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Wet Gate brings innovative art form to campus

Group combines sound, video as part of Block Museum's 'Sonic Vision' series

By Matt Lopas
Contributing Writer

 
 
 
 
Even the monotonous sound bite "the United States is in a transitional period" is musical and artistic when accompanied by random sound clips of flowing water and images of sunsets from nature films, according to the experimental film-performance group Wet Gate.

The group's Saturday night performance, a chaotic mix of fleeting images and repeated sound clips, was part of the Block Cinema's fall season, a new collaboration between the Block Museum and the Northwestern University Film Board. About 50 people attended the event in the Pick-Laudati Auditorium at the museum.

The NU Film Board, a group of nine radio-TV-film students, brought Wet Gate as part of the Saturday night series known as "Sonic Vision." Board member Amy Beste described the series she planned as an exploration of the intersection between music and cinema.

The San Francisco-based trio explores this intersection by using mirrors to distort and stretch images from film loops projected by 16mm projectors, (taking) the sounds from these film loops and blending them to create music.

"Wet Gate uses found film strips and loops to generate music, which is the opposite way film is normally thought of," Beste said.

For example, at one point a peppy reading of the phrase "excitement of color" and the sound of frogs croaking accompanied images of brightly colored bugs and frogs that stretched across the screen and spilled onto the walls.

Wet Gate member Owen O'Toole said combining varied sounds and images came naturally for him and Steven Dye and Peter Conheim because they all have been involved in both music and film projects.

"It's like two halves of yourself that went quite naturally together," O'Toole said.

Another important aspect to the group's work is its use of found footage: old stock film clips from sources including cinema, nature films and documentaries. Conheim said making a collage of found footage was part of the fun in the project.

"We are able to use minimum resources to create a maximum effect by using salvaged film," Dye said.

Wet Gate has traveled out of California only twice since it was formed in 1996, but in January 2000 Beste discovered the group at the Chicago Underground Film Festival while working there as a program director.

Will Schmenner, assistant curator of film for the Block Museum and a member of the NU Film Board, said Wet Gate fit into the museum's overall program because of its goal to present experimental films.

"We aim to show films and events that haven't been shown often and are worth seeing," Schmenner said. "We program them because they're good, and we love them and we want to share them."

The experimental nature of the performance appealed to several members of the audience. Weinberg sophomore Thomas Goerner said he enjoys all different kinds of film.

"I liked how the different images interacted and how it fit with the sound," Goerner said.

The performance drew members of the film board and graduate students who said they found the performance to be very interesting.

"I thought it was visually stimulating," said Henry Russell, a radio-TV-film graduate student. "The manipulation of light was beautiful."

Dye said the group hopes to continue expanding the boundaries of sound and film.

"Progressing the presentation engages our imaginations and challenges us in ways that are very interesting," Dye said.

 


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