Witnessing the nth dimension

I'd like to experiment on exploring the difference between a description of something and the actual experience of it; in this case I will be talking about music and film. My choice in the mediums will be ones of particular complexity, so I can emphasise the mutual difference between feeling and understanding.

First I would like to relate this text from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, when Alice is having a conversation with the Duchess:

___'I quite agree with you,' said the Duchess; 'and the moral of that is - "Be what you would seem to be" - or if you'd like it put more simply - "Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise."'
___'I think I should understand that better,' Alice said very politely, 'if I had it written down: but I ca'n't quite follow it as you say it.'

The trick of the passage is that it is written down, and in such a way you can read over it and follow its description and understand it. But imagine if it was said to you out loud. This is when it becomes an experience, and may put you at either a)a disadvantage due to being unable to follow its complex pyramid structure grammar or b)an advantage due to previously studying the phrase and dissecting its grammar so that it can be properly followed and understood as a sensible sentence.

The purpose of this exercise is to hopefully place one in situation (b), if one ever has the opportunity to come across any of the subjects of my experiment.

In Music

"Metal Machine Music" by Lou Reed

Taking an electric guitar and giving it an unusual tuning, Lou Reed would place it at various distances and positions close to its amplifier. The result is a feedback, which the frequency would hit the strings depending on the particular tuning, creating an overtonal vibration, The frequency of this overtone will collide with the overtones (or undertones) of other feedbacks when all mixed together, creating new overtones which collide with other new (and old) overtones - and on and on and on. All these feedback tracks were recorded on to tape, then manipulated and mixed together by Lou Reed's careful controlling hand. This constant infinite loop provides a sort of "therapy" for feedbackphiles, placed in 4 segements of 16 minutes (originally intended for it to played on vinyl), with the 4th segment infinitely looping in the ending groove around the centre of the disc.

Unfortunately, I haven't experienced it on vinyl yet as it's a fairly difficult record to find. I do have it on CD, which provides an extreme outburst of high frequency noise, tediously carrying on like some kind of torture method. I still enjoy it immensely, and it only gets better with every listen.

The recent works of Meshuggah

In music, the rythm of a song is usually denoted by a time signature. The time signature looks like a fraction (eg. "3/4" or "4/4") whereby the denominator indicates the amount of equal parts the beat is divided into, and the numerator indicates how many of these beats will fill up the bar. Along come Meshuggah who decide to take the idea of screwing around with the weirdest and most unlikely time signatures in existence, then take it to further complications by having multiple time signatures playing at once, usually the hands of the drummer will be doing something manageable like 4/4 or 5/4 and the feet are off in their own world doing what's best described as "revolving time signatures". Mathematically, the combination would result as some twisted revolution of different time signatures I'm not even going to pretend to know or count. Sometimes the guitars are off on their own timings which complicates things further. Currently, Meshuggah reign as the kings of "Math Metal". Not only do they achieve inhuman possibilities in their composition, but they achieve machine-like precision in their sound.

With the addition of a screaming vocalist, the lack of melodies give an overall thrash-sensibility, only the guitars seem to be strumming at any given random moment, fooling the listener in to headbanging when there is not a beat, and missing a potential headbang when the beat arrives. However, after many obsessive repeated listens, a headbanger will begin to understand the chaos and make sense of when to appropriately headbang. The consolation is in the fact that the guitar strumming and off-rythms are NOT random, the ultimate proof is in seeing this band perform live. An experienced listener will be able to headbang adjustingly - or just jump around and collide with other people in the mosh pit and crowd surf and stuff.

In Movies

"Adaptation" written by Charlie & Donald Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze

During the production of "Being John Malkovich" Charlie Kaufman was given an assignment to adapt the book "The Orchid Thief" by Susan Orlean - a book mainly about flowers. It was Kaufman's decision to stay true to the book, to keep away from Hollywood conventions and just write a film that mainly concerns flowers. Meanwhile, 3 years ago, John Laroche (the "Orchid Thief") has been caught extracting various orchids from a state-protected swamp, only he was using the aid of native American indians to legally exploit a loophole to be able to extract them. During his court case, Susan Orlean enters the story to approach Laroche about making him the subject of her column in The New Yorker. By the way, I'm not just making an introduction to lead up to what this movie is about - this is all in the actual movie! The whole scene with Laroche and Orlean is the actual adaptation which Charlie Kaufman is writing. The movie proceeds to take us back and forth between Orlean's slow development of understanding Laroche, and never being able to, and Kaufman's slow development of his script, but never being able to write it. Enter Donald Kaufman, Charlie's twin brother, who has also decided to become a screenwriter. He attends a lecture by Robert McKee and suddenly decides he's going to write a thriller - one that he doesn't realise is the most conventional derived regurgitation of what has already been done a hundred times before. Over the course of the movie, we learn the past of John Laroche, yet haven't really gone anywhere with him yet, Charlie Kaufman enters himself and his brother into the script, plus his warts-and-all failed romance with his love interest, and we come to the end of the book - a failed search through the swamp which Laroche takes Orlean to find the elusive "Ghost Orchid". The story is only half-way finished, there's not enough here for a feature-length film, Charlie is at a loss and doesn't know what to do. He tries to arrange an interview with Orlean but can't bring himself to do it, so he bails out and decides to situate himself in a lecture by Robert McKee. McKee convinces Kaufman to bring his brother in on the script, just like the twin screenwriters of Casablanca - the greatest screenplay ever written (I'm pretty sure that was a joke, or in my opinion it should be). Now Donald Kaufman has taken over the script and handles it like it's one of his conventional thrillers, he throws in all the things Charlie said he wouldn't at the beginning - car chases, drug running, a love triangle - so technically Charlie has kept to his word. I should mention at this point that the characters in this story are based off real people, similar to how John Malkovich played a dramatised version of himself (I guess in "Adaptation" he appears to play a dramatisation of himself playing a dramatisation of himself). Nicholas Cage plays a dramatisation of Charlie Kaufman, Meryl Streep plays a dramatisation of Susan Orlean, Chris Cooper plays a dramatisation of John Laroche and Brian Cox plays a dramatisation of Robert McKee. Donald Kaufman, however, is a completely fictional character. He is also played by Nicholas Cage (in trick photography), but somehow he has also received writing credit for the film itself. So in short, this is a movie written by its own characters, who are dramatisations of real characters except for one guy who is entirely fictional, or perhaps a manifestation of Charlie's own split personality?

