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Blog – Interpreting Yoko Ono's Film Scores - Part 3

Posted on Feb. 11, 2014


Experimental Universe is a program of events featuring films, music and performances created by Australian artists responding to Yoko Ono’s rarely-visited instructional works, Six Film Scripts (1964) and Imaginary Film Series (1968). Running over two nights (6 February and 13 February), the program also includes two film screenings of early Yoko Ono films, Apotheosis (1970) and Two Virgins (1968). In this third blog post for the MCA, Joel Stern and Danni Zuvela of OtherFilm introduce the artists featured on night two (13 February).

Film scores are blueprints for potential films; unlike traditional/industrial film scripts, which are prescriptive, film scores encourage an “open work”, one which is, arguably, co-created by the score originator and the interpreter. In the mid-1960s, reflecting her contact with fluxus ideas, Yoko Ono produced a number of highly imaginative scores for films which were never translated into film works. For Experimental Universe, OtherFilm offered some of Australia’s most interesting contemporary artists the chance to interpret one of Yoko Ono’s film scores.

Each artist has prepared a new work in response to OtherFilm’s commission that – putatively – takes one of Yoko’s scripts from the Imaginary Film Series as its point of departure. Some of these interpretations stick quite closely to Yoko’s initial prescriptions; others treat her ‘scores’ as suggestions to spark off other creative investigations.

As part of the process of thinking through Yoko Ono’s scores, we asked the artists for their thoughts on the idea of the score – whether it was constrictive or freeing – and how this may have conditioned the creation of their work in Experimental Universes.

David Haines: ‘The score, with its soft directives, liberated the working process somewhat, by psychologically freeing me from the burden of feeling like I had complete authorial jurisdiction over the work. Of course, this was an illusion! I really enjoyed the challenge of making this work – composing music and sound on trains and in cars, and doing the vocal parts from the privacy of my hotel room impromptu edit suites from Rotterdam to Paris and Montpellier.’

David Haines’ work Kingdom of the Siene responds to Yoko Ono’s instructions for Film 13: Travelogue, and specifically the part of the score that asks the filmmaker to invent a new country. “Since I would be on the road in Europe, this seemed entirely appropriate and closest to my way of working anyway, fabricating places in images. A central motivation for me was finding a way to insert some of my Australian footage into a European setting and come up with a work that is on the side of science fiction.”

Artist Film Workshop: ‘A script is conventionally a long and overwhelmingly content-rich text outlining a proposed film, subjected to meticulous and exhaustive minutiae – it’s a pretty big contrast with the idea of the score in Yoko Ono’s instructions. Here, Ono is drawing attention to film’s affinity with music as a time-based art. Ono’s film #6 is a gesture. It says nothing of the fleshy content of the finished film work, its aesthetic trajectory, or even its basic structure, short of ‘omnibus’. So we interpreted this commission subjectively, and particularly the concept of ‘re-editing’ in terms of the re-construction possibilities of the dark room and the lab.’

AFW were invited to interpret Yoko Ono’s film score #6 Omnibus Film, which consists of three instructions:

1. Give a print of the same film to many directors.
2. Ask each one to re-edit the print without leaving out any of the material in such a way that it will be unnoticed that the print was re-edited.
3. Show all the versions together omnibus style.

They have produced a 30-minute omnibus film which combines 10 different interpretations of one short ‘original’ film of around 15 shots constructed by AFW founder, Richard Tuohy. For AFW, thinking through Yoko Ono’s instructions for Omnibus film “drew attention to the context-dependent nature of language, and especially the technological factors to consider when interpreting such an instruction out of, or in another, context. In some respects, we had to deliberately take her words here out of context – to revise technological assumptions about what would be understood by terms like ‘re-editing’, etc. We have received it is an open gesture for creative exploration; as a push to explore. It is not a work, but a gesture to guide the work. In this way it is perhaps not even a score, but a suggestion to guide a particular scoring. It is not a script but a call to scripting!”

Nathan Gray: ‘I recall a conversation with an artist who told me she was disappointed that she didn’t have the means to make a particular work out of gold. I responded by saying that I had wanted to make a work levitate, but had been frustrated by gravity. My sarcastic point being that there are always constraints in any situation and spontaneity, intuition and improvisation can only occur against this background. In fact, they are only meaningful as far as they acknowledge and engage with these constraints.

Yoko’s scores, though far more constrained than say George Brecht’s (for example), are far more open than they are closed. In fact, the event score’s ability to be specific is extremely limited, and its positioning as a work’s singular limiting device means that all things NOT in the script are open to interpretation. This is in contrast to a conventional musical score, which implies it is to be interpreted within the tradition of the western musical score and all the precision and specificity that entails.’

Nathan responded to Film No.9 (Don’t Worry Love), which calls for a collection of shots of people saying the phrase “don’t worry love” slowed down. The piece is intended to be a positive vibration that emanates across time and space from a distance. Nathan chose to “stick to the script as strictly as possible” while at the same time working with the new possibilities opened up by the advancement in high-speed photography since Yoko first composed the instructions. As per the Yoko Ono score, during the shoot, he asked his “cast” to “envisage that they are speaking to a future generation”.

Bum Creek: “Bum Creek are currently pre-interpreting multiple Yoko works and will interpret them on the night. This may or may not include making a large sewing machine exclusively controlled and broken by specialised head wear. Bum Creek will most definitely investigate them sonically with touches of drama and irreverence with respect to Yoko Ono. Illegal wireless microphones operating at 700 megahertz frequency will not be used. ;-p.”

Bum Creek claim to be interpreting the following instructions, composed by Yoko Ono:

Painting For a Broken Sewing Machine (1961). Place a broken sewing machine in a glass tank ten or twenty times larger than the machine. Once a year on a snowy evening place the tank the town square and have everybody through stones.

Tape Piece – Comb Piece© (1963). Take a tape of your child combing. Let her listen to it when she is sick in bed.

Wall Piece for Orchestra (1962). Hit a wall with your head.