Originally published February 2000

excerpted from:
Keeper of the Flame - Will master projectionist Josephine Scherer's flickering kingdom be able to withstand the onslaught of the digital age?
by Kelly Vance

For historical purposes only. In addition to being rather smug and smarmy in tone, this article is factually inaccurate (e.g. Wet Gate does not use "audio tape decks" or video cameras in performance).

"Hey. Hi. Didn’t I see you Thursday night at the New Music concert?" The faithful are gathering on a chilly midwinter Sunday evening at the Fine Arts Cinema in downtown Berkeley for a "Film Odyssey" performance by Wet Gate, "the all-16mm-projector ensemble," and the scene resembles a casting call for an updated revival of On the Road: black leather jackets, hair gel aplenty, goatees, henna-haired women in antique overcoats, and much talk of "your latest project." Everyone in the audience, it seems, is either a filmmaker or a musician or both.

At the front of the auditorium, the three members of Wet Gate—Owen O’Toole, Steven Dye, and Peter Conheim—are tending to a complicated arrangement of old projectors, one for each of them, fitted with coat-hanger-style arms sticking up in the air to handle film loops, audio tape decks, a homemade screen eight feet wide and two feet high mounted chest-high on a metal stand, and a video camera on a tripod set up halfway back in the house. The Fine Arts’ calendar describes their show as "an evening of celluloid manipulation with an eye on the new century as seen through the first one hundred years of cinema"—but it would be just as accurate to call it a glimpse of lo-tech, lo-fi, anti-commercial, art-school heaven.

The first set opens with audio loops—voices and ambient sound repeated, mantra-like—followed by three-segment loops of a pastiche of old art movies like Wild Strawberries and Ivan the Terrible, industrial reels, horror films, ancient public service announcements, and so forth, projected at first onto the portable screen, and then at acute angles onto the large theater screen, in rhythmic patterns. The effect is hypnotic, vaguely trance-inducing in the dim light, as trees repeatedly fall, robots endlessly gesture, a boy rolls on a lawn over and over, and a shopping cart never stops wheeling past a supermarket produce section. Amid the flickering images, it occurs to us that for all its stoned eminence, Wet Gate’s art is a resolutely manual exercise, requiring skillful hand-eye coordination. The second set consists of more of the same, but this time it’s entirely beamed onto the big screen from halfway back. Always, there is the clickety-clack sound of the projectors—a gentle, lulling racket usually kept silent and hidden behind the soundproof back wall but in Wet Gate’s case right out in the open, tick-a-tick-a-tick-a-tick, proudly antiquarian and defiantly mechanical.