To watch this film, although it is highly ambitious, it still plays out like a normal film. Each scene is logically followed by another, it is a complex narrative with broken chronology, but we can follow it just like any other film. It's hard to wrap your mind around how this film seems to have perpetuated itself, the film was created within itself and somehow we are able to see it, but is this film even real? There is a duality in understanding this is a self-perpetuating story and it's also one that was created in the real world. The biggest unanswered question, which I think makes it the loudest answer to be unanswered, is why didn't Spike Jonze make an appearance at the beginning during the production of "Being John Malkovich"? We know he's the director of that film, but he's also the director of this film, but, I guess he can't be director of both at the same time. "Adaptation" still remains a difficult puzzle from the nth dimension, but if you've seen it as many times as I have, it is manageable to get your head around. Besides, as we shall see, there are many other films that take complexity to new heights; even Charlie Kaufman's own movie "Synecdoche New York" (which I've talked about at length in previous posts so I will skip it here).

"Primer" written and directed by Shane Carruth

In a voice over - via telephone monologue - by Aaron3 we are introduced to four young engineers who decide to build some sort of machine (a kind of gravity-blocking device, I think). Upon building this machine, two of the engineers who are more closer friends than the other two; Aaron and Abe, have decided to take this machine further, then accidentally stumble upon a device that recycles the same minute 1300 times. They don't know why, but they explain how it works is that there is a time-point A and a time-point B (one minute into the future). Between point A and point B is a parabolic curve which moves the object in the machine from point A to point B back to point A. All of this is explained to an impatient Aaron2, who knows all this already. Abe, however, has already decided to build a bigger, smarter, version of this machine that allows one to carry an object from point B to point A - effectively travelling back in time. Abe establishes the testing of this machine to Aaron through a past-voiceover conversation laid over a future montage of events which show both of them setting the timer on the machine (which is when they will be coming out of them) and then disappearing in a hotel room for the day, then going back to the machine and sleeping inside them with oxygen tanks and coming back out a day earlier, when the timer reaches zero. This establishes a specific kind of time-travelling, where you travel backwards in real-time - no instantaneous zipping back to the past - and only to a point which the machine can allow; no going back to shake hands with Einstein. Now Aaron has also discovered Abe has secretly made a "failsafe" machine, this is when he becomes Aaron2 and carries back his own machine (which can be folded up and duplicated in another machine), then tampers with Abe's failsafe. The reason for all this is due to an event at a party, where Abe's love interest, Rachel, is confronted by her ex-boyfriend and his shotgun. Aaron decides to tamper with the timeline to become Aaron2 and go back to the party and become the "hero". Due to this situation, Abe has now become Abe2 and Rachel's father seems to have found out about the time machines and becomes Mr. Granger2, although we aren't told how he found out about the machines, it is only implied in some previous timeline that no longer exists because it's been "revised" by Aaron3. There is one part in the movie where we see Aaron2 drug Aaron's breakfast and then drag him into the attic, then Aaron3 struggles to fight Aaron2 but he's too weak to overcome him, yet convinces him to become Aaron3. In the end, Aaron3 saves the day at the party and becomes the hero, then disappears forever. Abe2 decides to constantly tamper with the original time machine so that the original Abe and Aaron never build one in the first place, and the whole story we just watched never happened.

I feel justified in giving away the ending because it is a film that you will have to watch many times to even begin to understand what is going on. The clever thing about this film is how extremely low their budget was, so every shot was maticulously planned out and rehearsed. In a low budget film, there will be many things that will not be shown, but here they are vaguely explained and so we are to work it out in our own minds. It plays well with the natural sense of curiosity for a human inquisitive mind, by logical thinking we can try to understand who is who, what is what and how it all comes together. Then it breaks apart because of timelines that never happened seem to explain things that did happen. One important aspect about the experience of this film is the dialogue never comes down to "our level", we have to keep up and go to their level. The explanations aren't simple, because if they were then the story just wouldn't work. What I wrote in the description could be entirely wrong, but the film hasn't told me so, I've had to try and work this all out myself. In the first experience it is a bit overwhelming, you won't get it and you know you will have to watch it many more times. The difficult part is to commit to doing that, because does it really matter in the end? The charm of a film like this, to me, is that it is presented as a challenge, it wants you to solve it, and if it is not in your interest to be challenged then you will not be interested in this movie at all. There is no reward in the form of a tangeable prize at the end, but for me, the real reward is the journey itself.

"The Fountain" written and directed by Darron Aronofsky



"Funny Games" written and directed by Michael Haneke

(more to come)

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