Women Light Music

A playlist by Natalia Piñuel Martín for the Xcèntric Archive

On the occasion of the inauguration of Xcèntric’s 2023 season of screenings with the programme Woman Light Music, the archive invites you to embark on a journey that explores the “visual music” associated with experimental cinema since the very early days of photography and cinematography. A music of colour featuring a number of visual artists and filmmakers whose work was invisible simply because they were female. Also featured in this journey are female directors who, taking a feminist and collaborative approach, have focused on the use of sound, editing and musical composition to channel their work.

Meshes of the Afternoon, Maya Deren, 1943. United States. 14'

Maya Deren was a filmmaker, dancer, choreographer and student of Haitian Voudou rituals. She captured this magic in her first and best-known film, Meshes of the Afternoon, in which she explores the life of a woman through dreams and a surreal landscape. The film’s formal experimentation, its ambiguity and images reminiscent of the surrealist movement and psychoanalysis have made it an icon of early experimental cinema and a reference for many future directors. Made in collaboration with the photographer Alexander Hammid, its music is by the Japanese composer Teiji Ito, whose avant-garde score of experimental sound was also ahead of its time.

Begone Dull Care, Evelyn Lambart, 1949. United States. 8'

Together with Mary Ellen Bute, Evelyn Lambart was a pioneer in animated film. She collaborated with Norman McLaren on several films, this one winning an award at the Berlinale in 1951. It’s a fantasy in colour which they both used the drawn-on-film technique of painting and scratching directly onto the film stock. This work has connections with the abstract expressionist painting of the time and is narrated to the intense rhythm of a jazz boogie-woogie performed on the piano by Oscar Peterson's Trio.   

Peyote Queen, Storm de Hirsch, 1965. United States. 9'

Storm de Hirsch was a pioneer of underground cinema and also a prominent poet in the vibrant New York of the 1960s. Together with Divinations and Shaman, Peyote Queen makes up the trilogy dedicated to representing altered states of consciousness on film, The Color of Ritual, the Color of Thought. A film that moves at full speed to the rhythm of African drumming and psychedelic forays using wild footage of images and sounds.

My Name is Oona, Gunvor Nelson, 1969. United States. 9'

Gunvor Nelson films her own daughter in praise of women, reinterpreting Nordic mythology that’s historically intertwined with nature and magic. A succession of images in contrasting black and white, continuously overexposed, that intersect with the sound loop composed by the musician Steve Reich. The looped repetition of the title, "My name is Oona", accelerates the rhythm to hypnotic, almost trance-like limits. Over time, this cineaste’s films have become a reference for feminism.

Dresden Dynamo, Lis Rhodes, 1971. United Kingdom. 5'

Lis Rhodes is one of the most important cineastes in film with a gender perspective and also experimental cinema. She incorporated text and voice into her films, thereby sending out a message of equality towards systemic sexism. Dresden Dynamo is cinema without a camera. The images were created directly on the 16mm film while the sound we hear is produced by those same marks, synaesthetically. What we see is what we hear, altering our perception of the senses. This technique, widely used in experimental cinema since the avant-garde, connects with the original materials and the physical nature of celluloid itself. 

Asparagus, Suzan Pitt, 1979. United States. 18'

Asparagus is a crazy film made in the midst of the psychedelic boom in the US, heavily influenced by modular synthesisers and free jazz, composed for its soundtrack by Richard Teitelbaum. The animator, filmmaker and painter Suzan Pitt spent four years working on this project, resulting in a hallucinogenic journey for the viewer. An animated film that distances itself from children's cartoons although it plays with similar elements, such as the use of bright colours, flowers and a doll's house that functions as a Russian matryoshka for the main character. A delirious metaphor for the North American housewife put through a blender of desire and destruction.

Mutiny, Abigail Child, 1982. United States. 9'

Mutiny belongs to those feminist, horizontal cinematic practices far removed from more commercial films in terms of filmmaking and production, in which the cineaste’s friends become collaborators in the film itself, created by Child together with violinist Polly Bradfield, choreographer Sally Silvers and singer Shelley Hirsch. Formally, it’s one of the author's best examples of found footage filmmaking because everything is edited expressively and with a great sense of humour, but without losing any critical capacity at all.

Syntagma, Valie Export, 1984. Austria. 17'

Valie Export was one of the fundamental artists of the second half of the 20th century and one of the most brilliant exponents of the first wave of feminism that came about with the emergence of conceptual art in the late 1960s. Her approach began with Viennese Actionism, produced by men, whom she began to criticise and take a stand against due to the intrinsic sexism of the vast majority of what they did. It was at this time that she evolved towards the filming and audiovisual documentation of a series of guerrilla performances in public spaces in which she uses the body to support the feminist revolution. A voice-over reads a quote from psychiatrist Laing's book on madness in the modern world. To make schizophrenia visible, the artist includes split screens, reflected images and mirror effects. For the soundtrack, she collaborated with composer Hans Hartel to create a disruptive, hypnotic score that uses retro-futuristic elements to heighten the message of madness.

My Tears are Dry, Laida Lertxundi, 2009. United States. 4'

My Tears are Dry is the title of a soul song by Hoagy Lands. A young woman lying on bed plays the song non-stop on her cassette recorder while another woman experiments with the strings of her guitar. Finally, when a ray of sunlight illuminates the young woman's face, we hear the song uninterruptedly and a panoramic view leads us to a wonderfully blue Californian sky, in evident homage to Bruce Baille's film All My Life.  Lertxundi's films are based on self-fiction, on a direct connection with the viewer in which intimacy is laid bare and the so-called fourth wall of conventional cinema is blurred. Throughout her career, she’s shown the different devices traditionally used to make a film, diluting borders and including the territories and spaces she inhabits in her friendly proposals, as well as various concerns, sensations and numerous literary and musical references.

LYLS: Let Your Light Shine, Jodie Mack, 2013. United States. 3'

The films of the American Jodie Mack are along the same lines as the work by pioneering animators such as Lis Rhodes, in this case combining structures and abstract geometric forms in a kind of musical, stroboscopic essay. An outpouring of kinetic energy for all the senses condensed into barely three minutes. Jodie Mack works with the film material, manipulating optical sound in a totally artisanal way.

Un Sourire, Aurora Gasull, 2016. Spain. 7'

The most recent production on this list is also the newest in Xcèntric's catalogue, which is always a work in progress. Catalan artist Aurora Gasull is an animator, ex-cellist and researcher. To make her films, she starts with harmonic sound, from which she begins to imagine and create abstract images. In Un Sourire Gasull immerses herself in the synaesthetic language of the French composer and ornithologist Olivier Messiaen who’s in love with instrumental colour, following his lead by using radiant tones and geometric shapes.

A playlist by Natalia Piñuel, curator of the She Makes Noise Festival at La Casa Encendida

You can view the works of this playlist in the Xcèntric Archive.