MIFF Focus: ‘Breaching Transmissions’ with Sally Golding and Spatial

Words By Garry Westmore
August 12, 2015
When your local film festival rolls around, you’d usually be safe in assuming that format and delivery wise, you’ll get the typical film fare. Sure there’ll be movies on offer that may never hit the local multiplex or be a free-to-air Friday night flick, but the experience stays largely the same: everyone seated with eyes turned towards a horizontal screen showing a film shot in a familiar ratio. But scour this year’s MIFF program and you’ll find quite a few projects that break from tradition, with expanded cinema artist Sally Golding’s Breaching Transmissions one such project.

“This whole performance fits more into ‘expanded cinema,” says Golding. “So there’s no real box for it.” Probably because our understanding of expanded cinema is so broad, and can really include any use of film as non-narrative art. But Golding’s interest in this area lies where “works are reversive and can consider the role of the audience, so that they’re not passive audience members absorbing everything. In some ways you have to be a little active in it, and that’s because you’re physically in the space – the sounds are very bodily; the vision has elements of stroboscopic, so it’s very absorbing – and in that way it’s more interesting because you’re not just sitting in a space in this suspension of reality, you’re part of the work in a way as well.”

The design of Golding’s works and performances do vary, but 16mm projection is often at the epicentre not just because the film can be physically manipulated, but also because the projector forms part of the performance. “The 16mm projector has a presence in itself, it shoots this clear light beam, projected right through the space,” says Golding, showing me a slice of 16mm reel with a sound print – film that was often used by news crews, war correspondents and even home movie makers back in the day who wanted to capture footage and audio without lugging around sound equipment.

Still from performance - Sally Golding, Performaing live (2010).

Still from performance – Sally Golding. Photographer: Bryan Spencer

For Breaching Transmissions however, rather than spending countless hours in a dark room developing sound/film prints, Golding has enlisted a collaborator: UK musician, DJ, and sonic artist Matt Spendlove (aka Spatial), who’ll be improvising an analogue score during. “There’s an overarching pattern of form,” says Spendlove of his part, “but is improvised. So it’s all about working with a particular textures to create the right kind of suspense.”

Spendlove’s desire to create suspense fitting in with the themes of BT, which explores, amongst many things, ideas of superstition, the etheric double, and the hereafter. “In a sense our project was initiated around the concept of afterlife and how it’s interpreted using restrictive conventions,” Golding explains. “You have the light at the end of the tunnel, you have voices and ghosts in other realms. Then parapsychology has taken that and knitted it together with the history of technology, so parapsychology often uses technology as a power of persuasion to suggest its themes. But the history of technology and spiritualism or this parapsychology, have been intertwined. So we took that as a jumping off point.”

“Historically technology has always had a relationship with that disembodied soul,” Spendlove adds. “That goes right the way through from early photography right up to modern science. These days there’s very much a representation or a personified self on the online world, so it’s like there’s this disembodied or other representation of you – and that’s in obvious ways, like social networks and the like, right through to areas of the network like the deep web, or dark web, these little communities where people exist. So there’s this lineage of disassociation with form.”

This exploration of an Etheric Double of disembodied soul coming in part through Spendlove’s custom made software that utilised an infrared connect camera to interpret both performers’ and the audiences’ body images. “It uses shadows and camera feeds to capture these forms that kind of represent the Etheric Double,” says Golding.

Still from performance - Sally Golding (2011).

Still from performance – Sally Golding. Photograph courtesy of Collectif Jeune Cinema

Chatting to Golding and Spendlove I can almost imagine a Venn diagram where their talents, ideas and interests overlap in many places, and diverge in others. But ultimately that’s what collaboration is all about, and the two had been looking for an excuse to work on something substantial for some time. “We both do shows on the European circuit, me in expanded cinema and Matt in audio-visual live shows, so we were looking for a way to combine our skills. It was this theme I kept obsessing over and the conversation started going over to Matt. So we started developing this theme, and looking at the basics of afterlife and technology, and we started joining the elements we liked that we could interpret using the stuff we were working with, so it was just a chance to come together and draw out this theme.”

“We’d worked together a little bit on stuff,” adds Spendlove,”doing bits of sound, but never on a project from scratch. So it was important to find something we could start together with.” Though as Spatial Spendlove has spent a majority of his career recording and playing live, in recent times he’s been broadening his horizons and venturing more and more into other realms with his music through audio/visual projects like 2014’s Primitives (watch a video here), and now this collaboration with Golding. “I wanted to bring together the stuff I’d been doing in the programming world with more creative projects, “ he says of the transition. “Because the two have been separate. I’d been doing one for money, one for love. So I did want to explore these things a little further.”

Breaching Transmissions presenting the perfect opportunity, and one borne out of, as these things often do, a mixture of hard work and good luck. “I was performing at Rotterdam International Film Festival, doing one of my expanded cinema light and sound sets,” recalls Golding; “and Michelle Carey (MIFF Artistic Director) saw the performance and said she loved it and that she hoped to get me out here to do something. So I said to her “I have this project…” and we were lucky enough to go ahead and develop it.”

As we chat in the cafe of Fitzroy’s new exhibition and cinema space Grey Gardens, home to Speakeasy cinema, Golding and Spendlove are already eyeing off the space in which they’ll set up the show, a space until today, they’ve only seen floor plans of. Over the coming days they’ll transform it into their own immersive hallucinatory and hypnotic world, but it won’t be so finely designed as to leave no room for improvisation. “We’re not interested in work that’s pre-set or follows a formula,” says Golding, and Spendlove agrees. “I find it easier to improvise, there’s less room to freeform otherwise.”

“Something will break for sure,” laughs Golding. “I’m always fixing something for the show. That puts you on edge, but you just have to go for it.”

“If the projector breaks though, that might be more difficult,” quips Spendlove right before I leave them to explore their newest blank canvas.

We can almost guarantee the projector won’t break, and that Breaching Transmissions will be an experience like no other at this year’s MIFF. There are two performances, back to back on Thursday the 13th of August, 7pm and 9pm at Grey Gardens in Fitzroy. Head here for tickets.

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