Therefore, my way of making documentary embraces the unrepeatable. The documentary I’ll perform here in Cornwall will be different from any other. We are documenting beings, always changing and changing the documentation with us. Documentary is in this sense an open concept”.


Notes:

[1] -http://www.jubileewharf.co.uk

[1] - William Kaisen, Live on Tape: Video, Liveness and the Immediate, in Art and the Moving Image, Leighton, Tanya (ed.), London: Tate Publishing, 2008, 262 – 263.

[2] - Leighton, Tanya (ed.), Art and the Moving Image, London: Tate Publishing, 2008.

[3] -More information can be found on the project’s blog at:
http://decalcomaniaproject.wordpress.com [accessibile dal 23/09/2011].

[4] - Alan Lomax was a musician ethnographer and collector of folk music in the United States and beyond.

[5] - http://amusicaportuguesa.blogspot.com [accessed in 23/09/2011].

[6] - 25th April 1974 – Portuguese revolution. For being peaceful, it deserved the title “Revolution of Carnations”, and indeed: a red carnation is its symbol. It marked the end of the longest dictatorship in Europe’s history.

[7] - Mumford, Paul, Visual Music in Cornelia and Holger Lund (ed.) Audio.Visual – On Visual Music and Related Media, Stuttgard: Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2009, 154 – 160.

[8] - Blog of the project Mandragora Officinarium: http://avmandrake.blogspot.com [accessibile dal 23/09/2011].

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