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tom moody

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Two years ago this fall, video artist Caspar Stracke did a performance at PS1 with an obsolete consumer video player called a CED: basically he just let the glitch-ridden machine run for six hours. The CED player (exhaustively documented on this website) was the biggest loser at a time (the early '80s) when VHS, Beta, and laser discs were all competing for market share. It works like a vinyl record player: you slide a twelve-inch-square cassette into a long slot, the disc drops down into the machine, and a tone-arm reads the capacitance (analog information) stored on grooves on the disc. Stracke has several malfunctioning machines, and each reads the discs in its own uniquely screwed-up way. Unfortunately I missed the performance, but the amazing press release caught my attention, so I looked up Stracke and visited his studio. He showed me a couple of CEDs, projected large on the wall, and the "errors" do make for fascinating viewing. As he explains in the press release: "the machine, 17 years old, reads scratches on the disc not like crackles on an audio record but chops a scene into fragments less than 1/4 second long and reassembles them by chance operation. The needle gets physically irritated by several factors besides the scratches that let it skip the grooves, resulting in an infinite number of similar but not identical collage variations of the same scene. The performed 'cuts' are almost seamless."

Thus, in the CED of The Shining, you see Danny playing darts by himself in the kitchen of the Overlook hotel; he stands up on a chair to retrieve a dart, turns around, and sees the spooky twin girls. Then he's instantly back on the floor, on the chair again, on the floor, on the chair, and sees the girls again. Then he's on the chair, grabbing a dart, and suddenly he's teleported ahead to a completely different scene in the movie, then he's back on the chair, but always, in the about eight different loops I saw, the "scene" ends with him seeing the girls. It's like a bad dream that keeps repeating itself, or the chapter in Philip K. Dick's Martian Time Slip where the same events are refracted through Manfred's autistic consciousness over and over, each time slightly different but all ending dismally. The looped events don't have to be negative, of course: in a busted CED of Douglas Trumbull's Brainstorm (1983), Natalie Wood and Christopher Walken have a screen kiss that keeps getting interrupted by the skipping player, so that an erotic moment is deliriously sustained. That's especially ironic, since the subject of Brainstorm is a new virtual reality technology (also analog) that allows people to record, playback, and loop experiences and share them electronically with others: happy memories, orgasms, after-death experiences, stuff like that.

- tom moody 8-02-2002 7:15 am [link]